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At public meetings which began last month and continue into December, issues were raised about congested rail and vessel traffic, public health, tourism and fisheries. Lummi Tribe member Justin Finkbonner, says when supertankers return from China after offloading coal, they enter the Strait of Juan de Fuca and cross near Gooseberry Point where the tribe fishes. “They empty all that water, bring all those pollutants from China, the harbors, where the environmental regulatory standards are way less stringent than ours and those polluted waters are throwing off the balance of the ecosystem here, of the herring beds, and that’s why they can’t survive today.”
State and federal agencies need to take into account the impact of existing industry at the site of the proposed new Gateway Pacific Terminal, says Fred Felleman a consultant with Friends of the Earth. BP, the state’s largest refinery, Intalco, the aluminum smelter and Conoco Phillips already generate heavy traffic, some 700 tankers a year. “They all have impacts on the sediment and the drifts and the light available to grow eel grass and spawn herring.” Discharges from the end of docks are a chronic oil spill, says Felleman.
Twelve years ago the Army Corp permitted BP to build a new tanker dock without an environmental review. The permit was contingent on BP placing oil-spill booms around their tankers. ”What we have is a litany of broken promises to evaluate the impacts of these facilities,” Felleman says. After building the new dock, BP removed the mooring buoys to position the oil-spill booms, says Felleman. He and others filed a lawsuit. “Only in the past month do they have the capacity they promised the Corp they were going to have over a decade ago.”
When the Army Corp of Engineers Randall Perry was asked if the lawsuit over BP’s removal of oil-spill booms on tankers would be taken into consideration with current proposals to build export terminals for coal, he said, “The lawsuit itself probably not. The increase in tanker traffic maybe.” Baseline studies and cumulative impacts for the EIS or environmental impact statement won’t be conducted until after public testimony is over in December. “We’re just collecting comments on what should be in the EIS, what information we need to look at. We haven’t even begun any analysis or started down that path yet.”
Ask Stephanie Buffum with Friends of the San Juans and she’ll say look at the 700,000 visitors who contribute an estimated $116 million a year to see the islands 84 orcas and natural beauty. “One oil spill could change that overnight.” An additional 487 cargo ships filled with bunker fuel to get them across the Pacific Ocean will put an enormous stress on waterways already burdened with ships carrying tar sand bitumen from Vancouver, B.C., and Anacortes, says Buffum. “The proponents of this coal project are trying to keep the scope as narrow as they can. We’re asking for assurances with regard to vessel traffic impacts. We’re asking that all of these combined vessels be analyzed with a vessel traffic report. And we’re asking for a comprehensive analysis of Cherry Point traffic as well as existing traffic and proposed shipping traffic from ports in Vancouver, Anacortes and the Salish Sea.” How many large Pan American size cargo ships can be at anchor safely in the Salish Sea, she asks? The question must be analyzed by the three agencies responsible for scoping the proposed coal terminal. “There are a lot of federal triggers here in the Salish Sea because of the 84 southern resident orcas. There’s going to be requirements for what’s called a Section 7 consultation with NOAA fisheries. Cherry Point herring are very, very critical for ensuring the viability of the southern resident whale.” But, admits Buffum, agencies are sometimes at cross purposes with their own environmental mandate. “The orca whale was a long, long battle. It took five years to get the southern resident listed. There are 84 of those individual whales swimming in our waters today. The Cherry Point herring have had massive collapses since the 1970s. This species is critical to the success of salmon restoration and the salmon are critical to the success of orca whales reproduction.”
What does she think it will take to move the agencies? “I think it’s going to take each and every one of us in the state of Washington, of each and every one of us in the state of Oregon and each and every one of us in Montana to tell our public agencies there is no gain to be had by the export of coal our of Cherry Point in Bellingham. You can’t put a dollar amount on an orca whale. But let’s do it. Let’s say that $116 million dollars that’s coming into San Juan County is coming here on the backs of 84 whales. Is Cherry Point going to be contributing that equal amount to San Juan County’s economy? Or is Cherry Point going to put an additional pressure on San Juan County? San Juan County doesn’t think the Gateway Pacific Terminal project is worth the risk.”
For more information on the environmental review, you can visit the offical site here.
Green Acre Radio is brought to you with support from the Human Links Foundation. Engineering by CJ Lazenby.
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