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BP-COP-Alcoa Oppose states new Cherry Point Protection Plan

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    basil parmesan

    Industries oppose state’s new Cherry Point protection plan


    Current and former public officials have joined representatives of three Cherry Point industries to challenge a proposed management plan for the aquatic reserve that surrounds the industrial operations.
    Washington Department of Natural Resources officials say the plan contains specific language acknowledging the Ferndale-area industries’ right to keep operating under terms of their existing long-term leases for deep-water shipping facilities on state-owned aquatic lands.
    But in written comments to the department, the three industries contend the management plan also contains vague language that could be used to deny or delay permission to modify piers and other facilities, even when those modifications are meant to provide environmental benefits.
    Whatcom County Executive Pete Kremen and Port of Bellingham commissioners have written to DNR to urge the agency to modify the plan rather than risk the survival of Cherry Point industries, which provide high-paying industrial jobs as well as millions in tax revenue.
    The two refineries – BP Cherry Point and ConocoPhillips – and the aluminum smelter – Alcoa Intalco Works – account for about 1,500 direct jobs, and probably at least that many more indirect jobs. A recent study estimated that Intalco, alone, produces 1,500 indirect jobs, in addition to its 500-person payroll.
    Another comment letter signed by state Sen. Dale Brandland, Ferndale Mayor Gary Jensen, Blaine Mayor Bonnie Onyon and Whatcom County Public Utility District Commissioner Jeff McClure expressed similar concerns about jeopardizing those jobs.
    Former Bellingham mayor Tim Douglas, former County Council member Craig Cole, and Northwest Washington Central Labor Council president Dave Warren signed the same letter.
    “If the real purpose of the plan is to discourage water-dependent economic activity at Cherry Point and move toward the area’s eventual de-industrialization, then this should be an explicit public debate on the merits and not a subtle, implied major shift in public policy,” the letter states.
    Environmentalists don’t think the plan’s emphasis on habitat protection is excessive.
    “Recognizing that industrial activity exists at Cherry Point and may expand, we urge the DNR to take every precaution to ensure that we understand the impacts of current activity on ecosystem health before any new construction is undertaken or discharges and outfalls allowed,” Wendy Steffensen and Matt Krogh of RE Sources for Sustainable Communities say in their written comments to DNR.
    The reserve was created in 2000 by former Public Lands Commissioner Jennifer Belcher. It includes an offshore area that stretches roughly from Point Whitehorn south to the northern boundary of Lummi Nation. It is one of four such reserves in state waters.
    The plan aims to protect the reserve and restore depleted populations of herring, salmon and other species. The industries say the depletion of those fish has nothing to do with them
    In his letter to DNR, Intalco president and plant manager Mike Rousseau says “the plan’s mandatory prohibitions and numerous unfunded studies … will jeopardize the industrial viability of Intalco, and of the region, with no marginal benefit to the Cherry Point habitat.”
    All three industries urge DNR to prepare an intensive environmental impact statement before putting the plan into place. Such a study would include analysis of the potential economic impact of new environmental regulations.
    As of now, DNR plans no such study. Kyle Murphy, the department’s aquatic reserves program manager, said the agency plans to respond to comments. But he expects the final draft to be ready for Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark’s signature by late summer or early fall.
    Jeff Pitzer, BP business unit leader, notes that the plan appears to take a dim view of any new “armoring” structures to prevent erosion, but armoring may be needed to protect existing dock and oil spill management facilities that could be threatened by coastal erosion.
    BP also notes that the company wants to build a low-sulfur diesel unit to produce cleaner fuel to meet federal clean air mandates. But the new construction would increase the refinery’s rain runoff, and that could run afoul of new restrictions in the management plan.
    The comment from ConocoPhillips, signed by refinery manager Marjorie Hatter, appears to set the stage for a court challenge. Her statement contends the department’s proposed imposition of the plan is illegal because it does not follow procedures in the state’s Administrative Procedures Act and State Environmental Policy Act.
    DNR’s Murphy said it is time to get the plan up and running.
    “We’d like to have the management plan in place so that we can begin to manage the site as an aquatic reserve,” he said. “We don’t want to manage the site on a case-by-case basis. We want to manage the site on an ecosystem basis.”
    – 1955: Refinery now operated by ConocoPhillips opens.
    – 1966: Intalco aluminum smelter opens.
    – 1972: Refinery now operated by BP opens.
    – 2000: Department of Natural Resources creates “aquatic reserve” that surrounds but does not include industrial sites.
    – 2010: DNR issues proposed “management plan” for reserve.
    Reach JOHN STARK at or call 715-2274.
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