Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Environmental Groups Sue Port of Seattle

By Mark Edward Nero

On March 2, a coalition of environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the Port of Seattle and its board of commissioners to challenge the port’s approval last month of a lease that opens a container terminal to an Arctic drilling fleet.

On Feb. 11, the port revealed that on Feb. 9 it had signed a two-year lease with Foss Maritime that gives Foss the right to short-term moorage and vessel operations along 50 acres at the port’s 156-acre Terminal 5, which is currently undergoing renovation.

The lawsuit charges that the lease will change the use of Terminal 5 by converting it into a homeport for Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet. Earthjustice filed the challenge in King County Superior Court on behalf of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, the Sierra Club, the Washington Environmental Council and the Seattle Audubon Society.

The lawsuit says, “The lease would allow Shell’s drill ships to be housed at the port, including the Noble Discoverer which was the subject of eight felony convictions and over $12 million in fines and community service last December, including for discharging oil-contaminated water in violation of water pollution laws.”

The environmental groups allege that the port has violated its long-range plans and its shoreline permit, which designate Terminal 5 as a cargo terminal, not a homeport, and say that the port needed to conduct a public review of the environmental and community impacts of making the change.

“By making a secret deal to house Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet in Seattle, the port shut out the public and subverted laws that are designed to foster an informed public assessment of controversial proposals like this one,” Earthjustice Managing Attorney Patti Goldman said.

In a Feb. 11 letter to stakeholders, Port of Seattle CEO Ted Fick said the lease is for short-term moorage and vessel operations along 50 acres at the port’s 156-acre Terminal 5, which is currently undergoing renovation, and that the deal would represent no change of use from the activities of the previous tenant.

The environmental groups disagree.

“Protecting the health of our waterways begins with transparency in significant decisions made by our public officials,” Chris Wilke, executive director of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance said. “Unfortunately the port missed this mark by a huge margin while ignoring its own stated goals of sustainability. The Commission’s failure to inform the public about this back room deal amounts to a breach of trust.”

Under the lease, Foss is to pay $550,000 a month, or $13.17 million, over the full two years. The lease, which includes two one-year extension options, is part of a push by the port to find an interim use for the land and keep revenue coming in.

Cargo operations at the terminal were relocated in July 2014 as part of a modernization program under which stronger piers, deeper berths and other improvements are to be constructed. The terminal’s expected to reopen in 2018.