Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Judge to Review Seattle Terminal Litigation

By Mark Edward Nero

A Superior Court judge on March 20 agreed to hear a case brought by environmental groups that are challenging a recently signed contract enabling Foss Maritime to lease terminal land at the Port of Seattle.

Under the terms of the lease, Foss is able to use the premises specifically as a transportation facility in which quantities of goods or container cargo are stored without undergoing any manufacturing process, transferred to other carriers or stored outdoors in order to transfer them to other locations.

But in her order granting a review of the case, Judge Mariane Spearman wrote that the permitted uses under the terms of the lease “seem to contradict the expected uses outlined in the Port of Seattle’s staff briefing memo” and that the outlined usage activities “appear to be qualitatively different” than those by Terminal 5’s previous tenant, Eagle Marine Services.

On Feb. 9, the port signed the two-year lease with Foss Maritime, giving 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.

On March 2 however, a coalition of five environmental groups filed a challenge against the port’s lease on the grounds that the lease would change the use of Terminal 5 by converting it into a homeport for Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet.

The lawsuit was filed by Earthjustice in King County Superior Court on behalf of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, the Sierra Club, the Washington Environmental Council and the Seattle Audubon Society.

It is the plaintiffs’ position that the port acted illegally when it entered the lease because it relied on an exemption to bypass State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review. The plaintiffs also said that they’re concerned about toxic runoff from vessel repairs and maintenance as well as water pollution from the vessels while at the port and during transit.

The lease, according to the plaintiffs, would allow Shell’s drill ships to be housed at the port, including one, the Noble Discoverer, which the plaintiffs claim was the subject of eight felony convictions in December 2014 and more than $12 million in fines and community service, including for discharging oil-contaminated water in violation of water pollution laws.

In her ruling, Judge Spearman ordered the plaintiffs and defendants to begin negotiations on a resolution, which she would then review.