CONTACT: Todd Elsworth, (360) 739-8458, ToddE@RE-Sources.org
“SSA Marine knowingly flaunted an array of county, state, and federal regulations when they built roads damaging forests and wetlands last summer,” said Bob Ferris, executive director of RE Sources. “And now they want immediate forgiveness for creating impacts that could take decades to recover. That is simply unacceptable.”
SSA violated the federal Clean Water Act by filling wetlands while clearing nine acres for geotechnical exploration. The clearing occurred almost two weeks after Whatcom County rejected SSA’s request for a permit revision that would have expanded the footprint of the proposed terminal. SSA’s original permit did not allow any construction in the areas cleared for geotechnical exploration.
While Whatcom County has issued a minor penalty, SSA has yet to perform mitigation or receive an after-the-fact permit from the Army Corps of Engineers for their wetlands damage.
“SSA Marine is like a motorist pulled over for speeding in a clearly marked school zone, who then claims to not deserve a ticket because they slowed down after getting caught,” said Ferris. “We value Cherry Point, and we respect our laws and processes. SSA Marine should do the same.”
“If SSA were a small company or had a stellar environmental reputation, some measure of leniency might be called for. But these guys are the largest port operator in North America, and have a history of environmental violations. This clearing was a blatant violation of the rules,” said Matt Krogh, North Sound Baykeeper.
The suit will be handled by the law firm of Smith and Lowney in Seattle. RE Sources, a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization, runs the North Sound Baykeeper program to protect marine and fresh water. Neither RE Sources nor the North Sound Baykeeper receive financial benefits from lawsuits filed under the auspices of the citizen suit provision of the Clean Water Act.
Filling and degrading a little over an acre of wetlands pales in comparison to SSA’s plans to destroy 141 acres of wetlands and degrade an additional 21 acres as part of the proposed GPT coal terminal. If built, GPT would be North America’s largest coal terminal.
“As Whatcom County starts the process of deciding whether or not to permit this coal terminal, we have to keep in mind the critical importance of the Cherry Point ecosystem,” said Krogh. “Cherry Point Pacific herring and Dungeness crab are essential to the health of the Salish Sea and fisheries in this reach. If this terminal is built, both will be threatened by the vessel traffic necessary to transport 48 million tons of coal.”
The GPT terminal would be served by up to 487 bulk carriers annually. Bulk carriers--with the worst safety record on the seas--would transit through Rosario and Haro Straits, on the east and west side of the San Juan Islands. These straits are key habitat for marine wildlife including the endangered Southern Resident orcas.