Wednesday, July 31, 2013

SSA Marine's Actions Prove They Cannot Be Trusted

Photo of the Cherry Point reach, the proposed site of the coal terminal.
After a year-and-a-half legal battle, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities (RE Sources) has entered a settlement with SSA Marine-owned Pacific International Terminals (PIT) for PIT’s illegal filling of 1.2 acres of wetlands at Cherry Point, WA. As part of the settlement, PIT will pay $1.6 million in penalties and fees, including a payment of $825,000 to the nonprofit Rose Foundation for restoration projects to benefit Puget Sound. PIT will also set aside 2.9 acres of wetlands to help mitigate part of the damage caused by the wetland impacts of this illegal fill.

RE Sources receives no money from the settlement.

“In 2011, PIT violated the Clean Water Act and ignored local and national permitting requirements when it built nearly 5 miles of roads, filling or clearing nearly 3 acres of wetlands in the process,” said Crina Hoyer, Executive Director at RE Sources. “Unbelievably, they also bulldozed and drilled in a registered Lummi historical site known to contain burial sites. They tell us to trust them, but PIT’s leadership knew exactly what they were doing when they broke the law.”

PIT’s destruction of wetlands was part of a larger unpermitted geotechnical investigation project, authorized by PIT on property currently planned for the Gateway Pacific Coal Terminal. The data gathered by the geotechnical investigation supports project planning and design. According to evidence collected by RE Sources, PIT knowingly violated the law and attempted to cover up its actions in order to gain this valuable information.

“When dealing with an economically unstable commodity like coal, a few years can make a big difference in the profitability of a project. The information they gained will certainly help them expedite their proposal. This is a classic case of begging for forgiveness, rather than asking permission,” said Hoyer.

Hoyer’s statement is reinforced by a leading national expert on large-scale construction project management, Philip S. Lanterman. After conducting an in-depth analysis of the evidence, Lanterman stated “In my opinion, it is probable that PIT intentionally chose to proceed with the geotechnical investigation without necessary permits to obtain the expected economic benefit of securing the geotechnical information early in the project timeline, and PIT has actually received such benefit.”

SSA Marine had permits to do geotechnical studies on part of the property, but the settlement finds them at fault for venturing well outside their legal limits. The settlement is among the largest in the history of the Clean Water Act's dredge and fill provisions.
Lanterman further found that “PIT’s efforts to ensure legal compliance of the geotechnical investigation were so far below the standard of care that, in my opinion, they evidence extreme recklessness as to legal compliance or, more likely, an intentional violation of the law.”

SSA Marine, the corporate home for PIT, has decades of experience developing marine port facilities, including building new operations and providing engineering, port design, terminal construction and project management services. With so much experience in project construction, it is difficult to understand how PIT could simply fail to obtain 6 necessary permits before conducting this work.

According to RE Sources’ attorney Richard Smith, “PIT acknowledged that they knew beforehand that permits or authorizations were required not only from the Army Corps, but also from Ecology and the County. They could offer no explanation for why they didn't get these, except that following the law 'fell through the cracks.' Then, their own wetlands consultant testified that she was 'appalled' by the destruction PIT caused. What does this say about how they are likely to conduct themselves in building and running a huge coal terminal?"

SSA’s own internal documents show that, in the months leading up to the clearing, SSA had multiple exchanges with Whatcom County, the Department of Ecology, and the Army Corps of Engineers, discussing the permits and the processes needed to perform the clearing legally. Had SSA applied for the appropriate permits, the Army Corps would have been consulted on Clean Water Act permits, resulting in consultation with the Lummi and Nooksack Indian tribes about SSA’s plans to drill and clear land in known Indian burial grounds.

The Whatcom County Council and a variety of state and federal agencies will, at some point, make a decision whether or not to approve permits for SSA’s coal terminal at Cherry Point. Each of those agencies--the DNR, Ecology, Fish and Wildlife, and others--will be acting in the public’s interest, in the public trust. SSA has demonstrated through its actions that it is willing to ignore, or forget, or willingly violate environmental laws, even at the earliest stages of this project. Hoyer concludes, “When SSA can’t even comply with basic permitting requirements, how can we trust them with the complex elements necessary to protect human health, the Puget Sound, and the resources on which our community relies?”

Press Contacts

Crina Hoyer, Executive Director at RE Sources, (360) 223-8678
Matt Krogh, North Sound Baykeeper at RE Sources, (360) 820-2938


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