Business leaders, McGinn threaten lawsuit over $13M Shell Oil terminal lease

Sarah Aitchison, February 24, 2015, Puget Sound Business Journal

Port of Seattle Commissioners could face an environmental coalition lawsuit if the port doesn’t rescind a two-year lease agreement with Foss Maritime Co., and by extension Shell Oil, on Tuesday.

Earlier this month the Port of Seattle signed a lease contract with Seattle-based maritime company Foss that would allow Shell Oil to operate at Terminal 5. Shell would use the terminal as a holding place for oil exploration vessels heading to Alaska and the Arctic.

Foss would pay the port $13.17 million over two years, not including any excise tax. The lease could generate at least 200 jobs, according to the port.

Environmental leaders, including former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and Zumiez founder Tom Campion have been vocal in their opposition to the lease.

Kenan Block, spokesman for the environmental coalition, said the port commissioners have the power to rescind the lease, and that’s exactly what the coalition wants them to do. Tuesday’s meeting should have some fireworks.

“This issue is not going away. The coalition is hard at work and opposition to [Shell Oil at Terminal 5] is growing,” Block said.

If Port Commissioners don’t rescind the lease, which is expected to begin at the beginning of March, the coalition may sue to stop it.

The coalition is made up of a local legal, political and business leaders, including Campion and McGinn, the Washington Environmental Council, Greenpeace and Earthjustice. Seattle City Councilmembers Mike O’Brien and Kshama Sawant also support the coalition. O’Brien spoke at a press conference opposing Shell’s presence in January.

Terminal 5 is undergoing modernization, which means it won’t be able to fulfill normal operations at the ports until 2018, when construction will be completed. Without revenue from a normal terminal operator, the Port of Seattle, which is a public entity, was looking for a way to offset the costs of the project without interrupting it.

That’s when Foss Maritime stepped in.

Foss recommended leasing the terminal to it, and then by extension Shell Oil. Foss is the name on the lease.

The coalition sent a letter to the port commissioners at the end of January asking them to take more time, open the process to the public and require environmental impact statement.

Commissioners signed the lease on Feb. 9.

“This opportunity has the potential to create hundreds of family-wage jobs and generate tens of millions of dollars in revenue for the region,” said Peter McGraw, spokesman for the Port of Seattle. “We also respect the difference of opinion amongst community stakeholders and commissioners, and will carefully review their letters and concerns.”

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