Steve Wilhelm, March 2, 2015, Puget Sound Business Journal
Five environmental groups filed suit against the Port of Seattle Monday, in an attempt to block the lease of West Seattle’s Terminal 5 for oil-drilling vessels operated by Shell Oil.
The lawsuit seeks to force cancellation of the contract between the port and Seattle-based Foss Maritime, which would operate the site as a base for Shell vessels exploring for oil off Alaska’s North Slope.
“By circumventing SEPA (State Environmental Policy Act) and acting in violation of its shoreline permit, the port made this controversial decision without the public process, candid disclosure, objective assessment and mitigation of environmental and community impacts, and public participation that the law requires,” the suit said.
The suit was filed in King County Superior Court by Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, Seattle Audubon Society, Puget SoundKeeper Alliance and the Washington Environmental Council.
Under the terms of the lease, Foss would pay the port $13.17 million over two years for use of about one-third of Terminal 5. The lease could generate at least 200 jobs, according to the port.
From the port side, the idea was to bring revenue-generating work to Terminal 5 while it’s being renovated for larger and wider cranes to handle larger container ships.
“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.”
Among other things, the opposing environmental groups are concerned that drilling in the Chukchi Sea area of Alaska could lead to spills that would be nearly impossible to clean up in Arctic conditions.
“There are serious concerns about drilling in the Arctic, and how horrific it would be,” said Patti Goldman, a lead Earthjustice attorney.
The groups also are concerned about the possibility of spills or leakage in Puget Sound from bringing in oil drilling ships such as the Noble Explorer.
The lease is opposed by some high-profile political and business leaders, including former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and Zumiez founder Tom Campion. Seattle City Councilmembers Mike O’Brien and Kshama Sawant also support the coalition fighting the project.
In a larger sphere, the opposition is tied to concerns about increased development of fossil fuels at a time when climate change already is being felt in the Arctic area.
The Seattle Port Commission signed the lease on Feb. 9.