Environmental groups target Port of Seattle plan to lease Terminal 5

Environmental groups object to the Port of Seattle leasing Terminal 5 to company that is working for Shell’s Arctic oil drilling fleet.


By Coral Garnick, January 29, 2015, Seattle Times


A coalition of national and state environmental organizations is threatening to go to court to stop the Port of Seattle from leasing Terminal 5 to Foss Marine and become the home port of Shell’s Arctic oil-drilling fleet.


In a letter to the Port, the coalition calls on the commissioners to halt lease negotiations and allow public participation and an environmental review. The letter says the Port should, “and legally must, assess the environmental harm that could befall Puget Sound.”


On Jan. 13, commissioners were briefed on Foss’ plan and authorized the staff to negotiate a short-term lease. The vacant terminal is to be upgraded starting in 2018.


“By keeping its negotiations secret until a couple of weeks ago, the Port of Seattle blindsided the community,” Emily Johnston of 350 Seattle said during a news conference Wednesday at Jack Block park in West Seattle. Other members of the coalition include Climate Solutions, Earthjustice, Washington Environmental Council, Alaska Wilderness League and Washington Forest Law Center.


The coalition gave the Port a Feb. 9 deadline to respond. Patti Goldman, the managing attorney for the Northwest regional office of Earthjustice, said the coalition will then consider taking the Port to court if it decides to move forward.


“If they sign the lease and they have not complied with the environmental-review requirements of the law,” she said, “we could challenge that lease and send it back to the drawing board.”


The Port says it is exempt from an environmental review because the terminal will be used in a less intense way than the previous lease, for a container terminal. Foss intends to receive, inventory and stage equipment and supplies for loading to a fleet of vessels, including exploration drill rigs, icebreakers, environmental-response vessels, tugs and barges for seasonal operations in Alaska.


The coalition says the Port is trying to skirt the law because the lease is different.


“This wasn’t a shipyard. It wasn’t a home port. And it wasn’t a home port to Shell, which has a very bad track record,” Goldman said. “Shipyards are notorious for the kinds of toxic pollution they discharge in the water.”


In a statement, the Port said the lease with Foss has the potential to create hundreds of family-wage jobs and generate tens of millions of dollars in revenue for the region.


“We also respect the differences of opinion amongst community stakeholders and commissioners, and will carefully review their letter and concerns,” Port spokesman Peter McGraw said in a statement.


Rather than focus solely on generating revenue and creating jobs, the coalition said it wants the Port to remember its mission to support a sustainable economy.


“This isn’t about jobs — we can create some great sustainable jobs on this land and throughout the region,” Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien said during the news conference. “But we have to start by rejecting this false premise that somehow the future of Seattle’s economy is going to be tied to drilling in the Arctic.”


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