Port of Seattle rebukes environmental protesters, maintains lease with Foss, Shell Oil

Sarah Aitchison, March 11, 2015, Puget Sound Business Journal

During three hours of public testimony Tuesday, including comments from representatives of trade businesses and even a ukulele ballad about saving the planet, dozens of speakers testified about a signed lease at the Port of Seattle that would allow Shell Oil to keep its oil exploration vessels there.

After the lengthy testimony, the five Port of Seattle commissioners put forward a motion that would allow the public to have more input on leases that generate public interest.

The motion does not amend or rescind the lease agreement with Shell. Those who spoke against the deal were asking for the port to rescind the lease.

Terminal 5 is undergoing a modernization project that should be completed in 2018. The port was looking for a way to use part of the terminal as a source of revenue without interrupting construction when Foss Maritime stepped in with an idea. Foss would lease the terminal for two years and allow Shell Oil to use it as a home base for vessels traveling to and from the Arctic to explore drilling options.

Environmentalists say by allowing Shell to use the terminal, the port is enabling the company to contribute to climate change.

Supporters of the lease say that the partnership will create hundreds of jobs. They also drew attention to Foss’ clean safety record.

Five environmental groups, led by Earthjustice, filed a lawsuit against the Port of Seattle at the beginning of the month, claiming the port did not open the lease agreement to due public process. They also argued the nature of the land use under the lease did not align with the terminal’s shoreline permits and the port needed an environmental impact statement before it could move forward.

On Monday, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, in conjunction with the Seattle City Council, announced the Department of Planning and Development would be examining the land use permits for Terminal 5, which allows it to be used as a cargo terminal.

Shell would use Terminal 5 as a place to repair and maintain its vessels. Before its lease expired in July, Eagle Marine Services Ltd. had been using the dock for cargo loading and unloading.

To require an environmental impact statement, the environmental effects of the terminal must be substantially different than whatever it had previously been used for.

At the meeting Tuesday, Seattle Marine Business Coalition President John Lockwood said that the lease had already created dozens of those needed jobs.

Many asked why the choice needed to be between jobs and the environment, and Port Commissioner Tom Albro agreed that pitting jobs against the environment was a “false choice.”

Port Commissioner Bowman hopes the motion can be approved quickly. Port Commissioner John Creighton said he would need 30 days of public comment period before they could act, mimicking the language in the text asking for the same thing among high-profile cases.

The other part of the motion gives the port commissioners authority to decide in two years, when the lease with Foss is up, whether or not to continue to allow Shell at the terminal on a month-to-month basis.


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