The Gristle

Refocusing the Narrative

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

REFOCUSING THE NARRATIVE: King County Council this week approved a six-month moratorium on building or expanding major fossil-fuel infrastructure, joining other local governments in the Northwest with similar measures that aim to use local zoning laws to restrict fossil-fuel pipelines, storage facilities and other infrastructure. In this effort, Whatcom County appears to be paving the way.

The King County moratorium disallows permitting for fossil-fuel projects in unincorporated King County and directs the county executive’s office to produce a survey of existing facilities, study those facilities’ impacts on communities, analyze the existing regulations that apply to them, recommend changes to regulations and permitting, and evaluate county-owned facilities for health impacts.

The Seattle Times reports the moratorium is limited, and does not disallow existing infrastructure or directly address rail lines or pipelines, which are regulated by the federal government.

That’s because the powers of local governments over land use and the protection of human health and safety are fairly limited over projects within federal jurisdiction. But just because those powers are limited, does that mean they should not be strengthened and enforced to their fullest?

That’s been the question that has wracked Whatcom County Council for many months as that legislative body has worked through a series of amendments to the county’s Comprehensive Plan that pertain to the heavy industrial zone at Cherry Point.

This week Council approved their sixth extension of their own version of a 2016 moratorium similar to that of King County on the acceptance and processing of applications and permits for new or expanded facilities at Cherry Point related to the shipment of unrefined, unprocessed fossil fuels. The moratorium prevents projects from being permitted under the older rules while new rules are being drafted.

“The King County moratorium is in many ways modeled on Whatcom County,” observed Alex Ramel, the Extreme Oil field director for Stand.Earth. “They are jumping on board and doing something similar.”

As part of their own deliberative process, last year the Whatcom County Council sought legal guidance from consultants at the Cascade Law Group that laid out the strategies local governments might employ to limit the scope or impacts of such projects. Council then began to discuss how to best incorporate these strategies.

A series of council vacancies, replacements, elections and new memberships have slowed this work, shifted emphasis, and even changed pluralities of support for the amendments. In short, County Council has begun to lose the thread of their own narrative, the purpose underlying their work.

In mid-January, Council member Todd Donovan introduced a refocused proposal that would require a conditional use permit for all new fossil-fuel facilities at Cherry Point, not just those unrefined fossil-fuel facilities that were previously under discussion.

Donovan’s changes reflect the advice of Cascade Law Group that county policies can’t pick and choose among preferred specific fossil-fuel products or processes, but need to focus more broadly overall on health and safety impacts, and mitigation of these large-scale projects. The revisions invites a broader discussion of the definition of a fossil-fuel facility, what sorts of projects should receive a pass and which should be subject to additional review.

The proposed changes drew immediate alarm from Whatcom County Executive Jack Louws, who issued a memo to Council warning the changes “if adopted into law, would have a significant impact on operations of our existing industries at Cherry Point. In practice, this proposal (if lawful, which I would challenge) would deal what I would consider a knockout punch to future capital repair and maintenance projects at the refineries, notwithstanding any consideration of major renovation projects.”

The proposal, which the executive believes could add months if not years to permit timelines, along with adding substantial cost and uncertainty for the applicant, “is in my opinion a true job killer,” Louws wrote.

Council this week took the unusual step of calling back for a reconsideration Donovan’s submittal in a special meeting of the council’s Committee of the Whole. At issue was an attempt to clarify and resolve matters planners believed were in conflict between recent amendments and those the council were at work on the fall.

“The letter of the County Executive and an email from the Planning and Development Services Director showed that the proceedings from October and the proceedings from January were not consistent. They were not matching,” Council member Satpal Sidhu summarized. “We have been working on this for almost two years, and I would like to see this resolved as soon as possible.

“But,” he added, “this is an effort to hear back from Cascade Law that what we are proposing, how valid is that? Before we send it out to the planning commission, as well as industry and other stakeholders, before it comes back to the council. If there are some fundamental flaws, we should recognize them now rather than later.”

Some on Council used the opportunity to scold the process for a lack of transparency—but those remarks came from the members who’ve been displeased by the entire proceeding and oppose the essence of what other policymakers seek from these changes, an instrument to potentially limit certain varieties of industry at Cherry Point. As Donovan pointed out, a clarification or request to staff on paper is no less transparent than when it is issued verbally, and the verbal requests occur in council committees with regularity.

“This policy has had more public discussion, more public consideration, more public comment than anything I have ever been part of in county government,” Ramel observed. “There have been people commenting on this, or pieces of this, at nearly every County Council meeting for going on three years.”

Time to move forward, and make the goals of the moratorium durable, regional land-use policy.

Sugar Ray
Past Columns
Marina Lacuna

February 20, 2019

New Bites at the Apple

February 13, 2019

Coal Folds

February 6, 2019

Old Town, Old Story

January 23, 2019

Ranker Unanchored

January 16, 2019

‘Alternative Methods’

January 9, 2019

Top Stories, 2018

January 2, 2019

Et Tu, #MeToo

December 26, 2018

Turn That Corner

December 19, 2018

Paradigms in Collision

November 28, 2018

Leftover Turkey

November 21, 2018

The Divisions Between Us

November 14, 2018

The Map is the Territory

November 7, 2018

Climate Kids

October 31, 2018

What The Market Won’t Bear

October 24, 2018

As Above, So Below

October 17, 2018

As Below, So Above

October 10, 2018

A Civil Disagreement

October 3, 2018

Events
Today
A Forest of Words Poetry Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Skagit Birding Adventures

9:00am|Skagit Valley

Literacy Council Seeks Volunteers

10:00am

Makerspace Classes

5:00pm|Bellingham Makerspace

Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival

7:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

The Addams Family

7:00pm|Ferndale High School

Shakespeare in Love

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

West Side Story

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Wild Things

9:30am|Whatcom Falls Park

Wild Things

9:30am|Interurban Trail

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Peace Vigil

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Fourth Friday Art Walk

5:00pm|Historic Fairhaven

Bellingham Youth Jazz Band

7:00pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

The Book of Help

7:00pm|Village Books

Always...Patsy Cline

7:00pm|Conway Muse

Salish Sea Early Music Festival

7:30pm|St. Paul's Episcopal Church

Heavy Metal

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Concert Hall.

Richard III

7:30pm|Phillip Tarro Theater

Cupid's Arrow

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Serial Killers, Episode Four

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Kinky Boots
Tomorrow
A Forest of Words Poetry Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Skagit Birding Adventures

9:00am|Skagit Valley

Literacy Council Seeks Volunteers

10:00am

The Addams Family

7:00pm|Ferndale High School

Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival

7:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

Shakespeare in Love

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

West Side Story

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Always...Patsy Cline

7:00pm|Conway Muse

Cupid's Arrow

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Richard III

7:30pm|Phillip Tarro Theater

Fragrance Lake 50K

6:00am|Larrabee State Park

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #154

Smelt Run

9:00am|La Conner High School

Children's Literature Conference

9:00am|Performing Arts Center

Community Work Party

9:00am|Squalicum Creek

Whatcom Falls 5K

10:00am|Whatcom Falls Park

Assistance League Anniversary Sale

10:00am|Assistance League

Kids Cooking Class

11:00am|Chuckanut Center

Recreation Northwest EXPO

11:00am|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Hearty Party 5K

11:00am|Max Higbee Center'

Wildlife Photography with Andy Porter

11:00am|Padilla Bay Estuarine Research Reserve

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Tax Help Available

12:30pm|First Congregational Church

Wine Tasting with Duckhorn Vineyards

2:00pm|Seifert & Jones Wine Merchants

"Beatlemania/Beatlemedia

2:00pm|Blaine Library

Forestry and Wildlife Panel

2:00pm|Ferndale Library

Waterway Tour

2:00pm| I & J Waterway

Wildfire and Resilience

3:00pm|Deming Library

The Fellowship of Fire

4:00pm|Village Books

Dancer Panel

5:00pm|Museum of Northwest Art

Contra Dance

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Visions from Cape Breton and Beyond

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Bayshore Symphony

7:30pm|St. Paul's Episcopal Church

An Evening with Steve Mayo

7:30pm|Lummi Island Library

Kinky Boots Trove Web
Sunday
A Forest of Words Poetry Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Skagit Birding Adventures

9:00am|Skagit Valley

Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival

7:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Bayshore Symphony

7:30pm|St. Paul's Episcopal Church

Rabbit Ride

8:30am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Langar in Lynden

11:00am| Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Drag Brunch, Celebrity Impersonation

11:00am|Rumors Cabaret

History Tour

12:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Seabirds of the Salish Sea

1:00pm|REI

Audubon at the Museum

1:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Interfaith Music Festival

3:00pm|First Congregational Church

Art of Jazz

4:00pm|The Majestic

Heavy metal Hollywood

4:00pm

Clover Group Reading

4:00pm|Village Books

see our complete calendar »

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