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.

Past Columns
Netse Mot

September 18, 2019

A Rising Tide

September 11, 2019

The Power of Change

September 4, 2019

Hands Against Hate

August 28, 2019

Ground Zero

August 21, 2019

Fire and Frost

August 14, 2019

The Fury and the Folly

August 7, 2019

Due East II

July 31, 2019

The Real Social Network

July 17, 2019

Due East

July 3, 2019

Thin Green Line

June 26, 2019

A Journeyman’s Journey

June 12, 2019

Her Story

June 5, 2019

Do Overs

May 29, 2019

E Pluribus Unum

May 15, 2019

The Millworks

May 8, 2019

State of the County

May 1, 2019

Events
Today
Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

Eat Local Month

10:00am|Whatcom County

Singin' in the Rain, Jr.

7:00pm|Ferndale High School

Tuesdays with Morrie and On Approval

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

And Then There Were None

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Student warriors march for climate justice

9:00am

Skagit County Garage Sale

9:00am|Skagit County Fairgrounds

Wild Things

9:30am|Whatcom Falls Park

Whatcomics Call for Art

10:00am|Whatcom County

Voter Registration Event

11:00am|Bellingham Public Library

Books and Bites

1:00pm|Blaine Library

Ferndale Farmers Market

2:00pm|1750 LaBounty Dr.

Whatcom Museum Tag Sale

5:00pm|Syre Education Center

Open Mic Night

6:00pm|Deming Library

Family Story Night

6:00pm|Fairhaven Library

The Cody Rivers Show presents Baderson

6:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

The mystery and the mania

7:00pm

Trivia Night Fundraiser

7:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

Downriver

7:00pm|Village Books

Edgar Allan

7:30pm|Firehouse Arts and Events Center

Godlike

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Miss Fitts

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

Improv Evolution

9:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Tomorrow
Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

Eat Local Month

10:00am|Whatcom County

Singin' in the Rain, Jr.

7:00pm|Ferndale High School

And Then There Were None

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Tuesdays with Morrie and On Approval

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Skagit County Garage Sale

9:00am|Skagit County Fairgrounds

Whatcomics Call for Art

10:00am|Whatcom County

Whatcom Museum Tag Sale

5:00pm|Syre Education Center

The Cody Rivers Show presents Baderson

6:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Godlike

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Miss Fitts

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

Improv Evolution

9:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

Hamster Endurance Runs

8:00am|Lake Padden

Giant Pumpkin Festival and Weigh-Off

9:00am|Christianson's Nursery

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Mount Vernon Farmers Market2333

9:00am|Riverwalk Park

Twin Sisters Farmers Markets

9:00am|North Fork Library

Mindful Meditation and Combining Food Wisely

9:00am|Community Food Co-op

Smithsonian Magazine Museum Day Live!

10:00am

Boating Center Fall Hours

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|H Street Plaza

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Lynden Farmers Market

10:00am|Centennial Park

Purls & Pop-Ups Yarn Crawl

10:00am|Whatcom County

Correspondence Club

10:30am|Mindport Exhibits

Your Life is a Story Writer's Group

10:30am|South Whatcom Library

Persistence of Light

10:30am|Lynden Library

Backyard Fairies

11:00am|North Fork Library

Cemetery Tours

11:00am|Lynden Cemetery

One Planet

11:00am|Peace Arch Park

Fall Show Reception

2:00pm|River Gallery

Sedro-Woolley Brewfest

2:00pm|Hammer Heritage Square

Remembering Ella Higginson

3:00pm|Deming Library

Nooksack River Walk

3:00pm|Horseshoe Bend Trailhead

Gardening Rount Table

3:00pm|North Fork Library

Wayne Carter Book Signing

3:00pm|Upper Skagit Library

Artist talk with Drie Chapek

4:00pm|i.e. gallery

PechaKucha Night

5:00pm|Museum of Northwest Art

International Day of Peace with WPJC

6:00pm|The Majestic

Homeless for a Night

6:00pm| Allen United Methodist Church

The Sound and the Glory

7:00pm|Village Books

Blue Abode Comedy Show

7:00pm|Blue Abode Bar

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Modern Slavery

7:30pm|Lummi Island Library

Salsa Night

9:00pm|Cafe Rumba

Sunday
Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

Eat Local Month

10:00am|Whatcom County

Tuesdays with Morrie and On Approval

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

And Then There Were None

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Whatcomics Call for Art

10:00am|Whatcom County

Miss Fitts

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

Hamster Endurance Runs

8:00am|Lake Padden

Boating Center Fall Hours

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Homeless for a Night

6:00pm| Allen United Methodist Church

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Oyster Run Motorcycle Rally

9:00am|Downtown Anacortes

Brunch on the Bay

10:00am|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Birchwood Farmers Market

10:00am|Park Manor Shopping Center

Bellingham Handmade Market

11:00am|Goods Nursery and Produce

Langar in Lynden

11:00am| Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

Bellingham Veg Fest

11:00am|Depot Market Square

Walk to End Alzheimer's

12:00pm|Riverwalk Plaza

Audubon at the Museum

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

George Winston

2:00pm|McIntyre Hall

More than a piano man

2:00pm

Open Borders

4:00pm|Village Books

Skookum Rocks the Farm

7:00pm|Bellewood Acres

Seattle International Comedy Competition Audition Showcase

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

see our complete calendar »