Whatcom County Council Continues Search to Legally Restrict Growth at Cherry Point

In Cherry Point Industrial Area, Common Voices, News, Whatcom County Council by CTNW News

Whatcom County Council members continue to tweak their proposed new rules adding more hurdles to future growth for industries at Cherry Point.

During their Special Committee of the Whole meeting on Tuesday Sept. 11, 2018, council members resumed discussion of preliminary draft Comprehensive Plan and zoning amendments that would affect Cherry Point. Planning and Development Services staff member Matt Aamot says county staff suggested the council make its final proposed changes that day, but that didn’t seem to happen. Members said they were still digesting some new information they heard in a closed executive session earlier that morning.

The Special Committee of the Whole needs to provide an opportunity for public comment or hold a town hall meeting with the Planning Commission in September or October. Then Planning and Development Services would conduct a SEPA review, the Planning Commission would hold a hearing and issue recommendations, then send it back to the Council for a hearing and final decision. Aamot informed the Council that the County makes its final decisions around February 1st of each year.

Staff asked council members for clarification on a few issues:

*On July 10, 2018, the County Council’s Special Committee of the Whole directed staff to continue to allow accessory storage of refined petroleum products (such as gasoline) as a permitted use in the Heavy Impact Industrial zone at Cherry Point. Aamot said new crude oil storage facilities for EXPORT would require a conditional use permit, and asked if the Council intends to also require a conditional use permit for new or expanded storage of crude oil that is refined ON-SITE at Cherry Point or to allow that as a permitted use? Aamot said changing it could conflict with other sections of the zoning code. Council member Todd Donovan suggested making any new storage a conditional use which he said would be legally safer. Council member Barbara Brenner said make all new storage a permitted use. Council member Rud Browne brought up allowing storage of 110% of the current max refining capacity as permitted and anything more as a conditional use. He said conditional use permits do not forbid a project but “it just puts the applicant through more hoops.” Members wanted to ask industry reps who were in the room, but Pam Brady with BP said they’re not prepared to contemplate the idea and would like opportunity to ask experts first. No vote was taken.

*On June 9th, 2018, the Special Committee of the Whole asked staff to require insurance policies if allowed by law, and added placeholders because Cascadia Law Group was to provide help with that issue. Council members said they were concerned about who has title, and therefore liability of crude oil by rail, when it’s being transported through Whatcom County. If a major derailment and fire happened in downtown Bellingham, who would be legally responsible for that, and how would they take care of that responsibility? Council member Donovan said they received new information about insurance from Cascadia Law Group during their closed executive session and were not prepared to vote on that today.

The Council approved the following changes:

*On July 10th, 2018, the Special Committee of the Whole discussed requiring state and federal permits to be approved BEFORE the county approves a major project. Staff recommended using the existing rules which require state and federal permits as a condition for a major project but not necessarily before local approval. Council member Brenner said this change would only create unneeded bureaucracy and “if it wasn’t broke we didn’t need to fix it.”

Planning Director Mark Personius suggested the change wouldn’t save staff time or money. Council member Tyler Byrd called it a “solution looking for a problem.” The change was PASSED 5-2 with Byrd and Brenner opposed. It would still allow the local permitting process to happen at the same time as state and federal – until the end of the process at which time the county would hold off on approval until the state and federal permits are approved.

*In the Public Utilities Chapter of the Comp Plan, proposed new language would specify that new pipelines require a conditional use permit except when replacing pipelines that are no larger than the pipelines being replaced. Council member Satpal Sidhu wanted to change the exception from “same size” to “same capacity.” Council member Byrd repeatedly asked “what’s the goal” of this change and didn’t get a clear answer. PASSED 5-2 with Brenner and Byrd opposed.

*Council member Browne wanted to change the proposed new language banning exports of any “hazardous substance” to “radioactive substance.” He said the definition of “hazardous substance” was too broad and could include substances that are already being shipped from Cherry Point. Browne said, “everything that goes through Cherry Point would meet the definition of a hazardous substance,” and that wasn’t the intention of the proposed new language. The change from hazardous to radioactive was PASSED 5-1 with council member Sidhu opposed. Sidhu had a problem with the word “exports” and was more concerned about limiting negative impacts from these substances.

At the regular County Council meeting that evening workers continued to voice their opposition to the proposed changes for Cherry Point.