Whatcom County Council passes the introduction of a 5th interim moratorium on facilities at Cherry Point during their July 24th, 2018 meeting.
Council members introduced ordinance (AB2018-077B) “Imposing an interim moratorium on accepting permits for new or expanded facilities in the Cherry Point urban growth area, the primary purpose of which would be the shipment of unrefined fossil fuels not to be processed at Cherry Point.” The introduction to consider passage of this new ordinance was approved by a vote of 5-2, with council members Brenner and Byrd opposed.
A public hearing on this latest interim moratorium will be held at the next regular council meeting scheduled for 7:00 p.m. WEDNESDAY, August 8, in the Council Chambers, 311 Grand Avenue, Bellingham.
The majority of the Whatcom County Council believes the moratorium is necessary for the protection of public health and safety. Their effort to regulate growth at Cherry Point began in 2016, due to expressed concerns by local and national enviro-groups. They believe that increased activity for crude oil trains and fossil fuel exports, may lead to an increase in accidents that could damage the environment. Also, with the urging of these same enviro-groups and the blessing of a majority on the Council, the State Dept. of Natural Resources moved to and approved a designation that the waters adjacent to the Cherry Point UGA are an Aquatic Reserve.
Many representatives of the industries at Cherry Point, their employees, local independent businesses that provide outside services to these industries, and local business organizations believe that these interim measures have the intent to regulate and retard the growth of new development at the existing facilities and any future facilities, within in the Cherry Point UGA. Numerous public comments have been made that the Whatcom County Planning Dept. staff are developing new zoning rules that would eventually kill the ability for industry to exist in the Cherry Point UGA.
Council member Barbara Brenner said she’s “getting tired of this moratorium.”
The Whatcom County Council placed a moratorium on Cherry Point industrial lands with their initial interim measure passed on September 27, 2016 (Ordinance 2016-039), and numerous subsequent moratoriums on, March 21, 2017 (Ordinance 2017-011), September 26, 2017 (Ordinance 2017-049), and February 27, 2018 (Ordinance 2018-007). After a brief discussion the Council was advised by the County Clerk, to continue enforcement of the current moratorium there will need to be a public hearing held by August 8th, 2018, to avoid a lapse between interim moratoriums. (Typically the Council meets on Tuesday’s, but due to the Primary Election ballot deadline, the County Council’s regular meetings have been pushed over to a Wednesday.)
During the daytime Special Committee of the Whole on Tuesday morning, July 24th, 2018, the Council members worked on the exact language of the Draft Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Code Amendments for Cherry Point. Their latest discussion went over the following:
- Storage of crude oil, and whether it should be a permitted use or a conditional use for crude oil that will be refined onsite.
- What type of permits should be required to have insurance.
- Whether a greenhouse gas analysis should be an absolute requirement or if SEPA should have some discretion.
- Requiring all state and federal permit approvals prior to applying for a major project permit with the County.
Big changes proposed for consideration by this Committee are:
- Requirement of Type-4 insurance permits that require County Council approval.
- Requirement for a Greenhouse Gas Analysis whenever an Environmental Impact Statement is required “for new or expanded transportation, storage, or distribution facilities for crude oil, liquefied petroleum gas, or natural gas.” Council language would be explicit that “a Greenhouse Gas Analysis is absolutely required, with no possible discretion by the SEPA official.”
County staff person Matt Aamot said, “the Planning Department would like to get the language nailed down for the initial proposal soon.” Soon being before the hearing on August 8th, 2018. Aamot’s reasoning for the stepped-up time frame is because the Draft Comp Plan amendments still need SEPA review and additional public hearings.