Bluewater Network/Friends of the Earth on the Port

Port of Seattle Commissioners imposed stronger air and water quality protections than port staff had recommended on a $118 million cruise and container terminal project approved in late February. The new measures responded to environmental concerns spelled by out by Friends of the Earth (formerly Bluewater Network) about smokestack emissions and wastewater discharges that will be generated by the Terminal 30/91 expansion.

The port will require cruise ships visiting five or more times per season to plug into shore side electricity or burn only cleaner low-sulfur bunker fuel (1.5 percent sulfur) when in port to reduce air pollution. It will also require stronger oversight of wastewater discharges and ban sludge dumping in the Olympic Marine Sanctuary.

As a result of the port commission’s actions, the March 6th deadline passed without an appeal challenging the adequacy of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) the Port of Seattle wrote for the redevelopment of Terminals T-30, and T-91.  The purpose of the project is to recapture and expand the Port’s container handling capacity in the Duwamish East waterway by moving the temporary cruise ship terminal at T-30 to T-91 at the foot of Magnolia Bluff while combining T-25, T-28 and T-30 to handle larger container ships.

The Friends of the Earth (formerly Bluewater Network) has been following the Port’s efforts to expand their cruise and container ship operations since their decision to develop T-30 as a temporary cruise ship terminal for $18 million in 2003.   The Port originally wanted to develop the cruise ship terminal at the base of Magnolia but did not want to be subject to the environmental scrutiny of a full EIS so opted to do an expedited permitting process at T-30 where they did not have to do any dredging.

A combination of extensive press coverage and targeted action alerts by the Friends of the Earth resulted in over 170 people commenting on the Draft EIS that they wanted the Port to exhibit environmental leadership in their actions.  Significant improvements were made between the draft and final EIS.  Most importantly were advances in air quality where the final EIS requires that the air mitigation measures be made a part of the lease for T-30 and the berthing agreements at T-91.   These include having cruise ships using shore side power or low sulphur fuels and clean diesel technologies be used in the shore side facilities at T-30.

While the Final EIS still failed to account for the unique and voluminous marine discharges cruise ships generate, Friends of the Earth decided to work with the Port Commission, lead by President John Creighton, to make operational improvements separate from the EIS rather than require the Port to write another EIS that would better describe the problem but not assure any improvements.

The full text of the Commission’s February 16th Motion is attached.  Some of the noteworthy improvements include a commitment to amend the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Port, Ecology and the NW Cruse ship Association to prohibit the dumping of sewage sludge anywhere within the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, exploring the possibility of the Port providing infrastructure to handle sludge and hazardous wastes at the dock, reviewing the implementation of the MOU on an annual basis, and attaching the MOU to any long term berthing agreements entered into between the Port and the cruise lines thereby providing some enforceability to the voluntary agreement.

We were fortunate to have the assistance of the students of the University of Washington’s Environmental Law Clinic, lead by professor Michael Robinson-Dorn, who helped us review the environmental documents and review our legal options.  Having had access to top-notch pro-bono legal assistance made our decision not to sue all the more significant.

The reason for the decision not to file suit against the port was the realization that since the last Port election and appointment of John Creighton as president, there clearly has been a sea change in environmental leadership that causes us to want to celebrate rather than litigate. We look forward to the opportunity to work cooperatively with the new Commission to see the various aspects of their motion and future initiatives implemented.  We also want to give Tay Yoshitani, who replaces retiring Chief Executive Mic Dinsmore, an opportunity to demonstrate his willingness to work more cooperatively with the environmental community than his predecessor by showing him we are not against the port, but we are against port pollution.

Four years after raising environmental concerns about the Port’s attempt to fast track a cruise ship terminal at T-91 in 2003 important environmental improvements have been accomplished through this process.  However, we are still hard pressed to understand why Port did not ask the multi- billion dollar cruise industry to help defray the cost of building a $62.4 million terminal since they are only gaining $6.1 million in new cruise revenue? This sweat heart deal was cut when Pat Davis was Port President that raises an important business question, not an environmental one.

Fred Felleman, MSc. is an environmental consultant for the Friends of the Earth(formerly Bluewater Network) (felleman@comcast.net).

~ by fredfelleman on March 5, 2007.

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