New Cherry Point reserve plan wins praise

Nov, 18, 2010


Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark visited Birch Bay State Park on Thursday, Nov. 18, to put his signature on a much-discussed management plan for the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve.

The reserve was created in 2000 by former Public Lands Commissioner Jennifer Belcher, but a plan that would spell out the significance of the designation has not been in place until now.

The reserve includes a 3,000-acre offshore area that stretches roughly from Point Whitehorn south to the northern boundary of Lummi Nation.

The first draft of the plan stirred up some opposition from Cherry Point industries when it was released this summer, because it surrounds existing and planned industrial shipping terminals that take advantage of the site’s deep water.

The industries feared the plan would add a new layer of environmental regulation that could make it more difficult for them to expand or modify their operations, and could even threaten their long-term survival.

Goldmark said the final version contains changes in wording that are meant to address the concerns expressed by officials at the BP Cherry Point and ConocoPhillips oil refineries, Alcoa Intalco Works, and at SSA Marine, which plans to build a bulk cargo export terminal south of the BP refinery.

Goldmark said his agency, the Department of Natural Resources, never intended the management plan as a threat to established industries or to SSA’s longstanding plan, and the final draft makes that clear.

“They needed more detail and surety that their operations would continue,” he said. “As much as anything, they wanted an affirmation that this was not an attempt to move them away.”

Bob Watters, an SSA vice president, said he appreciated the changes.

“I think they really created a balanced program of environmental and economic interests,” he said.

Watters said that while the plan sets high environmental standards for management of the 3,000 acres of water and seabed that DNR controls, it also appears to allow sustainable development to continue. He does not see the plan as a barrier to SSA’s plan to build a $400 million terminal to export coal and other cargo within five years.

BP spokesman Bill Kidd agreed that the plan had been improved.

“I’m appreciative of some of the changes they have made,” he said. “It allayed my fears of some of the worst elements of it.”

But Kidd said he still has doubts about the wisdom of designating an aquatic reserve that encircles existing industries.

“I don’t think the plan erases that fundamental question, but I acknowledge and appreciate that they have tried to clear up the language … that they believe our operations are consistent with the nature of the reserve.”

Environmentalists also expressed pleasure with the plan, which has been in the works since the aquatic reserve was established a decade ago.

Fred Felleman, an environmental consultant and outspoken advocate for efforts to restore the badly depleted population of Cherry Point herring, served on the panel that worked with DNR to develop the plan. Felleman said the version that Goldmark signed Thursday helps to make clear the environmental value of the area.

“It’s time to value the reserve beyond its deep-water docking capability,” Felleman said. “We should be able to have our docks and herring too, and I don’t think that is a mutually exclusive proposition. But it does require some effort. … Nobody was trying to put anybody out of business in the course of doing this.”

Another member of the panel, Steve Irving of North Cascades Audubon Society, said the herring population decline in the area appears to have caused a dramatic drop in seabird populations. He expressed hope the plan would set the stage for recovery for both fish and birds.

Mike Sato, spokesman for People for Puget Sound, expressed delight that the state has now created more than 60,000 acres of aquatic reserves to help protect marine ecosystems.

“This plan clearly puts priority on protecting the marine resources at Cherry Point, which is one of the most important habitats contributing to the health of Puget Sound,” Sato said in a prepared statement. “Just as important, the plan recognizes the economic importance of the area and allows existing industries to apply best management to minimize any negative impacts and requires new uses to avoid negative impacts to the aquatic resources at Cherry Point.”

Craig Cole, who helped develop county land-use plans allowing industrial use of the area during his years on the Whatcom County Council, had been an outspoken critic of the draft of the management plan that appeared last summer. He, too, said the final version seems to strike the right balance.

He described the plan as “trying to foster economic growth within the context of higher environmental standards.”

“That’s a big challenge, but he (Goldmark) is clearly working very hard at trying to achieve that balance,” Cole said.

Reach JOHN STARK or call 715-2274.

~ by fredfelleman on November 19, 2010.

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