The Whatcom County Council’s finance committee has voted 2-1 against a current version of a contract with consultant CH2M Hill to oversee the environmental impact statement process for the Gateway Pacific Terminal coal and bulk cargo shipping pier proposed for Cherry Point.
Committee member Sam Crawford moved for approval of the contract, but Carl Weimer and Ken Mann voted no.
All seven members of the council sat in on the committee discussion, and they made it clear that they have been hearing from many constituents with concerns about the issue. Whatcom County Executive Jack Louws and Planning Manager Tyler Schroeder attempted to address the council’s concerns, but Mann and Weimer, at least, were not convinced.
Council members Barbara Brenner and Pete Kremen also expressed misgivings about provisions of the contract and related documents, and it was not clear whether the contract would be able to get the four votes it needs for passage at tonight’s session of the full council.
That evening discussion appears likely to occur well after The Bellingham Herald’s print deadlines, so I’m forced to follow up on the matter on Wednesday.
The first set of concerns focused on public disclosure. Council members said they wanted assurances that reports prepared by the consultant during the lengthy environmental impact study process are made public as soon as possible. Schroeder and Whatcom County Deputy Prosecutor Royce Buckingham said it was the county’s view that any such reports and materials that CH2M Hill provides to SSA Marine, the Gateway Pacific proponent, would become a public record for everyone to see.
Louws told council he would issue an executive order to county staff, directing them to post such materials on the county’s website as soon as possible.
That seemed to satisfy council members.
But they also raised concerns about the length of time that the public would have to comment on the scope of the study. That time was initially envisioned as 60 days by officials with Whatcom County, the Washington Department of Ecology and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers–the three agencies envolved in the process.
But concerned citizens argue that due to the complexity of the issue, 120 days are needed. Schroeder said the agencies are still discussing whether a 120-day comment period might be advisable. Council members Brenner and Kremen said they thought the 120-day period should be added to contract language now. Louws said he and his staff would push for a 120-day comment period, but the other two agencies involved would need to agree.
After Crawford moved to recommend approval of the contract, Weimer said he could not do that because the scope of the environmental study appears to be limited to impacts inside the state of Washington.
“This project is bigger than Washington state,” Weimer said. “Why are we limiting the scope of work to Washington state?”
Weimer also said he thought the project applicants, SSA Marine and BNSF Railway Co., should be obligated to pay a greater portion of the county’s indirect costs of processing their project application. As written, SSA and the railway would pay all direct costs, but their exposure to indirect costs is limited.
Mann expressed misgivings about contract language attempting to limit potential conflicts of interest that CH2M Hill might face, if the giant consulting and engineering firm gets involved with SSA Marine or BNSF Railway Co. on future projects. He said he too was not yet ready to recommend approval.