SSA Marine’s Sr. VP Bob Watters, was allowed to give public testimony at the July 12, 2016 County Council Special Committee of the Whole (SCOTW) meeting during the public comment session.
SSA Marine/Pacific International Terminals is the permit applicant for the Gateway Pacific Terminal project proposed at Cherry Point. On May 9, 2016, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Seattle District Commander Col. John. G. Buck, announced that the district determined the potential impacts to the Lummi Nation’s usual and accustomed (U&A) fishing rights from the proposed GPT are greater than de minimis. Because of that determination, and because the Lummi Nation maintains its objections to the project, the district determined GPT cannot be permitted by the Corps.
Bob Watters’ testimony , above, was regarding the proposed amendments made by Council member Carl Weimer to Chapter 2 Land Use Cherry Point, in the Comprehensive Plan Update. Watters’ testimony was after the Council had reconvened the SCOTW after breaking for an Executive Session with County attorney/s regarding Council member Weimer’s proposed amendments.
Since May 2012, Whatcom County citizens have been under restrictions stemming from a legal directive coming out of the County Prosecutor’s office prohibiting them from speaking to County Council representatives during Council meetings (and any other time) about anything related to the GPT project.
Starting with the May 22, 2012 County Council agenda, there has been a warning stated in the “Open Session” section, which prohibits citizens in the audience from speaking on matters “related to the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal project (GPT).” That unfair practice is still occurring, and that same warning was contained in the July 12, 2016 County Council agenda.
The Council seemed to lighten-up on that in terms of public verbal comments on the Comp Plan Update during the January 26, 2016 Comprehensive Plan Update Public Hearing. That lightening-up seemed to be for that specific Public Hearing.
Since that hearing, the prohibition has seemingly still been in effect. Yet, the Council did not stop Mr. Watters from speaking about GPT which included his claim of a legal challenge to the Corp’s May 9 Lummi treaty rights decision, as well as what could be interpreted as a legal threat he made to Whatcom County. It’s an insult, and it’s an injury, that Watters was allowed to speak at the SCOTW meeting, and that he chose to assert that the Corps’ decision to uphold Lummi treaty rights was not a final decision.
I’ve always been of the opinion that the advice given to Council in 2012 by our County Prosecutor’s office has been misguided. I think anyone should be able to speak about GPT in a public Council meeting and that would include the GPT permit applicant, SSA Marine, and its advocates.
That being said, that has not been the case for Whatcom citizens for nearly 4 years. And, now after citizens’ due process rights have been hamstrung with the questionable “gag-order” (for lack of a better term) from the Prosecutor’s office, at what turned out to be arguably the most crucial County Council meeting in years in terms of our county’s future, SSA Marine’s Bob Watters is afforded the privilege to speak about GPT.
The advice from the Prosecutor’s office prohibiting communications with County Council relating to GPT during public meetings should be rescinded.
It’s important to note that Bob Watters made a statement that is incorrect in his threatening speech he delivered to the Council and audience that day. He had said not only once, but twice for dramatic effect:
“The Army Corps’ decision is not final.”
Actually, the decision by the Army Corps having denied the permit for GPT without prejudice is, in fact, a final decision. Of course, the permit applicant, SSA Marine/PIT has the right to challenge the decision in federal court. But, until SSA Marine/PIT were to ever win an appeal of the Corp’s decision, the May 9 permit denial by the Corps is a final decision.
Wake up, Whatcom. Our County’s Comprehensive Plan Update process is being, as Wendy Harris termed it in her earlier post on her Whatcom Hawk FB page today, “hijacked.”
Stand up, Whatcom. Speak up, Whatcom.
Here is a text version of the transcription of Bob Watters’s testimony at the July 12, 2016 County Council Special Committee of the Whole meeting:
“I’m Bob Watters, senior vice president SSA Marine. We’re the proponent for the GPT project at Cherry Point. I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to speak this morning on the draft proposal for the comp plan language. This language, which was quickly developed, on some levels – maybe some levels a little more time was put into it, starting in January you were talking about – is rife with inconsistencies and inaccuracies. Based on the information, the decisions you’ve made today – I’m not going to go through a number of those – but there is one point that I think needs to be clarified, that’s very important for your decision making process.
“The proposed language states the county’s desire to no longer support a fourth pier at Cherry Point is due to the Army Corps’ decision on the project and DNR’s decision. Let me explain this to you. The Army Corps’ decision is not final. I’m going to say that one more time because this is important. The Army Corps’ decision is not final. It’s subject to appeal in federal court. That process is under way. To make a decision of the nature of which you are looking at in this proposed language without a process that has been completed is discriminatory at best. Regarding the Department of Natural Resources decision it was based on no other reason than the current challengeable denial by the U.S. Army Corps.
“In fact in a letter received last week from Megan Duffy, DNR’s deputy supervisor for aquatics and geology, she stated, and this is a quote, ‘DNR’s decision to deny Pacific International Holdings application for a lease is also without prejudice as was the Corps’ determination, in that Pacific International Terminals may file a new application if a circumstance change and Pacific International Holdings project is no longer precluded from obtaining a permit.’ These two pieces of information show that the facts that are stated in that document, in the proposed document are both inaccurate. I applaud you guys for moving this back to the planning commission and truly vetting this document for removing the inaccuracies and the inconsistencies in the document. Thank you.”
Here is a link to Part 1 of the audio recording of the July 12, 2016 County Council Special Committee of the Whole meeting that is posted on the Whatcom County website. You will find Bob Watters’ testimony at 35:29 mins. It ends at 37:49 mins: https://www.dropbox.com/s/0zf78kpfgkvdyvs/Special%20Committee%20of%20the%20Whole%20July%2012%202016%20part%201.mp3?dl=0