Town hall meeting/SEPA Public Hearing for the Cherry Point amendment? / Facebook post, Whatcom Hawk, Wendy Harris


September 28, 2016  Wendy Harris

On Thursday, October 13, 2016 at 6:30 p.m. at the Whatcom County Council Chambers, 311 Grand Avenue, Bellingham, the public is invited to submit written comments and/or attend the meeting to provide oral comments on a SEPA hearing, which is strangely enough being held in conjunction with a town hall meeting. I was irate to see the public not being provided information and documents that are typically available for public review before a SEPA hearing. I realized that most residents would not understand that what was happening was not usual and was not appropriate so I entered into a email discussion with the county administration, who continue to be obstructive at every turn. Below is a letter from me to the Planning Department, and their response and finally, my rebuttal. It is technical stuff but I think you will get the gist.
Re: Cherry Point Town Hall Meeting/SEPA Public Hearing
Sent By:Wendy On:Sep 09/28/16 7:22 AM
To: Matt Aamot; county council

Thank you, Matt, I am glad to hear there is a SEPA checklist and that in response to my email, you have now posted it on the SEPA public hearing page.

However, now I am more confused than ever. Is this a real SEPA case? Was this filed with the state? It does not appear so as it reflects no SEPA number. (And I know that SEPA cases are filed without a threshold opinion because the SEPA process provides for an early public hearing, even though the county and city follow the optional procedures.) There are no initials by the planning department for review on each page. It contains virtually no information. Why is the answer to Question A.8 “List any environmental information you know about that has been prepared, or will be prepared, directly related to this proposal:” simply “N/A?” I do not understand why the SEPA checklist states there are no proposed measures to protect or enhance fish and wildlife without mentioning the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve or that migration routes fail to mention the herring or the orcas. There is no mention of the cultural significance of this area as ancestral burying grounds for Lummi Nation. Under animals, “others” is checked but is left blank when it is supposed to be filled out with the name of the other species. In short, this checklist is incomplete and inaccurate. I can not even tell who the person is that signed the checklist. I assume it was Forrest?

This is not information that will inform the public about the alternatives and the different environmental impacts of each proposal. There is nothing that connects this comp. plan change to the larger comp. plan process that was just approved and finalized, or any explanation of why this severance and re-docketing happened. (And on the other end, there was nothing in the comp. plan process that reflects this severance and re-docketing.) Surely, staff SEPA threshold decisions are not made in such an arbitrary and capricious manner. Is this something that Tyler is coordinating with this co-lead at DOE, Josh Baldi?

What you try to avoid admitting is stated in your very last sentence. “The responsible official will also review the existing EIS for the 2016 Comp Plan Update to the extent it addresses relevant issues.” So why is this information not being put together in a format for public review prior to the SEPA hearing? It must have been very clear to you that this was what I was requesting. Who is the responsible officer? I assume it is you since you have responded to me.

Yes, a level 3 project is entitled to a town hall meeting. But doing so in conjunction with a SEPA public hearing undermines the intention and purpose of the town hall meeting and is merely an attempt by this administration to avoid its full responsibilities under the GMA. I am disappointed that the administrations continues to engage in actions that it believes are not legally prohibited, rather than actions that are optimal for public benefit. The Executive has made no secret of his objection to the council’s proposed amendment, going so far as to the tell certain members of the public that he has an alternative proposal.

It continues to be an exhausting, frustrating experience dealing with the administration on any matter connected to Cherry Point and now you are trying to pass the buck to the county council? I find that disingenuous. As with any SEPA applicant, if they fail to file a properly completed SEPA checklist, staff advises them of what additional information is needed. Getting the tiniest bit of information is akin to pulling teeth. I am beginning to wonder if there is an intent to hide what has transpired with regard to the severance of the Cherry Point comp plan amendments. It is certainly an unusual way of handling this matter and no justification has ever been provided. Perhaps if the county would actually tell the public why this strange process is occurring, I could put my suspicions to rest.

I would appreciate some clarity of the status of this SEPA review. Will the SEPA application be filed with the state? Why has there been a delay? When can we expect to see some information posted to help the public understand this situation and make a informed decision choosing between the alternatives? I also believe that the SEPA checklist must be supplemented. Is there an application that was filed with checklist? I have never heard of only a SEPA checklist being filed before. I would like to see everything that has been submitted in support of this newly docketed matter.

Wendy Harris

From: “Matt Aamot”
To: Wendy Harris
Sent: Tuesday, September 27, 2016 2:25:41 PM
Subject: Cherry Point Town Hall Meeting/SEPA Public Hearing

Hi Wendy:

The County Council Office submitted a SEPA Checklist on 8/12/2016 (attached) in accordance with Whatcom County Code (WCC) 16.08.090.B, which states “. . . For county proposals, the department initiating the proposal shall complete the environmental checklist for that proposal.” We posted the SEPA Checklist on the website at on 9/26/2016. A threshold determination (determination of non-significance (DNS), mitigated DNS, or determination of significance requiring an EIS) has not yet been issued. It is anticipated that the responsible official will issue such a determination in October or November, following the SEPA public hearing and consideration of information submitted during the review process.

The County Council recently approved the Public Participation Plan, classifying the Cherry Point Amendments as a “level 3” project. Alternatives are presented for level 3 projects and a town hall meeting is held to obtain public input. Additionally, the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) rules authorize the lead agency (Whatcom County) to hold a SEPA public hearing to assist it in meeting its responsibility to implement SEPA (WAC 197-11-535(2)(a)). We anticipate that the combined town hall meeting/SEPA public hearing will include:

· A brief overview of the process and alternatives by County staff;
· An opportunity for the public, agencies and Tribes to comment on the proposal and alternatives; and
· An opportunity for the public, agencies, and Tribes to provide information relating to environmental impacts.

The County typically does not hold a public hearing prior to issuance of a threshold determination. We are providing this hearing because agencies, Tribes, and the public may provide information that is helpful to the responsible official in performing his duties under SEPA. We are not aware of anything in the SEPA rules that would prevent combining the SEPA hearing with another required meeting on the proposal and alternatives.

The Tribes have been included on the e-mail notification that was sent out on September 14, 2016 and will have full opportunity to participate in the process and provide comments to the County.

The County’s legislative branch made the decision to docket this matter and hold any executive sessions. You would have to ask legislative branch officials, rather than executive branch officials, about their decisions in this regard. The only information that the legislative branch has provided about the proposal at this point is the SEPA checklist. The responsible official will also review the existing EIS for the 2016 Comp Plan Update to the extent it addresses relevant issues.


From: Wendy Harris
Sent: Saturday, September 24, 2016 7:26 AM
Subject: Cherry Point Town Hall Meeting/SEPA Public Hearing

Could somebody please explain to what kind of process you are creating for the town hall meeting/SEPA Public Hearing for the Cherry Point amendment? These are not two events that go well together. One is used to solicit information from the public and answer questions in an informal setting, and the other is formal legal hearing subject to the statutory requirements under state law. How can you expect the public to be both uninformed and learning on one hand, and informed enough to provide meaningful substantive comments on environmental impacts on the other? It seems like their should be a separation of time between the two so that people can digest information and then draft their SEPA comments. This is being set up in a way that minimizes meaningful public participation while creating an appearance to the contrary.

Please explain to me under what authority this is considered a valid SEPA process There is no information or consultants reports or any environmental review of the different proposals. We are not even being told if a threshold decision has been made and what type of SEPA process this is. Where is the SEPA checklist, or a single shed of information on the difference in the environmental impacts under each alternative? What potential environmental impacts are anticipated? We do not even know the issues for this SEPA review. Exactly how is the public to comment on the environmental impacts and select between three options without any information? Does this involve the GMA, the SMA or both? What other laws are implicated? Have the tribes been consulted on this newly docketed matter that impacts tribal and cultural rights? I think that would also be helpful information for the public to hear.

We were never told why the Cherry Point amendments were severed from the comp. plan update and redocketed in this manner. Now would be a great time to disclose this information to the public. Please remember that if this is information that you have shared with SSA/PIT, any alleged privilege has been waived and is subject to disclosure. I am extremely uncomfortable by the manner in which this has been handled and question its validity for a non project proposal. I would like a little more information regarding the issues that were discussed in executive session, or at least some specific justification of why release of that information would be harmful to the county’s interests.

It feels like you are just making this entire process up out of thin air, expecting that we, the public, are too dumb to understand our rights, and this has become an on-going pattern in the way the Cherry Point and GPT issues are being handled. I suspect all the problems in this SEPA case exist because you improperly severed the proposed amendments, and they should have been considered under the comp. plan process as it was proceeding forward. However, you deprived the public of the right to comment upon this by holding all your discussions in executive session. You can not do whatever you want without regard to public due process rights, particularly for a GMA related matter for which the public participation goal apply.

Please advise me of the information, analysis and science that will be available for public review before the SEPA hearing and how far in advance it will be ready and whether you will be relying upon the EIS for the comp. plan process, subject to additional supplement. I would like to see the information and reports that you will be relying upon to establish potential impacts and the ability to mitigate to no net loss of ecosystem functions and values. Thank you for your anticipated response.

Wendy Harris

Read Wendy’s post in the Whatcom Hawk Facebook group here.

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