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Expansion Of 13-Year-Old Oil Terminal Just Now Getting Environmental Review

An expansion of the Northwest’s largest oil terminal will be the subject of a public hearing before the Army Corps of Engineers Thursday evening in Seattle. Environmentalists are calling for limits on oil tanker traffic at BP’s docks at Cherry Point, north of Bellingham. 

Environmental impact statements are usually heard before a project is built. But in an unusual twist, this hearing concerns a facility that’s been up and running for 13 years.

The north wing dock of BP’s oil terminal at Cherry Point was completed in 2001, without a full environmental review. At the time, the Army Corps of Engineers agreed with the oil company that the new dock made the terminal safer.

But environmentalists, led by Fred Felleman, sued, and, after a lengthy appeals process, won. Now there’s an EIS and a public hearing where Felleman and others will testify. Felleman says the additional dock violates limits put in place by the late U.S. Sen. Warren Magnuson, D-Wash.

“Because they’ve dragged this on for eight years, BP has had unmitigated access to a dock that the courts found they built illegally. It’s time for the agencies to follow the law.," Felleman said. "If nothing else, upholding Magnuson’s legacy is the primary thing the Corps needs to hear.”

In 1977, Magnuson amended his Marine Mammal Protection Act to prohibit increased crude oil tanker traffic in Puget Sound east of Port Angeles.

But since the dock’s construction, tanker calls have more than doubled. Environmentalists say enforcing limits on traffic is especially critical now, with the proposed Gateway coal export terminal immediately adjacent and more traffic likely.

A BP spokesman did not respond to request for comment, but told the Bellingham Herald that in general, oil shipping numbers are actually going down as more crude arrives by rail and pipeline.   

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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