Those calling for more in-depth review of proposed crude-oil shipping projects on Grays Harbor got some good news Wednesday: Imperium Renewables and Westway Terminals announced they would complete an Environmental Impact Statement.
The companies were quick to state they think they’ve already satisfied all relevant environmental review requirements, despite a ruling from the state Shorelines Hearings Board asking for more information. The decision to do a full EIS came as more of a good-neighbor effort, they said Wednesday. Both already operate fuel shipping operations at the Port of Grays Harbor.
“We want to provide ample opportunity for airing and responding to any concerns regarding the terminal expansions, and the robust EIS process provides that opportunity,” Imperium Renewables CEO John Plaza said. “These are safe, well-designed facilities that are similar to many other facilities that are safely operating in Washington.”
“We remain committed to Grays Harbor and this project,” added Gene McClain, CEO of Westway Group LLC. “We’re here to invest in the community and make sure we do our part which includes addressing the concerns and questions raised by our neighbors in this new permit application.”
In November, the Shorelines Hearings Board rejected a mitigated determination of non-significance that had been granted by the City of Hoquiam and the state Department of Ecology, which had reviewed the plans.
The Quinault Indian Nation and a coalition of environmental groups — Friends of Grays Harbor, the Grays Harbor Audubon Society, Citizens for a Clean Harbor, the Surfrider Foundation and the Sierra Club — filed appeals with the state over the determination of non-significance, saying more review was required. The co-lead agencies — Hoquiam and state DOE — believed the companies’ plans did enough to mitigate potential environmental impacts under the State Environmental Policy Act.
The Shoreline Hearings Board sent the permits back to the city and Ecology. The ruling also ordered the companies complete rail and vessel traffic analyses before moving forward.
The ruling didn’t expressly say the companies had to do an EIS, and initially they said they would not.
Kristen Boyles, an attorney for Earthjustice representing the Quinaults, said it’s good news that Imperium and Westway have decided on the more rigorous analysis.
“I think that was the course laid out for them by the Shorelines Hearings Board,” she said. “I think for a project with these sorts of impacts and potential risks, that’s precisely what needs to happen.”
The companies estimate the EIS will take about a year to complete.
The big question to be answered is whether a third proposed project — from U.S. Development — must be factored into the EIS, and if so, to what degree. That project has not yet reached the permitting stage, but the Shorelines Hearings Board ruled Hoquiam and Ecology had enough information about it to consider the cumulative environmental impacts of all three projects.
“It’s sort of akin to you applying to put a new roof on your house and you have to account for the fact that three people in your neighborhood are doing the same thing,” Imperium spokesman Paul Queary said. “It’s just unusual.”
Imperium has filed a petition for judicial review in Thurston County Superior Court, arguing that U.S. Development should not be included in analyses for their project.
No dates have been set for hearings on that petition or another filed by the Quinaults asking for review under the Ocean Resources Management Act, a separate set of environmental standards.
The first step in the EIS will be determining the scope of analysis the companies will be required to do, or scoping. That process has not started yet, but Imperium and Westway officially asked Hoquiam and Ecology to start in a letter sent Wednesday.
In determining the scope, Ecology Communications Manager Linda Kent explained, “We follow the guidance set by the most current court decision. Right now that’s the (Shorelines Hearing Board) decision.”
To start, the agencies will ask the public for input on what should be included in the analyses of the projects.
“All of those comments are looked at and analyzed and a decision on scoping is made,” Kent said. “It’s the preliminary direction on what to study, and that can evolve a little bit if new information comes to light.”
“It’s probably safe to say it’s going to include all the stuff the Shorelines Hearings Board was asking for,” Queary said.
“Whether it’s going to include U.S. Development, I don’t know the answer to that.”
After the initial scope is set, “all the nuts and bolts of studying gets done,” Kent said.
Imperium and Westway have already done some research and analysis on their projects, and are in the process of rail and vessel impact studies.
Though it’s still early in the process, Kent said that work would likely be applicable to the EIS process, rather than starting over completely.
“Typically, if there’s existing research that’s been vetted in some manner, it can be included. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel,” she said.
Once those studies are complete, a preliminary EIS will be issued and public comment will again be sought. The regulatory agencies may ask for more research before issuing a final EIS.
EIS documents generally include several alternatives for mitigating environmental impacts of a given project, including an analysis of what would happen if nothing changes.
“An EIS is not meant to be a huge, unwieldy document,” Ecology’s SEPA Online Handbook reads. “The EIS should provide information that is readable and useful for the agencies, the applicant, and interested citizens.”
It’s usually between 30 and 50 pages, and will be used in the consideration of future permits.
That precise list of needed permits will be finalized in the process of producing the EIS.