Members of the Hoquiam City Council butted heads Monday night regarding a measure to hire a consultant to create an Environmental Impact Statement for two proposed crude oil shipping projects.
The council approved the measure, but not without considerable input from about 40 members of the public who filled the council chambers to capacity. Most of the those commenting were dressed in red, and each one objected to the crude-by-rail projects.
“We want less hazardous chemicals in our community, not more,” said Ron Figlar-Barnes, the first to speak. “If we have an accident, it affects our water. It affects the bay. It affects the fishermen.”
Figlar-Barnes unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Port Commissioner Chuck Caldwell in the November, 2013 election. He ran on an anti-crude-by-rail platform.
Officials from other local governments also attended the meeting to speak against the projects: County Commissioner Frank Gordon and Aberdeen City Councilman Alan Richrod. Gordon both said they agreed with Figlar-Barnes and the other speakers, stating that crude-by-rail would bring short-term economic developments and long-term detriments.
“But we need jobs, we really really do,” Gordon said.
Other members of the audience not only disagreed with the crude oil shipping projects, but with the process of completing an EIS. Arthur “R.D.” Grunbaum, a local environmental activist, argued that citizens aren’t usually given adequate time to comment. He said the comment period should last at least 90 days.
“The EIS process is very important and should incorporate public comment to the highest level possible,” Grunbaum said.
After seven people gave their input, Mayor Jack Durney announced that the next speaker would be the last, and that the city council needed to continue with scheduled business. His announcement was met with groans and cries of disbelief from the crowd.
Durney amended his decision, saying that he would continue the public comment period at the end of the meeting.
This announcement was met with loud cries of, “boo!” One man grumbled and left the room.
At that point, Council President Jasmine Dickhoff interrupted and asked Durney to let the public speak. She argued that she would rather hear them at that time than later through angry emails.
“If we’re going to hear them speak, why not do it now?” Dickhoff said.
The other council members agreed, and the public comment period continued.
Donna Albert of Montesano asked the council to ban all crude oil shipping from Hoquiam, arguing that the decision would not only affect the city, but the rest of the county. The rail lines that would carry the crude oil pass through Montesano, Elma, Aberdeen and many of Grays Harbor County’s other cities.
“I just want you to make sure that you are making the right decision for us and our grandchildren,” she said.
Durney responded to her comment, arguing that there’s not much the City of Hoquiam can do to prevent oil shipping businesses from operating on the Harbor.
When Richrod took the podium, he refuted Durney’s statement. He argued that the city has the right to impose its own rules, as long as they comply with state and federal laws.
“What disturbed me was that I heard a question: ‘what power do we have?’ ” Richrod said. “Think about the fact that the city has more power to handle this than the state.”
City Attorney Steve Johnson said that because crude oil shipping is currently legal under city code, the City of Hoquiam would likely be sued if it tried to ban the businesses.
After Richrod spoke, Durney tried again to speed up the meeting. By this time, 11 people had spoken.
When Jared Figlar-Barnes, the son of Ron Figlar-Barnes, stepped up to the podium, Durney asked him to keep his comments to two minutes. Previous speakers had been allowed five minutes.
Durney’s speech was interrupted by Councilman Richard Pennant, who shouted expletives. Pennant yelled that in the “rulebook,” each speaker is allowed five minutes for their public comment.
Durney retorted that there was no rulebook for public comment, and that city code doesn’t set any guaranteed time for input.
Jared Figlar-Barnes was then allowed to comment. The high school student asked the council to consider crude oil shipping’s affects on future generations.
“My generation doesn’t want to clean up your generations’ mistakes,” Figlar-Barnes said.
After seven more speakers, the council moved on to official business, eventually considering the measure to hire IFC Jones and Stokes, based in Seattle, to complete the environmental impact statement.
In light of the public comment, Councilman Greg Grun asked the council to table the measure so they could all learn more about crude oil shipping and the EIS process.
“I know I don’t know the process like I should,” Grun said. “I think it’s important that we understand this better.”
Shay urged the council to instead take five minutes to discuss the issue.
Various council members asked questions about the process.
Shay explained that the desire for an EIS came from appeals filed with the State Shorelines Hearings Board by local environmental groups and the Quniault Indian Nation after the city and state Department of Ecology issued a mitigated determination of non-significance for both the Westway Terminal Company and Imperium Renewables crude-by-rail projects.
The determination wouldn’t have allowed the companies to start building or shipping oil, but it would have streamlined the permitting process.
The state Shorelines Hearings Board sided with the Quinaults and the environmental groups last fall. Shay said that the board’s decision didn’t explicitly ask for an EIS, but the need for one was implied. Both Westway and Imperium wrote to the city and Ecology and asked that an EIS be conducted.
The companies will cover the full cost of the EIS, and both the city and Ecology will bill for the time spent on the project.
The EIS would be conducted by an independent consultant, IFC Jones and Stokes, with Ecology and the city co-managing the project. In many cases, Ecology alone would oversee the project, Shay said. But in this case, the department asked Hoquiam to act as a co-lead agency.
The consultant will do the full environmental review and present it to Hoquiam and Ecology, Shay said. The whole process will take about a year.
At the end of the process, Ecology could deny the project because there are too many risks, Shay said. Or, the project could be accepted with some additional requirements. The City of Hoquiam doesn’t have the power to approve or deny the crude-by-rail projects based on the EIS.
Whatever decision Ecology makes could then be appealed to the Shorelines Hearings Board.
“This is the most stringent environmental review that we can place on (Imperium and Westway),” Shay said.
The council voted against Grun’s motion to table the measure, and voted to hire IFC Jones and Stokes. Shay said the EIS process will officially start March 13.