Arctic drilling opponents seek to block Foss terminal lease

MARCH 3, 2015 — A coalition of conservation organizations opposed to Arctic drilling filed a lawsuit yesterday in Washington State Superior Court against the Port of Seattle and the Port Commissioners with Foss Maritime Company named as a joined party defendant.

The suit challenges the port's entry into a lease with Foss Maritime to open Seattle's Terminal 5 to Shell's Arctic drilling fleet without public proceedings or environmental review.

The lawsuit charges that the lease will change the use of Terminal 5 by converting it into a homeport for Shell's Arctic drilling fleet.The lease would allow Shell's drill ships to be housed at the Port, including the Noble Discoverer which was the subject of 8 felony convictions and over $12 million in fines and community service last December, including for discharging oil-contaminated water in violation of water pollution laws.

The lawsuit charges that the Port has violated its long-range plans and its shoreline permit, which designate Terminal 5 as a cargo terminal, not a homeport and that it needed to conduct a public review of the environmental and community impacts of making this change.

In the complaint, the plaintiffs assert:

"The Port entered into this lease without complying with the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). The Port invoked a categorical exemption to SEPA that applies to leases of real property only when the use will remain essentially the same as the prior use, even though Terminal 5 previously housed a container terminal and the new use would be a homeport for Shell's Arctic drilling fleet, a substantively different use with distinct environmental impacts. The Port also entered into a lease knowing that the use of Terminal 5 would be inconsistent with the cargo terminal use authorized under the Port's Shoreline Substantial Development Permit. By circumventing SEPA and acting in violation of its shoreline permit, the Port made this controversial decision without the public process, candid disclosure, objective assessment and mitigation of environmental and community impacts, and public participation that the law requires. Plaintiffs ask the Court to declare that the lease between the Port and Foss is null and void, to declare that the Port violated SEPA, the Port's SEPA Resolution, the Port's Shoreline Substantial Development Permit, the Shoreline Management Act and the City of Seattle's shoreline rules, and to issue an order vacating the lease."

The suit was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, the Sierra Club, Washington Environmental Council, and Seattle Audubon Society. The coalition asks the court to vacate the lease because the Port violated the State Environmental Policy Act, its own rules, and the Shoreline Management Act.

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