SSA Marine pays $1.65 million to settle lawsuit over land clearing

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 31, 2013 

Pacific International Terminals, the SSA Marine subsidiary pursuing the Gateway Pacific coal export terminal at Cherry Point, has agreed to pay $1.65 million to settle a lawsuit stemming from the company's unauthorized land-clearing work on the property in 2011.

RE Sources for Sustainable Communities had filed the suit, alleging that the land-clearing work was a violation of the federal Clean Water Act. That act allows citizens and environmental groups to file lawsuits to enforce the federal law.

In a press release, SSA Marine Vice President Bob Watters continued to characterize the matter as a "nuisance lawsuit," but he said the company preferred a settlement to the costs of protracted litigation.

Company officials admitted that they made a mistake in failing to get proper permits for clearing roadways to get geotechnical testing equipment on and around their property at the end of Gulf Road. But Watters said they stopped work as soon as they realized their error, and went to work to repair the damage in cooperation with county, state and federal agencies.

Whatcom County officials had ordered them to repair the damage and pay $4,400 in penalties.

The press release says the company agreed to pay $850,000 that will be used for Puget Sound environmental restoration projects, and another $800,000 to cover RE Sources' legal costs.

In a press release, RE Sources officials said their group will not get a share of the money.

RE Sources Executive Director Crina Hoyer repeated her group's assertions that SSA Marine and its contractors had knowingly "ignored local and national permitting requirements when (they) built nearly five miles of roads, filling or clearing nearly three acres of wetlands in the process."

Hoyer said the activity also disrupted an area of cultural significance to Lummi Nation.

That disruption appears to have played a significant role in turning tribal members and their elected tribal council against the project.

Reach John Stark at 360-715-2274 or john.stark@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/politics or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldpolitics.

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