After an 8-year process, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could recommend that part of an oil-shipping dock that has been used at BP Cherry Point refinery since 2001 remain in use.
The Corps will solicit public input on its draft environmental impact statement for the dock at a 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 16, hearing in the Shuksan Middle School gym, 2717 Alderwood Avenue. An open house will start at 6 p.m.
The draft explores the possible impacts of operating the north wing of a Y-shaped dock at the refinery. The two-wing dock was first permitted and partially constructed by the then-ARCO-owned refinery in 1971. Construction of the north wing wasn't started until 1996, after the Corps issued a permit.
After BP West Coast Products bought the refinery in 2000, construction of the north wing was finished in 2001 and it was brought into operation.
The south wing can load and unload both crude oil and refined petroleum products. The newer north wing can only load and unload refined products.
A group of environmentalists who were concerned about the lack of environmental study completed before the north wing was built sued the Corps in November 2000, challenging the legality of the 1996 permit and citing conflicts with a 1976 federal law that prohibits increased crude oil tanker traffic in Puget Sound east of Port Angeles.
As a result of the ensuing court battle and an appeal, the Corps' Seattle District was required in 2005 to put together the environmental impact statement to show the 1996 permit did not violate the federal law, called the Magnuson Amendment.
Due in part to a three-year delay of the release of one portion of the study, the Corps did not release the draft until May of this year.
The draft outlines three suggested actions:
Proposed Action: BP would "continue to operate the North and South Wings in their present configuration" and the Corps could change the permit to prohibit use of the north wing for unloading or loading crude oil.
"No Action" Alternative: "The current ... permit would be revoked and BP would be required to remove the North Wing facility."
Alternative A: The same as the proposed action, but without the limits on crude oil transfer.
According to the draft, if traffic remains around the same average it is now, with up to 335 ships docking per year, the "risk of accident and oil outflow will be reduced with operation of the North Wing." If vessel traffic were to grow, with up to 420 ships docking per year, the high-end projection offered by BP, "the risk could be increased to some small degree," according to the draft.
Fred Felleman, an environmentalist and key player in the legal proceedings, said he is upset about the three options in the draft.
"It is the most outrageous thing possible: They threw the red meat out for environmentalists to jump on and say, 'Rip it out!'" Felleman said about the "no action" alternative. "We did not call for removal of the dock. We acknowledge that having two slips is irrefutably a better thing, but not if it allows for more traffic."
As a consultant for environmental advocacy group Friends of the Earth, Felleman plans to request that one alternative specifically cap the number of crude oil ships allowed to dock at the refinery. He also would ask the Corps to require that no oil transfer be allowed in weather conditions that prevent BP crews from putting out an extra containment boom around ships beforehand to prevent larger damage in case of a spill.
State law requires the extra containment boom when weather conditions allow for it. The refinery always booms the area between the ship and the dock, but, in accordance with state guidelines, the outside boom is not deployed if weather is not good enough for crews to safely deploy it using a small skiff, said Bill Kidd, a BP spokesman.
In general, crude oil shipping numbers are going down as the refinery receives more crude by rail and pipeline, Kidd said.
The refinery's new rail terminal is permitted to eventually receive up to an average of one train per day.
"We look forward to the hearing and are preparing comments to be submitted to the Army Corps of Engineers," BP spokesman Scott Dean said.
The public can comment on the draft EIS at the Bellingham hearing, or at a 7 p.m. July 24 hearing in Seattle at the Federal Center South Galaxy Room, 4735 E. Marginal Way South. Because it is a government building, those who attend the Seattle hearing need a government-issued ID to enter.
The public also can submit written comments through Aug. 6 to Olivia.firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Seattle District, 4735 E. Marginal Way, South Seattle, WA 98134, attention: Olivia Romano.
To view the draft, go to this Army Corps of Engineers webpage and click on "Updates on High Profile Projects."
DOCK EXPANSION AT BP CHERRY POINT
Reach Samantha Wohlfeil at 360-715-2274 or Samantha.Wohlfeil@bellinghamherald.com.