RE Sources may sue SSA Marine over land clearing for Cherry Point project

A Bellingham environmental group that has been active in opposition to SSA Marine's Gateway Pacific coal and bulk cargo terminal project has announced its intention to file a federal lawsuit charging the company with Clean Water Act violations.

On Monday, Oct. 3, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue Pacific International Terminals, Inc., SSA Marine's subsidiary corporation created to develop the proposed shipping terminal at Cherry Point.

In a press release, RE Sources Executive Director Bob Ferris contended that SSA Marine violated the Clean Water Act with its recent, unauthorized clearing of trees on the terminal site. Company spokesmen have admitted that the company erred in clearing roadways for geotechnical drilling equipment without obtaining proper permits.

Whatcom County ordered the company to repair the damage and pay $4,400 in fines and costs.

But Ferris said the company also violated water quality law in clearing the property.

"We waited patiently for the responsible agencies to take the proper steps when SSA Marine broke the law and violated water quality protections," Ferris said. "They did not, so we are."

The Clean Water Act contains provisions that allow private groups to file lawsuits against companies that they believe are violating provisions of the complex federal law. In the past, RE Sources has filed several such lawsuits that have resulted in settlement deals with the affected companies.

One such recent case involved Teal Jones Lumber of Sumas. In that 2010 case, Teal Jones agreed to spend $6,000 to improve its stormwater management, and $18,000 in fees to Smith & Lowney, the Seattle environmental law firm that represents RE Sources.

RE Sources announced its intent to sue late Monday, and nobody at SSA Marine was immediately available to comment.