The Northwest Seaport Alliance is considering a policy change for more public meetings before lease approval for future fossil fuel tenants or those that use large amounts of water or electricity.
It is identical to one the Port of Tacoma is considering in the wake of a failed attempt to site a methanol manufacturing plant on the Tacoma Tideflats.
The policy would increase the amount of information available to the public and increase the number of meetings held before the alliance approves a lease related to fossil fuel storage or delivery, or for users of large amounts of water or electricity.
After discussion Tuesday, the alliance’s version may eventually go further than the one proposed for the Port of Tacoma, which audience members lauded at a July meeting, when Port of Tacoma commission president unveiled its transparency policy.
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But Port of Tacoma Commission President Connie Bacon said that eventually policies for the alliance and Port of Tacoma will be identical for efficiency’s sake. The port partners with the Port of Seattle in the alliance, which was formed last year.
Port of Seattle Commissioner Fred Felleman said at the Tuesday meeting he wanted to strike the definition of a natural resource tenant.
Seaport alliance CEO John Wolfe, who is also the CEO of the Port of Tacoma, called the definition “an example.”
“What triggers that should be more of a testing of the community interest,” Felleman said. “We should strike the specific examples. … If a Kaiser Aluminum plant doesn’t trigger it, then that’s a problem,” he said.
We should strike the specific examples. … If a Kaiser Aluminum plant doesn’t trigger it, then that’s a problem.
Port of Seattle commissioner Fred Felleman
Instead, Felleman said later by phone, the criteria are too restrictive. Large and potentially controversial projects could slip through.
“It was not in the public interest to set some arbitrary line,” Felleman said.
By default, the Port of Seattle has two readings of a lease before votes, Felleman said, with one recent notable exception in early 2015. The Port of Seattle CEO Ted Fick signed a deal using his authority as the executive to host Royal Dutch Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet at Terminal 5.
Months of protests followed.
Felleman and Creighton said by phone that the proposed policy would not require more public scrutiny of the same project on Seaport Alliance property.
The proposed transparency policy for both the alliance’s and the Port of Tacoma would require three meetings for projects that have any of the following qualities:
▪ “Stores, processes, manufactures or distributes fossil fuels” on more than 10 acres of land.
▪ Uses more than 1 million gallons of water per day.
▪ Stationary projects that would emit more than 10,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide (or carbon dioxide equivalent) per year, more than 10 metric tons per year of any individually listed hazardous air pollutants, or 100 metric tons per year of any other registered air pollutant.
▪ Uses more than 26 megawatts of electricity.
Now, the Port of Tacoma Commission can vote on a lease after it’s introduced at the first public meeting.
If passed as-is, the policy also would reveal details about the project to the public before a lease vote: financial effects, project timeline, environmental issues, utility requirements, project safety and facility operations.
However, at Tuesday’s seaport alliance meeting, Commissioner Don Johnson, a former vice president of Tacoma Simpson Kraft on the Tideflats, said many of those details might not be known to a project backer in the early stages.
Such details, Johnson said, may be revealed during the broad environmental review that precedes permit approval for large projects, called an Environmental Impact Statement.
Johnson said requiring a company to provide those details upfront could be a deterrent.
“What this tells me is I have to do all of that EIS work … before I can sign a tentative lease contract with a new company,” Johnson said.
“That wasn’t the intention,” Bacon said. “We would answer questions from the public (about the lease) but we are not promising all of that stuff.”
Alliance members did support the three-meeting requirement, which would allow more public comment before approving the lease for a large or potentially controversial project.
Port of Seattle Commission President John Creighton said he understands the need for more public comment on large projects.
Our Arctic Shell exploration issue was our version of your methanol, so to speak. And that was a two-year lease. … Looking back on it some of us felt it could have used more public airing and public process.
John Creighton, Port of Seattle commission president
“Our Arctic Shell exploration issue was our version of your methanol, so to speak,” Creighton said. “And that was a two-year lease. … Looking back on it some of us felt it could have used more public airing and public process.”
Instead, he said, there was one public hearing before the Port Commission told the CEO to sign the deal.
Tacoma’s Tideflats include about 5,000 acres. The Port of Tacoma owns about half of that, and the seaport alliance operates on more than 800 acres, mostly shipping terminals.
According to the proposal, projects that meet the criteria will be subject to at least three public sessions. The first meeting will introduce the project, followed by a public study session on another date. Finally, at least three weeks after the lease is introduced, a second reading of the lease resolution and final vote can take place. Public comment would be accepted at all three meetings.
The policy proposal is part of a larger discussion about the alliance’s master policy agreement, which gives the CEO broad authority to act on the alliance’s behalf.
The alliance is governed by the commissions of Tacoma and Seattle’s ports. A majority of both commissions must approve the change before it takes effect. A vote could come by the end of the year.