AGSX decision expected in 10 days

Published on Thu, Sep 30, 2004 by ack Kintner

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A GSX decision expected in 10 days

By Jack Kintner

Whatcom County Hearing Examiner Michael Bobbink concluded the second of two public hearings Tuesday over the proposed GSX natural gas pipeline that would cross Whatcom County on its way from Aldergrove B.C. to Vancouver Island.

At issue in the hearing are two permits that Georgia Strait Crossing, or GSX, has applied for. A related issue that GSX attorney Steve Snarr repeatedly asked Bobbink to ignore was whether or not the project requires a major development permit. Meanwhile, GSX is contesting Whatcom County’s jurisdiction to issue any permits since under shoreline management rules both the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE) and the county missed a required 120 day response deadline to GSX’s initial application. GSX contends that if the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approves their project this also gives a blanket approval for all permits at the county and state level if those bodies have not responded with the required 120 days to a permit application.

GSX initially applied for its permits in April, 2001, and received FERC’s approval in 2002.

On the other side of the issue, were Whatcom County’s team of Jeff Chalfant and Jim Thompson from the planning and department services and whatcom county chief civil deputy prosecutor Randy Watts. Watts insisted that GSX needs to go through the more involved permitting process required by a major development permit, which then goes to county council, where “the county council will turn you down flat I guarantee,” he said bluntly. Applications under the major development permit process have no time limits, so the county and state’s jurisdiction is not an issue because there are no time limits or deadlines GSX could have violated, according to Watts.

Thompson explained later that GSX initially applied for both a conditional use permit and a substantial development permit to run their natural gas pipeline. “But since the project’s worth more than $5 million and required an environmental impact statement (EIS) then the rule is that it has to go through a different process, or regime. It requires a major development permit,” Thompson said, “and on that there’s no time limit for responding because the procedures tend to be lengthy and complex.”

Thompson said that initially the county believed Williams only needed the two shorelines permits but later notified that major development regime would have to be followed. GSX disagrees and has thus far refused to file for a major development permit.

According to Thompson, Bobbink “could decide in any number of ways, remanding the issue back to GSX for a more complete application or referring it on to the county council for example.”
The Washington State Department of Ecology has filed suit in 10th Federal District Court in Denver contesting FERC’s assertion that the state and local approval process were vacated. Snarr left Tuesday’s proceedings early in order to attend a hearing at the court on Wednesday. The lawsuit has been joined by Fred Felleman, an environmentalist who heads Fuel Safe Washington.

“This [pipeline] idea is just plain stupid,” Felleman said, echoing the words of several others in the room. “There’s a lot of problems with this but the bigger issue is why would we want to allow these guys to dig a trench right through the best herring spawning eel grass beds in the area when this project has no local benefit?” Felleman pointed out that the herring stock in the area has already suffered a substantial decline.