Cherry Point Pier Settlement: Additional Protection for Marine Resources

by David M. Schmalz

Editor’s Note: In 1993, Whatcom County issued a shoreline substantial development permit to Cherry Point Industrial Park/Joseph Sheckter. The permit allowed the construction of a fourth pier at Cherry Point. Five citizen groups appealed the decision to the state Shoreline Hearings Board. The following article is about the 1996 negotiated settlement with Cherry Point Industrial Park/Joseph Sheckter.

In a releated matter, Gateway Pacific Terminals in 1997 received shoreline development permits from Whatcom County to construct a fifth pier at Cherry Point. A coalition of five citizen groups including the North Cascades Audubon Society, Washington Environmental Council, People For Puget Sound, and the Whatcom County Chapter of the League of Women Voters joined by the Washington State Department of Ecology and Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife appealed the permits to the state Shoreline Hearings Board. After approximately 18 months of negotiations, the appeal was dropped and the parties signed an agreement. Key conditions in the settlement appeared in the August-September 1999 issue of Whatcom Watch. See:

A coalition of citizen groups (Washington Environmental Council, North Cascades Audubon Society, Northwest Office of the Friends of the Earth, Friends of Boundry [sic] Bay, and the Whatcom County League of Women Voters) and Joseph Sheckter, the developer of a major shipping terminal proposed for the Cherry Point area of Whatcom County, have reached a settlement agreement on an appeal brought by the groups against the Cherry Point proposal. The agreement came shortly before the state Shorelines Hearing Board was scheduled to begin hearings on the appeal against the Shoreline Substantial Development permit issued by Whatcom County for the Cherry Point Industrial Park project. The coalition settlement addresses some, but not all, of the many issues surrounding Cherry Point Industrial Park.

Cherry Point Industrial Park/Joseph Sheckter seeks to develop a multi-use, deep water pier and barge dock with upland industrial storage and manufacturing facilities on the Georgia Strait site outside Ferndale. Environmental appellants appealed on the grounds the project would have unacceptable, unmitigable [sic] environmental impacts on both the marine and upland ecology of the area. Principle objections focused on the construction of a pier stretching approximately 2,000 feet into the waters of Georgia Strait.

In August of 1993, the Whatcom County Council voted to issue Cherry Point Industrial Park a Shoreline Substantial Development Permit. The vote came despite voluminous testimony and evidence that the project would be in violation of the state’s Shorelines Management Act. Included in testimony was a recommendation by the Whatcom County Department of Public Works that the permit be denied on the basis of non-compliance and inconsistency with the Shorelines management Act. The permit was subsequently appealed by the coalition of citizens’ groups. Afterwords [sic], in a separate action, the state departments of Ecology, Fish and Wildlife and Natural Resources also filed an appeal before the Shorelines Hearing Board.

After lengthy negotiations two of the state agencies — Ecology and Fish and Wildlife — … obtained an agreement that the Cherry Point project would have to mitigate significant adverse impacts before construction of the pier could begin. … [The citizen] coalition was able to obtain a settlement of their own that incorporates the state’s precedent-setting mitigation requirements and some key additional provisions.
Terms of the coalition settlement include:
• An understanding that the state’s mitigation requirements will be fully implemented … [and] that the coalition will have a role in the assessment and monitoring of said mitigation;
• Permission for the citizen groups to fully participate in other state and federal agency permit proceedings concerning this and other development proposals at Cherry Point;
• Provisions that public access shall be retained to the beach area …
• The development of a plan which will minimize disturbance to the beach during construction and operation of the pier;
• A provision that “all union labor” will be utilized to ensure the highest quality worker compensation; and
• A cash payment of $100,000 to be used to compensate the citizens’ coalition for legal costs to date, to pay for participation in permit processes unresolved by this settlement and for monitoring of mitigation efforts.
Members of the coalition will continue to participate in the approval proceedings of the Cherry Point Industrial Park and Pacific International Terminals proposals. Although the coalition will no longer be able to appeal the Cherry Point Industrial Park project on state shoreline issues, coalition members may submit input to other state or federal agencies concerning comparisons of various pier proposals and concerning the need for additional piers at Cherry Point (including the Cherry Point Industrial Park pier).
The potential development of a deep water port at Cherry Point is a contentious and complicated issue. Whether or not adequate protection of this important ecological resource has been attained is still an open question. Given the comprehensive nature of the state’s settlement agreement, environmental appellants are pleased that their efforts have obtained important, additional provisions in the event a pier is ultimately approved for Cherry Point. The coalition will continue to be a strong advocate for natural resource conservation and environmental protection.


David M. Schmaltz was president of the North Cascades Audubon Society in 1996.

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