Followup: Port to be sued over leasing West Seattle’s Terminal 5 to Foss/Shell

(T-5, empty since last summer, in center of photo tweeted in September by Peter West Carey)
9:16 AM: A coalition of environmental groups says it’s making good on its threat to sue the Port of Seattle for leasing part of West Seattle’s Terminal 5 to Foss as a homeport for Shell’s Arctic-oil-drilling fleet. Members of the coalition spoke at last week’s Port Commission meeting – as previewed here – asking the port to cancel the lease. They’re briefing reporters later this morning; the pre-briefing announcement says:

Represented by the national public interest environmental law firm, Earthjustice, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, Sierra Club, Washington Environmental Council, and Seattle Audubon Society will announce the filing of a lawsuit against the Port of Seattle. The lawsuit alleges the Port of Seattle violated the State Environmental Policy Act and Shoreline Management Act by leasing Terminal 5 to serve as a homeport for Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet because there was no basis for the Port’s conclusion that a homeport is the same as Terminal 5’s previous use as a container terminal and because use of the terminal as a homeport could impair water quality from damaged vessels and vessel repairs.

Earthjustice attorney Patti Goldman and representatives of the groups bringing the suit will also explain why the lawsuit was a necessary response to the Port of Seattle’s attempt to sign a lease for Terminal 5 with Foss Maritime for home-porting Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet with virtually no public process.

The lawsuit seeks to vacate the lease, freeing the elected Port Commissioners to work with the community to find better options for creating jobs, providing revenue to the Port, and achieving the Port’s goal of being “where a sustainable world is headed,” as the Port’s website asserts.

The lease was signed February 9th and announced by Port CEO Ted Fick in a letter to this coalition two days later; the negotiations were kept secret until news of the potential lease emerged via the agenda published a few days before the January meeting at which commissioners were briefed. More to come.

ADDED 11:11 AM: Here’s the full announcement, as released minutes ago (also, ADDED 1:43 PM, Foss’s reaction and a statement from the port):

A coalition of conservation organizations filed a lawsuit today against the Port of Seattle and the Port Commissioners, challenging the Port’s entry into a lease with Foss Maritime to open Terminal 5 to Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet without public proceedings or environmental review.

The lawsuit charges that the lease will change the use of Terminal 5 by converting it into a homeport for Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet, which will need extensive maintenance and repairs after being battered in the Arctic conditions. The lease would allow Shell’s drill ships to be housed at the Port, including the Noble Discoverer which was the subject of 8 felony convictions and over $12 million in fines and community service last December, including for discharging oil-contaminated water in violation of water pollution laws. The lawsuit charges that the Port has violated its long-range plans and its shoreline permit, which designate Terminal 5 as a cargo terminal, not a homeport and that it needed to conduct a public review of the environmental and community impacts of making this change.

Earthjustice filed the challenge in King County Superior Court on behalf of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, The Sierra Club, Washington Environmental Council, and Seattle Audubon Society. The coalition asks the court to vacate the lease because the Port violated the State Environmental Policy Act, its own rules, and the Shoreline Management Act.

“By making a secret deal to house Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet in Seattle, the Port shut out the public and subverted laws that are designed to foster an informed public assessment of controversial proposals like this one,” said Earthjustice Managing Attorney Patti Goldman. “Shell’s race to drill in the Arctic has been dirty business and now battered vessels that have leaked oily water are being welcomed into our city.”

The Port conducted the lease negotiations in secret and only revealed the plans to the public after it was a done deal. It circumvented environmental laws and open debate over the use of Terminal 5 by claiming the use would not change from its use as a container terminal over the past several decades.

“The Port Commission not only broke the law, they violated the public trust,” said Jesse Piedfort, executive committee chair for Sierra Club – Seattle. “This isn’t a run of the mill lease, it has enormous environmental impacts which affect our backyard, Alaska and our world. By subverting the public process and negotiating in secret, the Port ignored requirements for environmental review and deprived the public of the opportunity to debate this lease.”

Citing both the environmental impacts of leaking oil and repairing damaged vessels and lack of public process, the groups asked the Port Commissioners to block the lease via a letter dated January 28, 2015. The letter urged the Port to find a new tenant that creates high-quality, sustainable jobs that reflect the community’s values, further specifying the need for a full vetting and public process. The lawsuit focuses on those values and the need to keep the Port as a leader in sustainability.

“The Port of Seattle is putting their stated goal of being a ‘Green Gateway’ and an environmental leader at risk,” said Washington Environmental Council President Becky Kelley. “Hosting this fleet with a record of discharging oil-contaminated water, flies in the face of their environmental goals and ours.”

“Protecting the health of our waterways begins with transparency in significant decisions made by our public officials”, said Chris Wilke, executive director of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance. “Unfortunately the Port missed this mark by a huge margin while ignoring its own stated goals of sustainability. The Commission’s failure to inform the public about this back room deal amounts to a breach of trust, leaving many unanswered questions about pending industrial activities that put our local waters at risk.”

“We encourage the Port of Seattle to rescind this lease without delay,” said Susan North, conservation manager for Seattle Audubon. “Many migratory and breeding bird species that are already in decline call our waters home and are at great risk from oil and other pollutants. We are extremely concerned about the potential for oil and chemical pollution of the Salish Sea due to transit, transport, berthing, and maintenance of weathered, damaged, and contaminated oil industry vessels and equipment in our waters.”

Related background: Shell Oil intends to begin exploration, upon approval of a lease sale and drilling plans, as early as this Spring. According to the Obama Administration’s final supplemental environmental impact statement on the Chukchi Sea in Alaska, released February 12, 2015, there is a 75 percent chance of one or more major oil spills if the Chukchi Sea is developed, and there is no way to clean up or contain such spills. A decision on whether the Administration will end or affirm the Chukchi Sea oil leases for Alaska is expected in late March.

Shell’s disastrous 2012 Arctic Ocean drilling and transport operations demonstrate that even technically advanced and well-resourced companies are no match for Arctic conditions. The company was investigated and fined after multiple missteps and close calls during its efforts to drill in the Arctic Ocean in 2012. And the Department of Interior conducted a review of Shell’s Arctic drilling operations in which it severely criticized Shell for failing to maintain effective oversight of its contractors. In December 2014, one such contractor, Noble Drilling (US) LLC, pleaded guilty to eight felony charges and paid over $12 million in fines and community service. Noble operates the Noble Discoverer, one of the two drill ships in Shell’s Arctic fleet. The other drill ship, the Polar Pioneer, is operated by Transocean, which paid more than $1.4 billion in criminal and civil fines for its role in the 2010 Macondo oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Both drill ships could come to the Port of Seattle under the terms of the lease with Foss Maritime Company.

We’ll add any reaction we get in the hours ahead.

ADDED 1:43 PM: Three points from Foss Maritime spokesperson Paul Queary:

·Terminal 5 is permitted to tie up ships while they are being loaded and unloaded. Those are the services Foss will provide to the Arctic exploration fleet.

· In terms of local impact, our use of Terminal 5 should have far less impact than the prior use, when the terminal was a busy container port, with ships constantly loading and unloading and a steady stream of trucks coming to and from the terminal.

·Terminal 5 is not a shipyard. Should any of the vessels need significant repairs, that work would be done elsewhere at a suitable facility.

We’ve also just received a statement from the port, via spokesperson Perry Cooper:

Through careful review the Port of Seattle believes it has complied with all necessary environmental requirements with regard to Foss Maritime’s interim use of Terminal 5. We are committed to fully comply with any/all requirements and regulations.

In addition, we have received a shoreline substantial development permit exemption from the City of Seattle for this use.

The port has not received the details of any lawsuit at this time. We would review any such documents and work constructively with our stakeholders.

ADDED: Here’s the court document.

35 Replies to "Followup: Port to be sued over leasing West Seattle's Terminal 5 to Foss/Shell"

  • skeeter March 2, 2015 (9:49 am)

    So the Port will have to go out and hire a law firm to defend itself. And guess who pays those bills?

  • MrsT March 2, 2015 (10:19 am)

    Good. Our world must quit fossil fuels. It is going to hurt, it is going to destroy some industries, it is going to inconvenience us drastically, it is going to change the way we live forever. No oil trains, no coal trains, no pipelines, no oil rigs. Nobody likes to hear it since everyone loves their money, but we can’t keep letting capitalism overrule science. Not in anyone’s back yard!

  • Really? March 2, 2015 (10:24 am)

    Great! Now we can waste a bunch of taxpayer money to defend this lawsuit.

  • Toni Reineke March 2, 2015 (10:53 am)

    Bravo to the coalition! Not only should this lease never have been signed, but the secrecy surrounding it is to be condemned!

  • miws March 2, 2015 (10:58 am)

    So, if the Port had decided that it was too risky, environmentally to have Shell’s facility at T-5, and would have not allowed Shell to lease there, and Shell decided to sue, would it have been okay to have taxpayers pay to defend that?


    Presumably, Shell has more money and other resources than the groups bringing this lawsuit on, and I would guess that having to go up against that large of a Corporation, would be even more costly, and drawn out time wise, than what defending this suit may be.



  • Ivan March 2, 2015 (11:32 am)

    Legal sources tell me that had the Port denied this lease, Foss would have been the ones suing them, presumably aided by Shell, and that their case would have been pretty strong. The Port is required by its charter to lease that space, to generate revenue for the taxpayers who support it. My sources say that legally, the Port was damned if it did and damned if it didn’t.

    WSB could scoop the rest of our local media by researching this particular angle and reporting on it.

  • quiz March 2, 2015 (11:33 am)

    I want to preserve the environment just as much as the next person, but I really don’t see how this move gets us any closer to that end.

  • cj March 2, 2015 (11:39 am)

    Seems like the more we try to get away from fossil fuels they harder they are trying to shove it down our throats. Its kind of hard to stop something like this once its in place. That would be the reason behind the secret deal I think. Its not like Shell does not know how unpopular their business is. Here we were making all those suggestions on what to do with Term 5 and they likely had the deal in the works before they even shut it down. >.< As for tax payer money being wasted IMHO that is when its spent on things that do not help us. This suit is not a waste, its a necessity or you can just tell your grandchildren that we don't care what happens to them. Clean up after a Shell occupation would be a mind boggling cost in both dollars and natural life.

  • west seattle codger March 2, 2015 (11:47 am)

    By all means MrsT lets shut the port down completely. With no need to off load all those containers the trucks would go away. No need for fuel then. Spread that out to Port of Tacoma as well. Then, since airplanes use fossil fuels we need to shut SEA TAC down. Can’t have those filthy airplanes flying around.

  • wscommuter March 2, 2015 (11:49 am)

    I consider myself pretty environmentally aware … but this (lawsuit) seems foolish and myopic to me. Even if successful, it won’t stop the arctic exploration that will happen – that is a battle (I’d support) for another time and place. But it will (if successful), prevent some decent jobs from going to folks who could use them.
    I wish the intellectually-pure zealots behind this lawsuit could see past their own misguided idealism and consider the real-world impacts of such litigation. That, or more realistically, I can hope that their lawsuit fails quickly and the jobs are saved.

  • That Guy March 2, 2015 (11:54 am)

    Great and I get to pay for it. A port is for marine uses and this is a marine use. Lets just put a bunch of condos there that should make the anti oil people happy.

  • heather March 2, 2015 (11:55 am)

    I’m not thrilled with a looming lawsuit but as a Seattle resident I am concerned with potential damage to the Sound resulting from this deal. I believe the concerns brought up are valid and merit consideration.

  • brandonb March 2, 2015 (11:59 am)

    So are they going after Vigor next? They repair ships that can leak, pollute, etc. Cruise ships? Ferries? Pleasure boats? where do you want to stop?

  • Ray March 2, 2015 (12:01 pm)

    Interesting many here are criticizing this plan. May I ask when you will be protesting all of Boeing’s activities in the Puget Sound?

    Let’s look at THEIR business….
    Uses lots of petroleum in the transportation, movement, assembly of their product.
    Uses lots of petroleum derivatives IN the products (plastics, wiring, composites)
    The planes themselves are a huge consumer of fuel
    Plane use contributes to pollutants in the air and water

    With this knowledge, I am sure every single one of you against this port project will next turn you eyes to Boeing and demand the cessation of all aviation manufacturing in the Puget Sound.

  • sam-c March 2, 2015 (12:38 pm)

    speaking of Boeing, hopefully those who want to eliminate the reliance on fossil fuels never travel on a plane, or if they do, surely you must purchase carbon offsets.

  • F16CrewChief March 2, 2015 (1:44 pm)

    I love the attitude by folks here.

    “You’re not going to stop artic drilling anyways, so why bother stopping this?”

    “Look at Boeing and all the fuel they use. Why ain’t you complaining about that? Just let them drill…gosh!”

    This is the exact attitude the big oil companies want you to have. The passive aggressive do nothing attitude. I can’t wait until we run out of oil and we have no alternative. We’ll have to go to war with Canada because we’ll have no oil for our ships and military to get to China or vice versa…LOL.

    • WSB March 2, 2015 (1:45 pm)

      Note – we have just added comments from Foss & the port to the end of the story – TR

  • Mark March 2, 2015 (3:30 pm)

    Alaska arctic oil has been the primary source of meeting our regions demand since the Alaska pipeline opened in 1977. Over the last couple of years our consumption of Alaska oil has declined as North Dakota oil has increased shipments into our region.

    The carbon footprint created to transport Alaska’s arctic oil is much smaller than foreign oil that is often shipped half way around the globe and a very small fraction of that produced by fracking which is trucked and then railed long distances.

    Environmentally, politically, and for the personal safety of Americans, Alaska’s oil is also a better choice than the other two options.

  • Dave March 2, 2015 (3:44 pm)

    Shell has a proven track record of being completely hapless in terms of safety. Even their own workers had to be rescued in multiple cases by the Coast Guard (guess who pays for that), not to mention spills etc.

    Also, the price of oil is half of what it was a year ago and rigs are shutting down all over America. So why do we NEED to potentially destroy pristine wilderness (not to mention fishing/tourism)?

  • wscommuter March 2, 2015 (3:58 pm)

    @F16CrewChief – if you believe that a series of lawsuits up and down the west coast could stop arctic drilling by denying the oil companies docking facilities down here, then you have a fundamental failure to grasp the facts. Arctic drilling cessation will require a policy shift that will not – NOT – happen until we have a meaningful alternative to reliance on fossil fuels. If you want to stop this drilling, then work for alternative energy sources that become cost effective to economically eliminate the need to rely on fossil fuels.
    And … of course, in the meantime, keep riding your bicycle. I’m sure you don’t drive a car, fly in a plane or ride on a ship for any of your transportation needs.

  • JayDee March 2, 2015 (5:39 pm)

    Some mis-informed citizen stated that the environmental impacts of oil drilling equipment is different from cargo shops. Well maybe in the Beaufort Sea, but not in port because they are ships. And any concerns of safety in port are red herrings. Yes, the towing of the Alviq was poorly planned and executed, and the focus on the short-term doomed that plan. But the Sound is a peaceful lake compared to the Bering Sea. And home to at least 6 commercial ports. When Seattle loses our Port we might as rename the city as Disneyland NW.

  • brandon March 2, 2015 (8:36 pm)

    JD, not opposed to the Shell plan, but “the Sound is a peaceful lake compared to the Bering Sea”. That’s what the people of Prince William Sound thought too.

  • Chris March 2, 2015 (9:48 pm)

    If the current decline in production of Alaska’s oil continues many people in the Seattle Area will be out of work. Most goods that are transported to Alaska go though Seattle. While we are talking about potential oil pollution from ocean going vessels, why don’t you keep all the Washington based fishing vessels out of Alaskan waters?

  • cj March 3, 2015 (8:45 am)

    We could be more supportive of alternative energy, that would get us out of this mess. Always saying we HAVE to use oil is obviously at this point not helping. Surely we can come up with something better. It might also do something about over centralized profit where fuel is concerned, but then again that might be where the whole argument is coming from.

  • MrsT March 3, 2015 (8:54 am)

    I am afraid I am with the scientists on this one. Fossil fuel use is adding particulates to the atmosphere that are heating up our planet and changing the weather patterns. Unfortunately the power seems to be where the money is and as long as (we) the little guy can’t look past our own noses (“But the JOBS!”) and continue to abdicate our power to Corporations whose sole purpose is to earn money, we are left with little choice in the matter. I wholeheartedly support the small drops of water in the form of lawsuits, protests, political pressure, etc., that eventually will build into a flood and hopefully spur people into action and effect change. Corporations want to survive too, and they will adapt or die, just like the rest of us.

    I am not trying to antagonize anyone, but it seems to me that one who doesn’t see that there are just as many jobs possible in green energy is being impractical or suffering from a lack of imagination.

    If indeed these oil rigs end up in our neighborhood, you can find me down there with a sparkly protest sigh, a large pack of children activists armed with a ukulele and a whole lot of righteous indignation.

  • Chris March 3, 2015 (10:04 am)

    I always enjoy reading comments about people wanting the corporations to use renewable energy. I wonder is any of these people do anything at home to stop the use fossil fuel for their energy. I wonder how many people have converted all their lighting to LEDs, have put solar panels on their home and have a way of storing this energy. If wind or solar is going to work, people need to be able to store this energy at their homes and not depend on the utility. The only way any of this renewable energy will work is if everyone looks after most of their own energy needs. We will always need some energy for high demand things like hot water, heating and cooking. It is pretty easy to provide most of our energy needs using solar if you are willing to spend the money. If your home is more than 5 years old you probably need to upgrade it or tear it down and build a home with double stud walls, proper venting and a wiring system that lets you use DC for all your lighting. My energy bill is less than $400 a year for a 1500 sqft home here in south central Alaska using the above methods.

  • Doug March 3, 2015 (1:03 pm)

    Yes, lets make sure that Shell overwinters their ships in some remote Alaskan port rather than in a place they can get the repairs and maintenance to make them as safe as possible.

  • F16CrewChief March 3, 2015 (1:12 pm)


    Haha…I have two cars and zero bikes. I never said lawsuits were going to stop anything. We’re all brainwashed into using fossil fuels and the oil companies wanna keep it that way. I simply can’t wait until its all gone. The world is positioning itself around the artic waiting to drill. World War III will be in the artic. Ask the Norwegians, they’ve been prepping for war with Russia up there for a while. Drill baby, DRILL!

  • Jeffrey March 3, 2015 (3:28 pm)

    Thanks for being a martyr, or something, MrsT.

    I’m going for a drive to fill up the tank with gasoline.

  • Frances Morrison March 4, 2015 (9:45 am)

    For the lawsuit that involved the Noble Discoverer, please see the REAL story…..

    it is true but extremely twisted, the truth of the matter is that ship was under tow and the tugs drug them up onto a sand bar, the tow company really gets under the radar on this.

    this might make more sense

  • G March 4, 2015 (10:01 am)

    A fleet stationed here will be subjected to rigorous scrutiny and oversight, rather than no oversight in a remote area, like Doug said. This might be a win-win for both sides on this issue.

  • Scott March 6, 2015 (3:00 pm)

    Lets just call this what it really is. People who don’t like drilling in the Arctic trying to stick it to Shell.

    I don’t see how it can be against the law for the city to find a tenant for it’s empty port terminal. They aren’t drilling for oil in Elliot Bay.

    I think we can all agree that global warming is one of the biggest threats we will collectively face, but this lawsuit seems like not the best way to combat that.

  • Thmas M. March 6, 2015 (10:31 pm)

    The environmental activists will lose.

  • Claire March 14, 2015 (6:50 pm)

    This is making national news, see NYTimes today March 14.

    • WSB March 14, 2015 (6:53 pm)

      Heard that this morning, have been busy all day and unable to find a link. Still updating our coverage of the court hearing on Friday so if we find a link, we’ll add it there.

Sorry, comment time is over.