Conservation Groups Seek to Intervene, Back City of Seattle’s Finding that Port Use by Shell is Illegal

Coalition supports planning department finding that Shell homeport violates Port of Seattle’s shoreline permit


Betsy Lopez-Wagner, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2159


Susan North, Seattle Audubon Society, (206) 523-8243 ext. 38


Chris Wilke, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, (206) 297-7002


Kerry McHugh, Washington Environmental Council, (206) 631-2605


Jesse Piedfort, The Sierra Club, (206) 947-6529

A coalition of conservation organizations is seeking to defend the Seattle Department of Planning and Development’s finding that affirms the Port of Seattle cannot serve as a homeport for Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet under its current permit. By doing so, the agency found, the Port is in violation of its twenty-year-old shoreline permit issued by the city of Seattle.

Today Seattle Audubon Society, Sierra Club, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and Washington Environmental Council, represented by Earthjustice, moved to intervene and defend the city’s decision against the Port of Seattle and Foss Maritime, which have appealed the decision.The motion was filed with the Seattle Hearing Examiner’s Office. In February, Foss Maritime entered into a lease to use Terminal 5 on behalf of Shell. This appeal will be heard by a city of Seattle Hearing Examiner.

The city’s finding, released May 4, 2015 was the result of an investigation launched March 9, one week after Earthjustice filed a lawsuit asking King County Superior Court (link) to vacate the lease because the Port entered into it without conducting any environmental review as required by the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). The Port evaded SEPA review by invoking an exemption that applies to leases when the use of the property will remain essentially the same. Terminal 5 has long been a marine container terminal not a homeport. Foss Maritime Company appealed the interpretation to the Seattle City Hearing Examiner on May 12, 2015, and the Port of Seattle Commissioners appealed on May 15, 2015.

“Shell’s race to drill in the Arctic has been dirty business and its disregard of the law and public process continues,” said Earthjustice Managing Attorney Patti Goldman. “The Port Commissioners violated the public trust by shutting out the public when negotiating this deal, flouting the law, and violating its permits.”

“By bringing the Polar Pioneer to Seattle without a legal permit, the Port, Foss Maritime, and Shell have blatantly ignored the City’s finding that Terminal 5 cannot currently serve as a homeport to Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet,” said Seattle Audubon Society Conservation Manager Susan North. “They are now one step closer to implementing risky drilling operations that could expose birds of the Pacific Flyway to oil and chemical contamination.”

“Protecting the health of Puget Sound is our collective responsibility, and the impact of Shell’s vessels in our waters must be evaluated and a thorough environmental impact assessment completed before any permit can be granted,” said Puget Soundkeeper Executive Director Chris Wilke. “In bypassing that process, the Port has failed to live up to their responsibility to the public and to their stated commitment to a sustainable world. We support the City’s decision that moorage and servicing of Shell’s fleet requires a new permit.”

“The Port tried to sneak Shell’s oil drilling fleet into Seattle without a proper permit, and now the City of Seattle is calling foul,” said Mark Powell, Puget Sound program director for Washington Environmental Council. “Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet shouldn’t be here, and I can’t believe the Port didn’t know that.”

"The Port's willing violation of its permit is the latest example of the contempt they have shown for both public process and the law," said Sierra Club Seattle Group Chair Jesse Piedfort. "We stand in support of the City of Seattle's efforts to require the Port to meet its legal obligations, and encourage the Port to back down from its dangerous and destructive support of Shell's Arctic drilling fleet."

Despite being asked to refrain from arrival in Seattle, Shell’s Polar Pioneer arrived May 14. On May 18, the city issued a notice of violation to the Port, Foss and Shell based on an inspection after the drill rig arrived.  The notice gives them until June 4 to stop the violating uses of Terminal 5 or apply for a new permit.

Jack Smith speaks to the Port of Seattle commissioners on March 24
Jack Smith compels the Port of Seattle commissioners on March 24 to reverse their lease agreement with Foss Maritime. (Joe Nicholson for Earthjustice)

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