Broader Implications from Judge's Maury Island Ruling?

Just as Glacier Northwest was preparing to resume construction of a replacement barge loading dock at its Maury Island facility a federal judge halted further work when he ruled that the Corps of Engineers conducted an inadequate assessment of the potential environmental impacts on Puget Sound. Glacier Northwest has filed an intent to appeal although it is unclear at this time how the Department of Justice (on behalf of the Corps) intends to proceed.

The ruling could have broader implications. In ruling that there was not enough information to determine that the project was not likely to adversely impact Chinook salmon the judge appears to establish a lower threshold for when a full EIS is required.

Glacier Northwest was using best management practices in its pile driving that limited it to times of year when the fish were minimally present and with methodologies to minimize sound and vibrations. Nevertheless the judge ruled more analysis was needed.

Plus although the concept of “cumulative analysis” is part of the review the judge determined that the scope of that review is too narrow.

An excerpt from the Seattle Times article:

In so doing both sides agreed the judge also appears to have set the stage for stricter environmental review on future construction that affects the Sounds sensitive nearshore environment.

Its no longer good enough Martinez ruled to merely consider how building a single dock may harm the Sound. The federal government must do a better job evaluating the cumulative impact of hundreds of small changes to the regions signature waterway.

Which raindrop caused the flood? Martinez wrote in his ruling. No single project or human activity has caused depletion of the salmon runs or the near-extinction of the SR [southern resident] orca or the general degradation of the marine environment of Puget Sound. Yet every project has the potential to incrementally increase the burden upon the species and the Sound.

Click Maury Island ruling for the entire Seattle Times article.

This raises questions such as: How far afield do you go with a cumulative analysis? How do you prove a broad enough scope?

Glacier Northwest and its subsidiary Northwest Aggregates had been constructing the replacement dock to improve its sand and aggregates operation. The project had already undergone nearly 11 years of environmental and permitting reviews. Seven different local state and federal agencies have reviewed the project and it had all the permits needed to construct the dock. The Department of Natural Resources granted the company a lease in December 2008 and the firm began work to construct the dock and halted it in mid-January to protect migrating juvenile salmon.

Last month new DNR Commissioner Peter Goldmark sought to halt activity by requiring Glacier to respond to yet another round of questions about the operations environmental impact. AGC supported Glacier and opposed the Commissioner’s ad hoc regulatory action. In an opinion piece published in the Puget Sound Business Journal AGC Executive Vice President David D’Hondt said “Eleven years of environmental permitting and legal review has clearly shown that this vital building material can be provided in an environmentally sound manner.”

Glacier sent its response to Goldmark indicating it intended to resume construction on Aug. 19 although it was unclear whether or not the Commissioner was going to seek other avenues to halt construction. Then last Thursday the federal judge announced his decision – an action that was unrelated to those of Commissioner Goldmark.