Call to action: Comments due 9/21

Shared here is my letter to the City of Tacoma regarding proposed expansion at the SeaPort Sound Terminal, home to over 20 tanks full of toxic and dangerous petrochemicals. The proposed expansion seeks to add 8 more tanks, increasing capacity and throughput of more dangerous petrochemicals, even while our world burns and we lose critical pollution mitigators – trees.

This is going to be in two major parts, so hang tight. First, I will post some background and historical context, then I will post the letter I sent via The Action Network.

Aerial view of a segment of SeaPort Sound Terminal Credit:

Background and context, with a little history

In 2017, Tacoma City Council adopted the Tideflats Interim Regulations as an Amended Ordinance, Number 28470. These regulations included four major elements: a) expand public notification of heavy industrial use permits; b) institute a temporary prohibition of new non-industrial uses in the Port of Tacoma Manufacturing and Industrial Center; c) institute a temporary prohibition of new residential development along Marine View Drive and NE Tacoma slopes, and d) institute a temporary prohibition on certain types of new heavy industrial uses. 

What the Interim regulations do NOT do is pause expansion undertaken by industrial stakeholders already in operation at the Port of Tacoma. They are ‘grandfathered’ in and are allowed to go through the normal process of expansion. These Interim Regulations are scheduled for review every six months. This proposed project is being considered prior to the next six month review, which will take place in November.

Frustratingly, the City of Tacoma continues to ignore the effects of climate chaos and refuses to take meaningful actions to protect the people who live in and around the Port by calling a halt to ALL fossil fuel expansion and other dangerous toxic industries at the Port.  

On September 29th, the Council will review this new proposal for another expansion at the Port at the request of SeaPort Sound Terminal. It’s important to note that SeaPort Sound Terminal sits less than a quarter mile away from the dangerous LNG refinery being built on the banks of the Hylebos and Blair waterways. Both the SeaPort Sound Terminal and the LNG refinery are within a stone’s throw of the Puyallup Tribe of Indian’s Chinook Landing Marina. SeaPort Sound Terminal has expanded twice already in the last ten years. 

Why it matters

In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a special report detailing the extreme consequences the entire planet would experience if global warming is not immediately halted. This report presented soundly researched evidence that there were less than twelve years left to change our approach to energy and industry if we are to save ourselves from climate chaos. Two years have passed – now we have less than ten years. Forest fires, loss of land, degradation of water quality, loss of human and animal life, to name just a few of our current realities due to climate chaos.

Municipalities, countries, states, and corporations must act with urgency to transition to renewable energy. Yet here we are, again, playing a game with City Council, begging them to do their part to halt fossil fuel expansion. We must, in fact, be planning for a rapid transition to renewable energy. Our conversations, in fact, with City Council should be focused on the ways in which we can save ourselves from climate chaos. Sadly, they have repeatedly shown that they prefer to listen to industry officials rather than residents. 

According to 350Seattle, here’s what is on the agenda for approval on the 29th of September. “SeaPort Sound Terminal, formerly Targa, is seeking to add 8 new storage tanks for about 167,000 more barrels of fossil fuel capacity to their facility, on land they openly acknowledge is prone to liquefaction in an earthquake. The City of Tacoma Planning Department has already made a preliminary finding that this expansion is ‘non-significant’ and requires no further investigation to proceed.”

8 new storage tanks, less than half a mile from a dangerously sited LNG refinery, and within three miles of residential and recreational populations, is not just dangerously foolish – it’s dangerously irresponsible. We know that the City and industry focals work closely together to fast track these kinds of projects. We know that the City is proud of its “culture of yes” when it comes to these kinds of projects. And we know, first-hand, how little they regard the concerns of the public. 

My letter

I am writing in opposition to SeaPort Sound Terminal’s proposal to build eight new petrochemical storage tanks, up to 60 feet tall, in place of their defunct refinery and other tanks. Based on the provided plans, that is approximately 175,000 barrels of new storage. It is absolutely infuriating that this expansion is even being considered, when understanding how closely these tanks are already positioned in relation to the LNG refinery.

Why is the City and the Port continually committing resources and time to the expansion of fossil fuel projects when we should be doing everything possible to transition away from fossil fuels to encourage a green economy here in Tacoma and to start digging our way out of a climate chaos deficit? When will the City and the Port wake up and realize that climate chaos isn’t theory? It’s reality.

It is my understanding that the SEPA checklist submitted to the city, on page 13 a claim is made that no “toxic or hazardous chemicals” will be stored “during the operating life of the project.” This seems to be a patently false statement if ‘operating life’ refers to the use of the tanks after being built. It is simply absurd to remark in the negative regarding toxic or hazardous chemicals about any aspect of this project. 

This project poses great risk to the community with the added throughput of petrochemicals, further supported by a recent “efficiency improvement” campaign where the number of loading stations in their rail yard was increased substantially. More petrochemicals, on rail, in an area highly susceptible to liquefaction is extremely concerning. It’s not ‘if’ there is an explosive incident, it’s ‘when’. 

The damage the community would endure is one thing, but the damage to the Salish Sea and our endangered salmon and orca is another consequence that seems to be approached with a foolishly cavalier attitude. 

I am infuriated that this expansion, which would sit a stone’s throw from the Puyallup Tribe of Indian’s Chinook Landing Marina is yet another project that appears to completely disregard the lives, economy, and preservation of the traditional ways of the Puyallup people. The harm that would be inflicted on them is irreparable.

Since the Interim Regulations were first proposed, hundreds of Tacomans have testified that we want to see expansion of current fossil fuel uses halted–yet our requests have gone unheeded. I understand that the Planning Department made that recommendation as well but that also went unheeded. What can be done to stop fossil fuel expansion in the Tideflats?

While I’m grateful to the City for extending the comment period and rescheduling a public meeting for this particular proposal, I have to point out that the first notice of this project was poorly handled and adds to the many examples we have of the City disregarding the voices of the public.  

My first ask is for the City to quit messing around with our futures and make the Interim Regulations permanent. We now have less than ten years to halt climate chaos, and just in the last year we have seen tangible evidence that climate chaos will affect every aspect of life as we know it. My second ask is for a more thorough review of the full environmental impacts of this project, both upstream and downstream. This expansion should in no way be viewed as “non-significant.” 

What to do

I hope you will join me in standing in opposition to the continual development of fossil fuel infrastructure which will ultimately lead to devastating outcomes in our community, and for the world beyond. You can complete this form letter, if you like. I strongly encourage you to add one or two sentences of your own words to the letter so that it stands as a distinct document, which helps in the way that these comments are tallied. Conversely you can send your comments to: Principal Planner Shirley Schultz:

Please feel free to reach out to me with questions, concerns, or encouragement. We are all in this together, and we are more powerful when we join hearts and heads to stand up for what is right.

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