The Olympic Forest Coalition (OFCO) submitted comments to the Jefferson County Dept. of Community Development on the controversial expansion of the Penn Cove mussel raft operations in Quilcene Bay. OFCO expressed concerns over the inadequate scientific documentation underlying the conclusion that the new project will not pose significant impacts to threatened and endangered species, to the habitat in Quilcene Bay, and to public health in nearby swimming beaches. Penn Cove has applied for a 60% expansion of their operations. Penn Cove currently subleases the Coast Seafood Dept. of Natural Resources tidelands lease for the project and the expansion will add 9 more mussel rafts to the existing 24. Mussel raft operations in Hood Canal and Puget Sound are raising protests. The Olympic Peninsula Environmental News (OPEN) blog posted a recent article on other mussel projects.
Environmental and legal concerns over the lack of strong regulatory oversight by the Washington State Dept. of Ecology go back several years. OPEN’s blog linked to a 2014 law review article in the Seattle Journal of Environmental Law discussing the subject.
The U.S Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit denied Coast Seafood’s petition for en banc review. The Court has discretion to allow en banc review by 11 judges where there are grounds to do so.
OFCO alleges that Coast Seafoods is violating the federal Clean Water Act by discharging pollutants from an oyster hatchery on Quilcene Bay without a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit. Coast previously had claimed its oyster hatchery is the world’s largest shellfish hatchery, capable of producing over 45 billion eyed oyster larvae per year. Coast moved to dismiss the case and lost at the District Court, saying it was not required to apply for a permit. In March the Ninth Circuit decided that Coast is not exempt from the permit requirements.
The case will go back to federal District Court for decision unless Coast chooses to apply for a permit and settle the case. Coast also has the option of appealing the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Coast Seafoods has petitioned the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for an en banc review (review of the appellate decision by the Ninth Circuit by 11 judges). The Ninth Circuit Court has the discretion to grant the petition or not, but there must be a basis for the court’s review.
In an interview by the Port Townsend & Jefferson County Leader, OFCO President Connie Gallant said, “We are not trying to close the business and only want the company to get a permit and filter any pollutants. The goal has not changed. That is the way to keep the bay cleaner. It’s the only fair thing for residents of the community. Kids swim in the bay and around the marina, and there’s a lot of activity from shrimpers. It affects our local economy if the waters are full of brown crud coming out of their pipes.”
The Ninth Circuit will respond to the petition in the next several weeks, either to grant it or not. See the original decision by the Ninth Circuit and more information here.
Author photo by Michael Ruth 2017
Maria Ruth, author of the book Rare Bird and member of Black Hills Audubon, was interviewed on the Marbled Murrelet Long-Term Conservation Strategy (LTCS) decision facing our state on the TVW show “The Impact,” which will be following the story as it evolves. We have a way to go to tell the story of the Marbled Murrelet. The narrative that protecting endangered species is responsible for the decline in forestry and timber-dependent counties is still dominant, even though the economics of timber, the excessive clearcut harvests of the seventies and eighties reducing available supply, and profits on foreign exports eclipsing paying American wages in local mills are equally important factors.
Latest news on the timelines: The second Draft EIS on the “preferred alternatives” for the LTCS will be out in late summer.
Chapman/Inslee signing bill
Rep. Mike Chapman spearheaded an effort to get a bill signed into law that would support Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz’s multi-stakeholder “Solutions Table,” Marbled Murrelet protections, and communities. The advisory group will include representatives from industry, conservation groups, Trust beneficiaries (counties) and others. The Solutions Table will look at strategies for funding essential services in Olympic Peninsula communities. The bill will have the Dept. of Natural Resources report to the legislature on developments.
“This legislation brings everyone together, so we can listen to each other and work together with the federal government because the Endangered Species Act is a federal law that we can’t change in Olympia,” said Rep. Chapman.
Gov. Inslee signed the bill into law on March 23.