Monday, March 3, 2014

3/3 B'ham coal, oil trains, refinery property tax, Keystone XL, Hood Canal bridge, Skagit water, Terrell Cr., Shannon Pt., Index dam, BC ferries

Welcome, March: We closed out a short month of February with 5300 visits to our news and weather website, thank you. And thanks to you, subscribers, who get this blog every weekday morning free. Here’s something you can do for me: share it with friends, family members and colleagues and ask them to subscribe, no cost. Makes it worth doing every weekday morning. Mike Sato.

New blog: February 2014- Two Down, 10 to Go
February was a short month and I'm still waiting to see which of our elected officials in Olympia will choose to govern in the remaining weeks of the legislative session— and to see whether the 12th Man really created community or not...

Rail traffic and climate change part of Gateway Pacific enviro review
Gateway Pacific, the giant export terminal north of Bellingham, took a major step forward Thursday as developers agreed to a $7.2 million contract for an environmental study on what would become Washington’s first coal-export terminal. The new agreement, with the engineering firm CH2M Hill, follows on the heels of an earlier $1.9 million deal to conduct public meetings and prepare the scope of review. That brings the total environmental review cost for Gateway Pacific to $9,089,911, according to Whatcom County officials who will supervise the contract. SSA Marine and BNSF Railway — both signed Thursday — will deal with subcontractors who will assess the project's impacts on human and animal health, marine life, wetlands, railway and shipping traffic and Native American culture. Whatcom County posted the contracts here on Friday. In what could be a precedent-setting proceeding, Whatcom County and the Washington Department of Ecology have also called for a review of the impacts of increased railroad traffic across the state, as well as a study on the impact on climate change of burning the coal in Asia. Floyd McKay reports. (Crosscut)

Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway sees record profit
The investment firm run by the US billionaire Warren Buffett has reported a record profit for 2013. Berkshire Hathaway made $19.5bn (£11.6bn) last year, up from $14.8bn (£8.8bn) in 2012. "On the operating front, just about everything turned out well for us last year - in some cases very well," Mr Buffett wrote to shareholders.... Mr Buffett, ranked fourth on the Forbes rich list, pointed to a strong performance in the firm's insurance, rail and energy businesses for the increase in profit. These include the auto insurer Geico, General Reinsurance, Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad and the electric utility MidAmerican Energy. (BBC News)

Bakken crude oil deliveries raise safety questions
The issue of shipping oil by rail has gone from the background to the front burner almost overnight. There are no less than four related bills floating around the Legislature, as well as work on the federal and local level. The state House and the Senate are aimed at studying spill response, increasing disaster and spill preparedness and cashing in on the fastest growing transportation issue in the nation. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Transportation and officials from the rail industry agreed in late February to a series of voluntary improvements in safety and inspection standards, to be implemented by July 1. Any regulatory changes must be made at the federal level since states have no authority over the railroads. Until studies of oil volatility and rail car safety are complete, there are few options on the table beyond local planning for the worst. Daniel DeMay reports. (Skagit Valley Herald)

A look at offloading sites for Bakken crude oil
Tesoro’s refinery in Anacortes was the first to complete a rail offloading facility for Bakken crude in the Pacific Northwest. The facility, located on the west side of the refinery on March Point, has accepted more than 24 million barrels of crude since it became operational in 2012. Shell is in the process of permit review for its own rail offloading facility. If all the permits are approved, the facility will be located on Shell property just east of its refinery on March Point. Mark Stayton reports.  (Skagit Valley Herald)

With little information, county officials can only prepare for the worst  Traffic is blocked at three major intersections in Mount Vernon, and a fire is burning downtown. Mount Vernon and Burlington fire trucks and ambulances dispatched to the scene determine alternate routes because a 100-car oil train is blocking crossings at Riverside Drive, College Way and Hoag Road. The roundabout trip may add about two minutes to their typical response time of seven minutes or less. Kimberley Cauvel reports. (Skagit Valley Herald)

Millions in tax dollars at stake as Whatcom oil refineries dispute property taxes
Millions of dollars in local tax revenue are at stake as Whatcom County's two oil refineries challenge their property tax assessments through a lengthy state appeals process. By far the biggest potential impact is from BP Cherry Point. The giant oil company contends that the most recent property tax assessment of its local refinery - about $975 million - is at least $275 million too high. The disputed $275 million is an amount of tax base roughly equivalent to nine Bellis Fair malls, and the property tax that would be collected on that $275 million totals about $2.9 million distributed to a variety of state and local government uses. John Stark reports. (Bellingham Herald)

Hundreds of pipeline protesters arrested outside White House
U.S. Park Police on Sunday arrested hundreds of demonstrators participating in an act of civil disobedience to protest the proposed Keystone XL pipeline at the White House. Organizers estimated that about 450 people — mostly college students — would ultimately be arrested as they tried to dissuade the Obama administration from approving the 1,700-mile crude-oil pipeline from Canadian oil sands to the Gulf Coast. Sarah Wheaton reports. (NY Times)

Is the Hood Canal Floating Bridge Causing The Problems in Hood Canal?
Al Bergstein at Olympic Peninsula Environmental News blogs: “.... At a meeting of restoration recovery organizations held in Port Townsend, Scott Brewer, the head of the Hood Canal Coordinating Council, stood up and validated what the old timer had said. Brewer said that preliminary research  has shown, especially with steelhead, that the bridge might be stopping the fish from moving out to sea. Radio tagged fry have been seen swimming up to the bridge and are unable to figure out how to get around it. They appear to pool against the bridge, which is 30 feet deep, and get picked off by seals or sea lions.  The fry tend to stay on the surface layer of the water, so are stymied by the blockage. Additionally, the bridge may be affecting tidal water exchange...”

Water health of county varies widely
The health of Skagit County waters varies from the headwaters of the Skagit River to the mouth of the Samish River, where it dumps into the bay.... From October 2012 to September 2013 Skagit County staff and the volunteer Skagit Stream Team and Skagit Storm Team collected hundreds of water samples at more than 50 sites. Representatives from the county, Skagit Conservation District and Padilla Bay Research Reserve presented their findings Thursday during a public meeting.... In general, streams outside high population areas are healthier. Creeks between Hamilton and Sedro-Woolley, for example, have better oxygen levels than sloughs in the Samish Flats. See also: Samish Bay pollution evaluation begins Kimberley Cauvel reports. (Skagit Valley Herald)

Terrell Creek contamination traced to dairy; other sources possible
Manure runoff from a dairy farm has been identified as one source of fecal coliform bacteria that contaminated part of Terrell Creek and caused the beach closure near where the creek empties into the south end of Birch Bay. The beach has been closed since Jan. 31, after routine sampling Jan. 30 showed very high counts of fecal coliform in the creek from the Kickerville Road bridge down to the creek's mouth. Fecal coliform bacteria come from human and animal feces.... Routine sampling on Jan. 30, on the upper part of the creek, showed counts that were about 30,000 fecal coliforms per 100 milliliters, according to Erika Douglas, senior planner for Whatcom County Public Works. That was above one allowable threshold, which is an average of 50 fecal coliforms per 100 milliliters. Kie Relyea reports. (Bellingham Herald)

The 'Tween Season: Late February in the Pacific Northwest
Jill at Pacific Northwest Seasons blogs about the challenges and joys of living through a Northwest winter: "If you live in the Pacific Northwest (or almost anywhere in North America), aren't you ready for winter to loosen its grip? Living in a temperate climate here west of the Cascades,  we Mossbacks are spared extreme cold like the frigid polar vortex, but the wet, gray, dark days seem to stretch on too long.  Many of us jet away to warmer, tropical or desert getaways. By mid-February, however, the days are getting noticeably longer. Hallelujah!..."

Heading Back North
Meanwhile-- Orca Watcher Monika Wieland returns from her trip south to Baja. Nice blogs on the journey.

New director of WWU's marine sciences center seeks more outreach
Erika McPhee-Shaw, who grew up in the home of an ice scientist, explored a variety of interests before she emerged with what the affable scientist calls her mission to "watch the water" for important environmental developments. McPhee-Shaw was recently named director of Western Washington University's nationally recognized Shannon Point Marine Center in Anacortes. She will assume her duties in June. Michelle Nolan reports. (Bellingham Herald)

Federal agency approves PUD’s plans for study of proposed dam
A plan for studying issues related to a possible mini-dam on the South Fork Skykomish River near Index has been approved by a federal agency, despite Tulalip Tribes concern that the study won’t accurately assess the possible effects on fish. The Snohomish County Public Utility District study plan will not gather enough information to determine the planned weir’s potential effects on juvenile salmon that migrate downstream, said tribal environmental liaison Daryl Williams in a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Bill Sheets reports. (Everett Herald)

Stephen Hume: BC Ferries austerity program is based on false assumptions
The tourism-dependent Gulf Islands lost a cumulative total of 2.7 million visitor trips over the decade after a newly privatized BC Ferries corporation began steadily reducing service and raising passenger fares. Another 559,000 visitor trips vanished from the Central and North Coast routes after 2004, for a total of more than 3.2 million. The controversial austerity program that Gulf Islanders say is hurting regional businesses — the percentage of self-employed entrepreneurs there is about three time the provincial average — is defended by both ferry authorities and the provincial government as an essential measure to offset rising operating costs. But annual financial reports to the ferry commissioner show smaller service routes cited as money drains often operate in the black. The Swartz Bay-Gulf Islands service, for example, generated net surpluses of $2 million in both 2013 and 2012. The red ink rises when servicing costs for ferry company debt that has zoomed from zero to $1.4 billion in just 10 years are applied. Stephen Hume reports. (Vancouver Sun)

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