Cantwell on the coast to fight offshore oil plan

Threats to coastal fishing, business, tourism raised in Westport on Saturday

WESTPORT — U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) met with local fishermen, small business owners and other local leaders in Westport on Saturday to “discuss the negative impacts of the Trump Administration’s proposed offshore drilling plan on local jobs and the economy.”

Among those attending were Westport Mayor Rob Bearden, Al Carter of Ocean Gold Fish Processing, Hillary Bearden and Larry Thevik of the Washington Dungeness Crab Fishermen’s Association, Mark Ballo of Brady’s Oysters, Greg Mueller of the Washington Trollers Association, Mike Cornman of Wesport Seafoods, Jonathan Sawin, representing charter boat operations, as well as local business operators Sarah McWhelan, Adrienne Jones, and Port of Grays Harbor representative Molly Bold.

“Our coastal economy, and specifically our maritime fishing economy is so important to our state,” Cantwell said in opening remarks. “That’s why we’re here, because we want to do everything we can to help it grow and to protect it.”

In a letter earlier this week, Cantwell led a bipartisan group of 16 lawmakers from the Pacific Northwest to call on Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to remove the Washington/Oregon planning area from the National Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2019-2014. Zinke in January announced the National OCS Program for 2019-2024, which proposes to make over 90 percent of the total OCS acreage and more than 98 percent of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources in federal offshore areas available to consider for future exploration and development.

By comparison, the current program puts 94 percent of the OCS off limits. In addition, the new program proposes the largest number of lease sales in U.S. history.

Cantwell has been a leading opponent of the new policy: “Oil drilling and exploration off the Pacific Northwest coastline, or an oil spill from drilling anywhere along the Pacific Coast, poses threats to the fishing, shellfish, and tourism industries at the heart of Washington’s economy,” Cantwell said “The maritime economy in Washington contributes $50 billion dollars to the state economy and supports 191,000 jobs in the state. Other states along the Pacific coast similarly rely on their maritime industries for significant economic output.”

Cantwell told the Westport group she couldn’t understand why the current proposal was made, since oil and gas exploration off the Washington coast has “been considered before and has been rejected.”

Late Sunday, a Bureau of Ocean Energy Management public meeting and citizens forum on the proposal that had been scheduled in Tacoma at the Landmark Catering and Convention Center was abruptly cancelled by what was said to be a “credible threat.”

A news conference — that included Gov. Jay Inslee, Mayor Crystal Dingler of Ocean Shores, Gina James of the Quinault Indian Nation, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Commissioner of Public Lands Hillary Franz, and Thevik among the speakers — was moved to Olympia as a result.

Inslee and Dingler both cited the Nestucca oil barge collision of 1988, when 2.8 million gallons of Bunker C oil were spilled near the entrance of Grays Harbor. Inslee noted 4 million tourists visited the state’s beaches last year.

“Oil and gas drilling and the risk it poses — the inevitable risk — is unacceptable for some of the best beaches in the world,” Inslee said.

Dingler noted how the Ocean Shores Convention Center became a marine bird rescue center for oil-soaked birds after the Nestucca incident.

“Despite people’s efforts, we were able to save very few of them,” Dingler said, urging opposition to the drilling and exploration proposal “on behalf of a clean and healthy ocean, which powers our economy and is the bedrock of our way of life.”

The bureau is accepting public comments on the plan through March 9, and Cantwell has made the case for opposition in similar gatherings in Seattle and Vancouver.

“We have tried to prepare what is a response to this proposal in encouraging our various organizations in the state to communicate to the Secretary of Interior that this is a bad idea,” Cantwell said. “But unfortunately, they have continued to move forward.”

“W’re concerned about all sorts of issues,” Cantwell told the Westport group. “We’re concerned about the incidents of oil spills that we know have happened.” She also listed concerns about future earthquakes and tsunamis off the coast.

Mayor Bearden noted Westport late last month passed a resolution opposed to any coastal oil and gas drilling, similar to a resolution also adopted by the city of Ocean Shores.

“I think Westport would turn into a ghost town if we had some drilling and there was a spill,” Bearden predicted. He said mayors of several other Grays Harbor communities were considering similar resolutions.

So many local businesses depend on fishing and the marine environment, Bearden said, noting Westport is the top-producing fishing port on the West Coast and No. 10 nationally for production.

“People would not come, there would be no work” if there was an oil mishap on the coast, he said.

Carter of Ocean Gold, said his company provides about 600 jobs a year locally, with more than a dozen independent boats fishing for the enterprise.

“It would be a huge impact if we were shut down, and those families would be out of work,” said Carter, former Grays Harbor County Commissioner. “Not to mention everybody else who supplies stuff to us. … Without those fishing jobs, these communities will die.”

Sawin noted how his entire family is employed in various aspects of the fishing industry, from the charters, to crab fishing, salmon to tuna fishing.

Ballo at Brady’s Oysters said there are no protections for local businesses that might eventually be impacted by a oil or gas drilling disaster.

“One of the problems is that you can’t buy insurance for this,” Ballo said. The best-case scenario in the event of a spill is that 10 percent of the oil would be recovered.

Thevik noted the latest Trump Administration drilling and exploration proposal comes just after the battle against proposals to ship crude oil through the Port of Grays Harbor.

“This is about the future. It’s about future generations and protecting the environment for those generations that are coming,” Thevik said, thanking Cantwell for her support in opposing the proposals and being “the voice for those us who are on the front lines of the hazards from oil projects and potential oil spills.”

He said the crab fishery overall is the “most valuable single-species fishery on the West Coast. It is known worldwide as sustainable and biologically healthy. “

Subtracting 3,956 square miles of coastline that is protected under tribal fishing and shellfish treaty rights, and 2,408 square miles of coastline protected under the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, Thevik figures there is only 38 miles available for oil and gas drilling off the central and southern Washington coastline.

“We just defeated projects that would transport oil out of Grays Harbor, to replaced by projects that could bring oil into Grays Harbor. This is just a bitter pill,” Thevik said.