The final decision regarding the shorelines permit application for Westway Terminal’s controversial Port of Grays Harbor oil storage and shipping facility with the City of Hoquiam will indeed come down to one man: City Administrator Brian Shay. But before that day comes a lengthy period of continued review and public comment will factor into the approval or denial of the permit.
“I am the one who is going to sign it, but before that we hire a consultant to write a draft decision,” said Shay. “We have to prove we are not being arbitrary and capricious in our decision making, and this is how we do that.”
The consulting firm of ICF has been hired to produce the draft decision. ICF has offices around the world, the nearest in Olympia, and “deploys integrated services to execute environmental impact assessment for complex projects involving diverse stakeholders and multiple layers of regulation,” according to their website. They claim their process ensures “compliance with state regulations such as the Washington State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA).” Shay says the firm is the same one used to draft the final environmental impact statement for the project.
“The unbiased consultant is hired to review the application and make sure that all state and city rules and regulations that apply are covered,” he said.
ICF’s recommendation can be to approve Westway’s application, deny it, or approve with conditions that are required before the project can begin.
“I am not a wetlands biologist,” said Shay. “I don’t have a degree in environmental science. That’s why we hire consultants who have experience in shorelines regulations, have biologists on staff, to do a review.” Who pays for the review? “We make the applicant,” in this case Westway, “pay for the cost of the consultant,” added Shay.
The process is basically the same for every shorelines permit submitted to the city for review, with a few exceptions.
“Sometimes I won’t hire a consultant if the project is just something so minor there’s no environmental impact,” Shay said. As an example he recalls a shorelines permit application submitted by Swanson’s Supermarket in Hoquiam.
“The store is within 200 feet of the shoreline, but the permit was to build an awning on the front of the existing building, so there would be zero impact,” he said. “But anything with any kind of environmental impact whatsoever, we hire a consultant.”
The consultant offers analysis by experts with a broad range of expertise that can’t be found elsewhere, said Shay. “I can’t think of a single agency that would have the qualified staff to really do a shorelines review of this magnitude.”
Shay also clarified a point he says is often overlooked during public comment periods.
“I would hear a lot of commenters ask, ‘why don’t you just deny the permit now?’ Well, by code we can’t really do anything until after Nov. 19.” That is when the 30-day public comment period comes to an end. Public comments are taken into consideration by ICF, saying the firm uses “web-based public comment analysis software to accurately and comprehensively capture public comment in regulatory compliance.”
“Ultimately, I am the one who will sign the decision to approve or deny, and what conditions might go along with an approval,” said Shay, who added that “99.9 percent of the time” the recommendation of the consultant drives his final decision.