February 15, 2014
To: Leah Forbes, AICP
Senior Planner, Skagit County Planning & Development Services
cc: Evergreen Islands Board of Trustees
Re: Shell Oil Products Proposed Crude by Rail Unloading Facility
Shoreline Variance/ Substantial Development Permit (File #13-0468)
Dear Ms. Forbes:
On the behalf of Evergreen Islands, I am submitting this comment letter regarding the permitting of Shell Oil Products Proposed Crude by Rail Unloading Facility.
In large part, this letter is a pictorial essay about our concerns that the proposed Shell Oil Products railroad terminal, which will facilitate refining crude oil delivered in tank cars, will likely have a probable significant adverse environmental impacts on the Skagit County’s irreplaceable and invaluable environment. A summary of our salient points are included in a summary at the end of our letter.
While the Shell proposal has the potential for global environmental impacts, this brief letter focuses on the probable significant adverse environmental impacts involving our (Skagit County’s) local environment. This letter addresses the potential adverse impacts on the following elements of our environment (see Figure 1):
· Padilla Bay
· The March Point Heronry
· The City of Burlington
Padilla Bay National Estuarine Reserve
The construction and subsequent use of an oil train terminal will have major on an ecosystem of regional and national importance.
The Padilla Bay National Estuarine Reserve is part of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, which is a partnership of NOAA and coastal states to study and protect vital coastal and estuarine resources.
The National Estuarine Research Reserve System website lists the following benefits of estuaries:
- Estuaries act like huge sponges, buffering and protecting upland areas from crashing waves and storms and preventing soil erosion. They soak up excess water from floods and stormy tidal surges driven into shore from strong winds.
- Estuaries provide a safe haven and protective nursery for small fish, shellfish, migrating birds, and coastal shore animals. In the U.S., estuaries are nurseries to more than 75% of all fish and shellfish harvested.
- People enjoy living near estuaries and the surrounding coastline. They sail, fish, hike, swim, and enjoy bird watching. An estuary is often the center of a coastal community.
The National Estuarine Research Reserve System website also describes the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve as follows:
Padilla Bay is located in Skagit County, Washington, in the northern reaches of greater Puget Sound, on the southeastern fringe of the San Juan Archipelago. The Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) protects one of the largest continuous beds of eelgrass in the contiguous United States. The surrounding region is part of the Skagit Valley agricultural complex, one of the most fertile regions in the world. Padilla Bay covers more than 11,000 acres of a broad, flat intertidal embayment disconnected from normal flows of the Skagit River due to diking. Habitats within the reserve are predominately aquatic with most of its habitat dominated by eelgrass (Zostera marina and Z. japonica), with a smaller portion of its boundary including uplands, freshwater sloughs, and high salt marsh. Habitats in the Padilla Bay NERR support herring, smelt, pink and chum salmon, flatfish, Dungeness crab, ducks including Black Brant, eagles, shorebirds, and peregrine falcons. Mammals found in Padilla Bay include harbor seals and river otters.
 The National Estuarine Research Reserve System, Background/Overview
 The National Estuarine Research Reserve System, Padilla Bay, WA
The March Point Heronry
The impacts of a oil train terminal will have adverse impacts on the largest heronry on the west coast of the United States of America. The efforts to protect the March Point heronry have a long history of community involvement.
A full environmental impact study will be required to assess and address the community’s concerns about the changes will come if the project is permitted.
The Skagit Land Trust’s website describes its March Point Heronry property as follows:
Hosting one of the largest Great Blue Heron colonies in Western North America, this island of forest sits between Padilla and Fidalgo Bays. 300 heron nests were counted in 2014 in this relatively small area, which provides easy access to feeding grounds for the herons. Vera and Bud Kinney donated this property to Skagit Land Trust in 1994 to protect the nesting herons.
With the cooperation of neighboring landowners, each year, Skagit Land Trust conducts a nest count in the heronry. Unfortunately, Skagit Land Trust does not have access to all neighboring property, and therefore some heron nests are uncounted. The overall trend, however, shows increasing number of heron nests in the colony on SLT property and the property to which we have access -- and there are likely to be hundreds more nests on the adjacent property to which we do not have access.
 Skagit Land Trust, March Point Heronry Property
The Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve website describes the March Point heron colony as follows:
The heron colony on March's Point is believed to be the largest nesting area for Great Blue Herons in all of Western North America. Herons have nested at this site on Padilla Bay since the late 1970s. In 1984, just 42 nests were counted at this site, with a steady increase ever since. In 2006 Skagit Land Trust estimated over 700 active nests in the area!!!
Skagit Land Trust owns the land which supports part of the heronry and has developed conservation agreements with neighboring landowners and the City of Anacortes to further protect the habitat and nesting birds. The site also hosts an active bald eagle nest. Remarkably this robust nesting sanctuary sits in the midst of the City of Anacortes' Industrial Area. Due to the sensitivity of the nesting site, direct access to the heronry is not permitted.
March's Point is located near three productive estuary bays; Fidalgo, Padilla and Similk. These and the farm fields of the Samish and Skagit river deltas, provide herons with areas to hunt for fish, frogs and small mammals. The proximity of so much rich foraging habitat makes it ideal for finding enough food to satisfy hungry, young chicks
In summary, serious consideration must be given to full impact on a local environment that citizens have fought long and hard to preserve.
 The Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve/ March's Point Heron Colony
The Swinomish Channel Railroad Swing Bridge
Recently the nation’s attention has been drawn to the serious risk posed by insufficient and deteriorating rail infrastructures where crude oil is being transported by rail. Documented devastation of human and natural environmental requires an exhaustive study of our local conditions and the increase in rail traffic as a consequence of the proposed oil train terminal.
In a thread entitled “Tesoro, Anacortes WA unit oil trains,” two train engineers posted the following comments on the RailRoadForums blog:
09-15-2012, 08:21 PM
Have seen the big units take it all the way out to Anacortes...can definitely tell the difference when they come by the house!
09-16-2012, 10:28 AM
Wow! I'm surprised the swing bridge out near the refinery can handle those units.
How many of these are running per week?
Train Derails on Bridge Over Schuylkill River, NBC10.com, January 21, 2014
In light of the train derailment last summer in Quebec that killed 47 people, citizens, first responders, and government officials must realize the significant adverse impacts of oil train derailments on our local communities and our natural environments, which can only be accomplished through a thorough environmental impact study.
 Thread: Tesoro, Anacortes WA unit oil trains, RailroadForums.com
Railroad Curve in Downtown Burlington
The proposed plan for wetland mitigations will result in a significant loss of essential wetland function that directly affect Padilla Bay. The mitigation plan does not require on-site mitigation, which is essential for such an important local environ. A thorough environmental study should be able quantify the significance of the loss.
The Wetland Mitigation Bank Use Plan states the following (emphasis added):
Unavoidable direct and indirect permanent wetland impacts resulting from the project total 25.29 acres, including
19.16 acres of Category III emergent (pasture) wetlands,
3.92 acres of Category III forested wetlands,
1.51 acres of Category III scrub-shrub wetlands,
0.59 acre of Category IV emergent wetlands,
0.09 acre of Category II emergent wetlands, and
0.02 acre of Category II forested wetlands.
 WETLAND MITIGATION BANK USE PLAN, Crude by Rail East Gate Project, December 17, 2013
Nookachamps Wetland Mitigation Bank
As shown in the figure above, the Nookachamps Wetland Mitigation Bank is located on the northern limits of the City of Mount Vernon. Figure 2 below demonstrates that the March Point wetlands at the Shell site are outside of the wetland mitigation bank’s service area. Figure 3 below demonstrates that the March Point wetlands at the Shell site not even in the same drainage basin as the Nookachamps Wetland Mitigation Bank.
Figure 2. Nookachamps Wetland Mitigation Bank Service Area
Figure 3. Skagit County iMap Skagit River / Samish River Sub-basins
In summary, Evergreen Islands as the following concerns about significant adverse environmental impacts on the following invaluable and irreplaceable elements of Skagit County:
- Wetlands are effectively stormwater treatment plants, and ideally wetland mitigation efforts should occur onsite in an effort to preserve the functions of the wetlands that will be destroyed. The end result of mitigating those wetlands in a wetland mitigation bank that is not only 11 miles away but also that is in an entirely different drainage basin will be that the March Point runoff into Padilla Bay will be significantly degraded.
- Railroad engineers have expressed concerns about the safety of the Swinomish Channel swing bridge. A rail car derailment on the bridge could have long term, catastrophic impacts on Padilla Bay, the Swinomish Channel, and potentially La Conner. Skagit Bay and Similk Bay.
March Point Heronry
- Will the noise and rumbling of multiple daily 100-car oil trains transporting crude oil to both the Shell refinery and the Tesoro refinery drive the herons away from the largest Great Blue Heron heronry on the west coast of the United States?
- Will the construction of the multiple train tracks near the heronry occur during the nesting season, which may in a large scale nesting failure?
- Will the loss of 25 acres of wetlands on March Point adversely impact the heron’s food supply and drive the herons away from the heronry?
· City of Burlington
- What measures will be taken to prevents the horrific oil train derailments that have occurred recently in western Pennsylvania (February 13, 2014); Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (January 21, 2014); Casselton, North Dakota (December 30, 2013); western Alabama (November 11, 2013); Lac-Mégantic, Quebec (July 6, 2013); Tsikilwa, Illinois (October 7, 2011); Cherry Valley, Illinois (June 19, 2009); New Brighton, Pennsylvania (May 13, 2008); etc?
Tom Glade, President