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Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Whatcom County Council introduced an ordinance item relating to Cherry Point Refinery

The council voted to push an ordinance that would impose an interim moratorium on permits for Cherry Point on to public hearing

Photo of the Cherry Point Refinery in Whatcom County. // Photo by Courtney Gullett

By Courtney Gullett

The Whatcom County Council introduced an ordinance imposing an interim moratorium, or temporary suspension, on the acceptance and processing of applications and permits for the Cherry Point urban growth area. The council voted to push the ordinance to a public hearing. 

An urban growth area is defined as “an area designated, within which urban growth will be encouraged and outside of which growth can only occur if it is not urban in nature,” according to the Whatcom County website. 

Whatcom County has 10 Urban Growth Areas, including three unincorporated areas similar to Cherry Point. 

The Cherry Point Refinery is the first in the Pacific Northwest to manufacture diesel from biomass based feedstocks, according to the Cherry Point website. This method results in a lower carbon footprint. 

This ordinance from 2019 was the sixth time the moratorium had been extended.

Councilmember Kathy Kershner spoke out against the ordinance ultimately proposing that the motion be removed entirely. 

“I don’t think that the County Council should be taking any action that would encourage our industries at Cherry Point to have an unfriendly business environment,” Kershner said. 

On Jan. 29, 2019, the council approved an ordinance “imposing an interim moratorium on the acceptance and processing of applications and permits for new or expanded facilities in the Cherry Point Urban Growth Area, the primary purpose of which would be the shipment of unrefined fossil fuels not to be processed at Cherry Point,” according to the Whatcom County Council agenda packet. 

Due to the shut down of local Alcoa factory, the loss of the green energy renewable fuels project and the general budget uncertainty, the council should not be taking action, Kershner said. 

“The only restriction this has is the refineries being converted to trade shipment terminals for unrefined fossil fuels,” Councilmember Rud Browne said. 

This is important during COVID-19 because without this legislation the refineries could be sold to a foreign entity losing a thousand or more jobs, Browne said. 

Councilmember Ben Elenbaas asked how this item got on the agenda given that it is not an essential function and the council is focusing on COVID-19 recovery and planning. If this isn’t addressed, nothing will happen, Elenbaas said. 

“It sends the message that we are not interested in a smooth transition to a cleaner fuel economy,” Elenbaas said. 

This has been passed for the last four years and should not be labeled an interim item, Kershner said. 

Whatcom County Prosecuting Attorney Karen Frakes noted that the only reason this item is an interim moratorium is because of COVID-19. If regular meetings were taking place this would already be taken care of.
Frakes said that because this is an ongoing and routine moratorium, it is necessary. 

The agenda item was not removed after a 3-4 vote. Instead the ordinance was introduced for public hearing after a 4-3 vote, with Councilmembers Byrd, Elenbaas and Kershner opposing. 

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