Earlier this year, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray asked city officials to evaluate whether or not Shell’s oil-drilling rig the Polar Pioneer was parked illegally at the Port of Seattle. Murray described it as “a genuine question” that “could have gone either way.”
However, it turns out that Mayor Murray wasn’t quite telling the truth about that, according to the Seattle Times,
“In fact, city staff initially determined in April that Shell’s temporary berth at Terminal 5 was consistent with city land-use rules. But two weeks later, after what was described as extensive arguments in City Hall, the city’s final legal interpretation reversed: Shell must go.
“It is unclear what political considerations played into that curious reversal. The mayor’s staff insists there were none, but we can’t know for sure because city officials say the arguments that led to the reversal fall under the veil of attorney-client privilege. You can decide on your own.”
Whether or not Murray and his staff can be believed, what is clear is that Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development “used a tortured and novel legal analysis” as the basis of its final decision. The Times,
“That interpretation is so novel, in fact, that the Port of Seattle said in a recent legal filing that it ‘has the absurd effect of making unlawful much of the ordinary and necessary business of the maritime industry.’”
Everything, it appears, hinges on the definition of “cargo.” The city reasons that Shell’s rig is not a cargo vessel, “even though it was transporting pipe to the Chukchi Sea.” As a result, it could not dock at Terminal 5, which is permitted as a cargo terminal.
The problem is, as the Times points out, “many other vessels at Terminal 5 and similarly permitted terminals — including government research ships, fishing boats, even Navy vessels — aren’t primarily cargo vessels either.” So, a fair application of the law (based on the city’s interpretation) means these vessels have to go too.
Foss Maritime, the company that leased Terminal 5 to Shell’s rig, and the Port of Seattle have gone to court in an attempt to overturn the city’s ruling before the rig returns this fall. The Times,
“City hearing examiner Anne Watanabe, who is hearing the case, should see through the absurdity.
“But that’s not so certain. She already made a dubious decision to allow environmental groups to intervene in the case, but denied a similar request by maritime interests concerned about the city position’s far-reaching effect on Port operations.”
As a testimony to the absurdity of the ruling, the city is already doing damage control. City Hall has assured the Port that “legal definitions can be tweaked, that new permits can be had.” The Times’ editorial board put it best,
“But the damage has been done. To make a political statement about Arctic oil exploration — which was recently permitted by the Obama administration — and climate change, the mayor and his cheerleaders on the City Council put a litmus test on maritime activity. What’s next? No shipments from China until it improves its human-rights record? No genetically modified wheat shipments?
“This absurdity pokes a hole in the hull of an economic backbone of the city and damages the notion that this mayor is a pragmatist, not an ideologue. When Watanabe tosses out the city’s evict-Shell analysis, Murray has some repairing to do.”
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