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Navy Sued in Attempt to Block 'Pit-to-Pier' Project

By MarEx 2014-08-13 13:09:00

By Kayla Turner

Hood Canal Sand and Gravel (HCSG), the company seeking the long-planned “pit to pier” gravel project, has filed a lawsuit in an effort to end a state and federal plan to block development along the Hood Canal coastline.

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Navy announced a 55-year conservation easement would block development of more than 4,800 acres of state-owned tidelands along Hood Canal.

The agreement between the Navy and the state forbids industrial or commercial development on the property and gives the Navy unrestricted access to the waters for training exercises. The Navy paid the Department of Natural Resources $720,000 for the easement.

Thorndyke Resources Operation Complex, affiliated with HCSG, wants to build a 998-foot pier on state-owned land five miles south of the Hood Canal Bridge to annually load barges and ships with some 6.75 million tons of gravel to be transported to the U.S. West Coast and Hawaii.

Demand for sand and gravel is rapidly increasing on the U.S. West Coast, particularly California – where demand is projected at 12 billion U.S.-short tons for 50 years, with only 4 billion tons permitted and in reserve – that it proves beneficial to seriously consider U.S.-flagged bulk carriers to ship the materials. NASSCO and Terra America are reportedly pursuing the opportunity.

The suit asks for nullification of the easement, an order that the company has preserved rights to develop the property and an injunction preventing the state and Navy from enforcing the easement.

The complaint raises several basic issues: The Easement is overly restrictive, improperly precluding HCSG’s ability to build a portion pier essential to its Pit-to-Pier Project; The Navy did not pay fair market value for the interest conveyed by the Easement, in violation of the prohibition against gift of public funds under the Washington Constitution, as well as state and federal statutes; and DNR did not have the authority to enter into the Easement under Title 79 RCW.

In response to this, Dan Baskins, Thorndyke Resources Project Manager, said: “The U.S. Navy local command sees an opportunity to expand beyond their charted waters control and work with DNR to limit maritime use on the waters of the U.S., so they cut a deal with the DNR. This is overstepping what the DNR, as trustee of bedlands of navigational waters, can do and this is pushing the limits of federal servitude.”

Baskins continued: “This restrictive easement is beyond the authority of the DNR and is simply a politically motivated collateral attack on a vested land use application and the land use approval process in Washington State, and a direct attack on the fundamental state and federal constitutional property rights of our company.

This restrictive easement is a "trial balloon" designed to provide an unwarranted national precedent for the Navy to establish preeminent control over the conduct and regulation of water borne commerce in the United States. 

If accepted and applied nationally, such preeminent authority would constitute an unprecedented intrusion into and restructuring of long established right, norms and procedures incident to the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution as well as the existing authorities of other federal agencies, such as the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.”

Both building and maritime trade unions support the project, including the International Union of Operating Engineers; the Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association; the International Organization of Master, Mates and Pilots; International Longshore and Warehouse Union; Washington State Labor Council, along with the Association of Washington Business. Also pledging support is Congressman Duncan Hunter who wrote to Department of Defense and Navy officials addressing his concerns in blocking the project, and asked for action.

Baskins wants us to consider this: “With the constant desire to revise U.S. Maritime, Short Sea Initiative, and reduce greenhouse gases by utilizing the most efficient transportation methods to bring bulk goods to the market- why so much push back?”

Further clarification on the project can be found in Thorndyke’s May 2014 Aesthetics Assessment.