The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) sent Shell a letter questioning plans to use Terminal 5 as a long-term home for the oil rig because the West Waterway is only meant for temporary uses.
Shell Oil has one more hurdle to jump over in its attempt to moor the oil rig Polar Pioneer at Terminal 5 during the winter months.
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) sent Shell a letter Friday questioning plans to use Terminal 5 as a long-term home for the oil rig because the West Waterway — the waterway between Terminal 5 and Harbor Island — is only meant for temporary uses.
As the manager of 2.6 million acres of state-owned aquatic lands, including the West Waterway, DNR has asked Shell how long the Polar Pioneer will be at Terminal 5 before it leaves for Alaska, how long Shell plans to keep the rig at Terminal 5 once it returns, and whether Shell plans to keep other vessels in the waterway.
“State-owned aquatic lands which have been platted as waterways are generally reserved as highways for navigation under state law,” the letter said. “Uses that interfere with navigation may not be appropriate in waterways.”
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The rig’s current location at Terminal 5 is meant for temporary uses, such as loading and unloading vessels, meaning the DNR needs to “determine whether Shell’s proposed use of the West Waterway is consistent with its waterway designation and the state constitution,” the letter said.
Shell has until June 1 to respond to the letter.
DNR commissioner Peter Goldmark will review the response and consult with his senior leadership, including the head of aquatic lands, to make a decision on Shell’s use of the Terminal 5, said Matthew Randazzo, Goldmark’s senior adviser.
The terms “temporary” and “long-term” aren’t defined in the relevant laws, said Randazzo.
“I hesitate to put any sort of hard line down because it doesn’t exist officially,” he said. “There is no easy black and white.”
If the DNR decided the Polar Pioneer can’t remain in its current location and Shell didn’t move it, the department could charge Shell 160 percent of the space’s fair-market rental value, or take the company to court for trespassing, DNR aquatic division spokesman Joe Smillie said.
Shell did not respond to an email request for comment. The Port of Seattle, which owns Terminal 5, said it has received the letter and is reviewing it.
Since it emerged in January that Shell would be using Terminal 5 as a home port for its Arctic offshore-drilling fleet, the company has faced rough seas.
A coalition of environmental groups sued the Port of Seattle and Foss Maritime, which is actually leasing Terminal 5, charging that Foss’s lease to use the facility for Shell violates the State Environmental Policy Act. A King County Superior Court judge will hear that case on July 31.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced earlier this month the port needs a new land-use permit to have Terminal 5 serve as a hub for Shell’s fleet because it is not being used as a cargo terminal.
Both the Port and Foss have appealed the city’s decision. Port spokesman Peter McGraw said the initial hearing before the hearing examiner is set for June 3.