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Nichols Brothers Boat Building New Permit Application for Expansion (June, 2011)


The Talking Points following the letter written to the ICPCD have one objective: Nichols Brothers Boat Builders (NBBB) should be required to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before any plant expansion is undertaken.  The last EIS was approved in 1982, almost 30 years ago.

The FoHH letter that immediately follows describes potentially harmful outcomes to Holmes Harbor and surrounding residential neighborhoods if the requested Permit is approved without the long-delayed EIS.

June 8, 2011

Brad Johnson
P O Box 5000
Coupeville  WA 98239

    RE:    NBBB Consolidated Permit Application

Dear Mr. Johnson,

We are a large and ever-growing nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting our pristine Holmes Harbor and quality of life on Whidbey Island.  Our organization consists of hundreds of private citizens who live around the greater Puget Sound area and cover all economic backgrounds and professions.  A great number of our members live in Holmes Harbor and near the Nichols Bros. Boat Builders (“NBBB”) site.  We are greatly concerned about and disagree with the NBBB proposal to expand their present boatyard into a major industrial shipyard in our rural residential area. 

NBBB is attempting to receive approval of significant upland improvements. The cumulative impact of all the components of this Consolidated Permit Application (“CPA”) constitutes several significant adverse impacts on the community of South Whidbey and the extensive residential properties neighboring NBBB.  Approval of this application will severely diminish the inherent property rights and quality of the lives of all residents of the Holmes Harbor area and beyond.

The cumulative impacts will force the neighbors of NBBB to become watchdogs for the regulating agencies.  The regulating agencies have no means of policing NBBB.  This application, if approved, will rob the community of the inherent ability to enjoy our homes to their fullest extent. 

Approval of this application will inflict upon the community all the ills of the NBBB industrial shipyard that has grown as an incompatible use in the midst of a significant residential area.  The costs, economic and social, of an expanding and incompatible land use should not be forced upon the neighboring property owners by a less than exemplary company.

For all the reasons presented in this letter, a Determination of Significance and EIS pursuant to the State Environmental Policy Act, Ch. 43.21C RCW (“SEPA”) should be required for this proposal.  In addition, all permit requests associated with the NBBB CPA should be rejected by Island County.

Our organization has identified numerous concerns, questions and/or issues associated with the CPA.  The following is a list of them (not in order of importance). 

1. Future Launch System

NBBB acknowledges the need to comply with the past stipulation order issued by Island County Department of Planning and Community Development (“ICPCD”) and Washington State Department of Ecology (“DOE”) to incorporate a future alternate launch system within a new Shoreline Permit in several of the CPA documents such as the Consolidated Permit Narrative. NBBB states:

However, NBBB has elected to forestall addressing the future alternate launch system. NBBB writes “NBBB continues to study alternatives to its existing launch procedures but will need to continue to use them to launch vessels until a permanent system is identified, permitted, and implemented. In the interim, NBBB proposes to move forward seeking the regulatory authorization required to reconfigure its existing site….”

NBBB has had 8 years in which to address the necessity to identify a future alternate launch system.  NBBB implies that the stipulation order does not apply to the present company with the use of “the former company”.  However, Ice Floe, LLC purchased the bankrupt company and all its assets, there may be a new owner but it is still doing business as Nichols Brothers Boatbuilders.  Allowing NBBB to violate the 2003 stipulation order is unacceptable. Moreover, the upland improvements and the future alternate launch system are interdependent.  SEPA requires that they be analyzed concurrently. 

SEPA specifies that a project’s probable impacts include not just “direct” impacts, but “indirect” ones, too.  This requires an assessment of whether the proposal will serve as a catalyst for other actions.  See, e.g., Boundary Review Board v. King County,  122 Wn. 2d 648 (1993).  Approving NBBB request to expand and increase its investment in its upland facilities will create increased pressures for a new launch system. The impacts of that launch system cannot be ignored at this time.

On NBBB’s website, the company rigorously advertises that they are capable of fabricating up to a 360’ vessel for their customers as evidenced by the following introduction on their home page.

        “Our island shipyard north of Seattle invests 45 years
                       of experience into steel- and aluminum-hull vessels up
                       to 360 feet. Our hallmark is versatility.”

The ability to launch a 360’ vessel requires NBBB to have a launch system capable of doing so. In 2003, NBBB installed an illegal rail system to launch “The Empress of the North”. Furthermore, NBBB asserts that they are a “water dependent” industry. Consequently, there is no way to separate NBBB upland activities from the launch system. NBBB should not be allowed to expand the upland portion of the operation without defining the launch system to support expanded operations. No decision on the upland expansion can be made without full consideration of the project’s indirect and cumulative impacts to the environment (including the marine environment and recreational use) and treaty rights.

As the lead agency, ICPCD must consider the impacts of the future launch system (as required by the prior orders of ICPCD and DOE). When those impacts are taken into account, the conclusion is inescapable that an EIS is required.

2. Rural Center Zone

NBBB is located in Island County’s Rural Center zone, which includes light manufacturing and with “boat building” as an acceptable fabrication activity. NBBB has exceeded the size and scale of vessels commonly understood as boats. Island County has taken the position that there are no inherent limitations on the size or scale of what NBBB fabricates. However, a “boat” is not a “ship.”  NBBB is building ocean going ships, not smaller dimension boats as would befit a “light manufacturing” designation.  

During the past 20 years, IC has allowed the size & scope of NBBB to grow dramatically in the Rural Center zone even with the conditions of SDP 1780 requiring more manufacturing to be performed in enclosed buildings. The use of heavy equipment has increased, such as the 3 cranes which have replaced the 1992 crane as shown in Photo 1. There is a stark contrast between the present cranes (photos in the Greensbusch noise study) to the1992 NBBB crane truck. The vessels fabricated, the production pad size, the launch ramp and other expansions have  continued to increase the plant exponentially into an industrial facility morphing from light manufacturing of <150’ vessels into heavy industry producing up to 360’ vessels.   Any additional increase in operation hours, building heights variances, fabrication slab expansion and the other components requested in NBBB CPA if approved will further exacerbate its incompatibility with the “quiet, rural island “setting while creating significant adverse impacts to the neighboring community—all in violation of the zoning code’s limited authorization for “light” manufacturing.

NBBB points out that some form of industry has always occurred at this site. But regardless of past use, any expansion must comply with the current code. The historic uses are an unnecessary distraction.  (We also note that a legal nonconforming use may not expand if a height variance is required.  ICC 17.03.230 H.  NBBB concedes its proposed use does not comply with the code’s height limitations. Therefore, it cannot expand as a legal nonconforming use.)

Moreover, NBBB fails to report the historical aspect of the site. Prior to Frank Nichols establishing his family (initially fixing farm equipment, not boat building) at the site in1964, the site was zoned rural residential (Nichols family lived above the defunct machine shop).  According to IC records, the site was zoned RR until 1974 when Mr. Nichols requested a rezone to RC. This rezoning remained in place for over the next 25 years. Approximately in the mid to late 1990’s, Matt Nichols was instrumental in changing the zoning of the south half of the present yard, and  Cameron Rd’s west side residential houses  to Rural Center. NBBB has systemically hijacked the residential community immediately surrounding the NBBB site. However, there are two residential homes still being occupied on Cameron Rd, which experience the significant adverse impacts of the present operations. The zoning amendments were allowed without an update of the 1982 EIS, which would have identified the significant adverse impacts of these expansions in authorized uses.  A DS is imperative now to determine the potential significant adverse impacts that any approval of the CPA will impose on the immediate neighbors.

3. Variances/Temporary Buildings

NBBBI requests variances to exceed the 35’ shoreline height restriction and the 40’ upland height restriction.  If granted, these variations will cause significant impacts to the surrounding properties including the Mutiny Bay & Fish Rd neighborhood such as visual impacts, noise and air quality impacts including airborne particulates with a north wind, and light pollution.  The variances, if approved, will affect the lives of current surrounding residents and our families today and in the future by inflicting an industrial zoned business which produces noise, light, glare, air pollution and airborne particulates on our residential area.  No variances should be granted to NBBBI.

The proposal will not be able to operate with even the mitigation it proposes and will cause impacts operating outside the limits of the law and its permits (as it repeatedly has done in the past) which will cause significant impacts to the surrounding area and environment.

A shoreline variance request must meet all the standards set forth under WAC 173-27-170 (2).  This project fails to meet any of them.

(1) “The strict application of the bulk, dimensional, or performance standards set forth in the applicable master program precludes, or significantly interferes with, reasonable use of the property.”

Requiring NBBB to comply with the SMP height limits will not deprive NBBB of a reasonable use of the property. Reasonable uses of the property are all of those authorized outright by the zoning code. Those include any legitimate light manufacturing use. Any number of legitimate light manufacturing uses can be made of the property without necessitating a height variance.  It is only because NBBB seeks to use the property for a heavy manufacturing use (ship building) that a height variance is necessary. NBBB has failed to show that a variance is necessary to allow it to use the property in a reasonable fashion.

(2) “The hardship described above is specifically related to the property, and is the result of unique conditions such as irregular lot shape, size, or natural features and the application of the master program, and not, for example, from deed restrictions or the applicant’s own actions.”

NBBB fails this test, too.  There is nothing unique about the property that necessitates a height variance. The property is typical of much waterfront property. It is low bank and slopes gradually to the water.  The parcel is not “irregular” in size or shape.  It has no irregular natural features.  The variance is not necessitated by the property’s physical characteristics, but by NBBB’s proposed use—and that is not a sufficient basis for satisfying this criterion. 

(3.) “The design of the project is compatible with other authorized uses within the area and with uses planned for the area under the comprehensive plan and shoreline master program and will not cause adverse impacts to the shoreline development.”

The proposal is totally incompatible with its environs. This criterion is not met either. 

Having the Big Tops tower over the shoreline diminishes the view, in turn lessening the real estate value of the neighboring properties. In particular, allowing the variances and the other components of the CPA will reduce significantly the real estate development opportunities available to the property owner of 5434 Cameron Rd. The real estate value of her residential home is substantially diminished because the ability to sell her home to another resident is almost nill. Residential buyers will not buy in the noise, light and visual blast zone of industrial shipyard. This limits her selling her property as is, a single family home, and any multi-use structure that has a residential component.  The majority of retailers would not want to be located in such close proximity either. The variance should not be granted on this condition alone.

(4) “The variance will not constitute a grant of special privilege not enjoyed by other properties in the area.”

Granting a shoreline variance would be a special privilege.  To our knowledge, no other enterprise in the Rural Center Zone has been granted a variance that exceeds the height restriction by 23’ in the SMA 200 ft setback.  The applicant needs to reconfigure the yard or the proposed use to not require this variance.

(5)  “The variance is the minimum necessary to afford relief.”

The variance is not necessary at all (see discussion of criterion 1), therefore, it does not meet this criterion either.  No relief from compliance with the SMP height limits is necessary to allow NBBB to make reasonable use of its property.

(6)  “The public interest will suffer no substantial detrimental effects.” 

Granting the height variance will cause substantial detrimental effects to the public interest.  Shoreview Drive is a scenic walk way because of its expansive view of the harbor and public water accessibility provided by Freeland Park. Shoreview Drive is heavily utilized by the local residents and fosters walkability to Freeland’s business core.  The Big Top set within the SMA 200 jurisdiction heavily detracts from scenic aspect, reduces open space qualities of Shoreview Drive, and alters Olympic mountain views.

NBBB asserts that the height variance will generate public benefits. This claim suffers several flaws. First, the criterion does not address benefits that may be generated by the height variance. The criterion requires a determination of whether there are any public detriments.  NBBB focuses on the wrong type of impacts in discussing beneficial, instead of adverse, impacts.

Second, reducing adverse impacts does not turn the adverse impact into a public benefit. The height variance may reduce some of the adverse impacts, but those impacts remain.  A use that did not need a height variance would, for instance, cause less of a visual impact than a use which requires a height variance, even if the mitigation will reduce the severity of the impact. Reduced or not, the impact remains a negative.

Third, NBBB is wrong that the Big Tops will even reduce the impacts to the extent that it claims. 

The Big Tops do not benefit the nearby community.  They are a visual blight. The noise abatement is minimal or non-existent because they are not fully enclosed (ends are open, middles are open, see Photos 3 through 6). Furthermore, they create more glare (has a light bulb effect, see Photo 2), they disrupt views, and in heavy winds they are torn readily creating even more visual blight.

The applicant has the burden to prove it satisfies all of the variance criteria. NBBB has not met its burden.  Its discussion of the aesthetic impacts is woefully deficient.  The CPA does not include any dimensional visual aids to allow analysis of the Big Tops. In fact, the site plans show a consistently static position for the Big Tops yard locations. This is not truly representative of the helter-skelter combinations that continually occur. ICPCD needs to require visual representations from different points of view and configurations for a complete analysis to determine potential significant adverse impacts.  (This is another example of the type of information that could be developed and presented in an EIS.) 

The criteria to obtain a variance permit in a shoreline are located in WAC 173-27-170.  The applicant does not come even close to meeting the requirements for a variance.  It cannot meet any of the requirements in RCW 90.58.320 and WAC 173-27-170.  There are no overriding considerations that the public interest will be served by granting the shoreline variance.  The application does not meet any of the policies enumerated in RCW 90.58.020.  As mentioned above, the applicant has not demonstrated extraordinary circumstances required it to exceed height limits within the shoreline.  And the applicant certainly cannot show that the public interest shall suffer no substantial detrimental effect. Numerous significant impacts will be caused within the shoreline into the surrounding public use of the shoreline by this application, including the proposal to place 53-foot buildings within the shoreline.  The applicant cannot show that the design of the proposal is compatible with other uses in the area and cannot show that it must have buildings that exceed the height limit within shoreline to operate its business.  Because the applicant can in no way meet the shoreline variance criteria, Island County must deny the shoreline variance request.

The applicant fares no better meeting the requirements for the height variance under the county code.  The County Code includes two sets of criteria applicable to a height variance. One set (applicable to all variances) includes the following:
Standards: No variance shall be granted unless the County makes findings of fact showing that the following circumstances exist:

1. For all variance requests, the applicant demonstrates, and the County finds that:

a) The granting of the variance shall be consistent with the purpose and intent of this Chapter and conditions shall be imposed to ensure compatibility with surrounding Permitted Uses.
b) The granting of the variance will not permit the establishment of any Use which is prohibited by this Chapter.
c) The granting of the variance will not impair or substantially diminish property values of surrounding neighborhood properties.
d) The granting of the variance will not confer on the applicant any special privilege that is denied by this Chapter to other lands or Buildings in the same zoning classification.
e) Any variation in Setback and/or height is established based upon the factors set forth in ICC 17.03.180.S.4.
f) The granting of the variance shall not knowingly harm, destroy, injure, damage, or deface any archaeological resource.

NBBB does not meet the criterion (f) with its lack of consideration to cultural and historical preservation in the environmental check list. (see FOHH Item 9 below).

ICC 17.03.210 D.1.

Another set of criteria are specifically required for height variances:

For commercial structures:

(i) A variance shall only be granted upon demonstration that there is a compelling economic need for exceeding the height standard, and
(ii) A variance shall only be granted upon a finding that the benefits of allowing an increase in height exceed any negative impacts that may result, and
(iii) A variance shall only be granted upon a finding that there will be a long-term economic benefit and/or significant expansion of the employment base.

ICC 17.03.210 D.3.b.

The applicant has the burden of proving compliance with each and every one of these criteria.  That burden has not been (and cannot be) met.

We have already established that many of these criteria have not been met when discussing identical or similar criteria applicable to the SMP height limit. Criteria 1(a) and 1 (c) above (relating to compatibility); Criteria 1(b) (prohibited use, i..e., a heavy manufacturing use in a light manufacturing zone); and Criteria 1(d) (special benefit).

Criterion 1 (e) cross-references factors in section 180 S. 4, which include visual compatibility and view obstruction.  We have demonstrated above the applicant has not met its burden of establishing compliance with those factors, either.

The applicant has made no effort to demonstrate compliance with criterion 3.b (i) or 3.b (iii) (“compelling economic need” and “long-term economic benefit and\or significant expansion of the employment base”). All the applicant has done is to provide assertions that the height variance is necessary for the company to be competitive.  That falls far short of meeting the applicant’s burden of proof.  There is no substantiation for these self-serving claims. These assertions are unsupported by reference to any data or analysis.  The applicant has provided no data that the height expansion will result in a “significant expansion” of the employment base. Indeed, there is no analysis at all of whether any new jobs will be created, let alone whether any such new jobs would constitute a “significant” addition to the job base.   Nor has any independent assessment of the validity of these self-serving claims been provided. These bald claims cannot possibly meet the applicant’s burden of proving a “compelling” economic need and either a long-term economic benefit or a significant increase in jobs.

Criterion 3.b.(ii)—unlike the somewhat similar criterion applicable to the shoreline variance—requires a weighing of the benefits and negative impacts caused by the variance.  We have discussed at length above the detrimental aesthetic, glare and view impacts caused by the height variance and have demonstrated that the purported benefits are illusory. On balance, the variance would cause far more harm than good.

In sum, the applicant has not—and cannot--demonstrate compliance with the county code criteria for a height variance. This provides an independent basis for denying the application.

4. Hours of Operation:

The CPA discussion regarding proposed hours of operations is inconsistent, creating confusion for the community. Originally, NBBB in the Environmental Checklist pg. 14 writes:

In the February 10, 2011 ICPCD correspondence to NBBB, ICPCD questions in item no: 1 whether NBBB can adhere to limiting their nighttime work to be “quiet work” between 10:00 pm and 7:00 am as stated in the noise consultant’s study. This appears to be the first reference in the application that NBBB is requesting a 24 hour schedule. It is contrary to the NBBB pre application public meeting in March 2010 wherein NBBB informed the community member attendees that they were applying for operational hours as stated in the environmental checklist.  A 24/7 work schedule does not meet the assertion in a letter from NBBB‘s CEO John Collins to ICPCD which references the hours of operation with this description “…and to modestly expand the company’s hours of operation.” The May 16, 2011 NBBB correspondence to ICPCD further expands the hours to include Sundays with the rationale that since they cannot do fabrication outside the hours of 7:00 am to 10:00 pm, the work week will include Monday through Sunday. With this in mind, FOHH must assume that NBBB is applying for a 24/7 work schedule. The cavalier decision on NBBB part to take away Sundays from its neighbors does not represent “a business ….trying to be a good neighbor.” NBBB writes in the CPA narrative “their goal is to be a sensitive and considerate neighbor.” Hogwash!  Presently, the neighboring community treasures Sundays because it is the only day of the week that the omnipresent nature of NBBB business is not impacting their lives with intrusive noise. Every other day and evening of the week is ruined.

NBBB does not identify how many employees will be working during the different shifts.  This will have bearing on the environmental impact produced in the early and later work hours. How will the county be able to monitor and enforce any violations of number of workers? All they have indicated is that the 6am to 2:30 pm shift would have a greater number of employees. “Greater” is ambiguous.  Are they limiting themselves to one or two additional employees or dozens?  The impacts vary considerably depending on the answer.

Looking historically at the NBBB operations, the extension of operational hours is not warranted. NBBB reports that they had 355 people in the past within their present operational hours and footprint. NBBB accommodated those employees and produce numerous vessels up to 360 ft. allowing the business to compete in the world market.

In fact, during the last quarter of 2010, John Collins, CEO of NBBB, reported to the Freeland Chamber of Commerce’s dinner meeting that NBBB was profitable. Enthusiastically reporting that in 2009 they did 15 million dollars in production, 2010 their production was 30 million, and an impressive 45 million was anticipated for 2011. This increase of production shows that NBBB is competitive in the global market and growing in revenues. The report concludes that the company is thriving and the current size, configuration, and work schedule are sufficient.

 Another reason NBBB has applied for extension of their operational hours to have 2 full- time work shifts.  Presently, the permitted operational hours are Monday through Saturday 7am to 8 pm.


NBBB acknowledges that water dependent industries must be operated so as to minimize unnecessary interference with the rights of adjacent property owners. Any expansion of hours will be an unnecessary interference because their present hours of operation constitute a 78hr work week. 2 full time work shifts is 80 hours (40 hrs per shift) per week. The present work schedule is only shy of 2 full time work shifts by 2 hours. To extend the hours to include a 24/7 work schedule is more representative of 3 to 4 work shifts. The economic interests of NBBB can be satisfied without the expansion. NBBB goal is to have 2 full- time work shifts it is potentially accomplished with far less hours than the requested hours. The implementation of a greater than 80 hour work week would create several significant adverse impacts on the surrounding community such as but not limited to noise, light, glare, traffic, etc.  An EIS statement is necessary to determine these impacts.

We understand that everyone wants to make as much money as possible.  NBBB can seek to do that, too.  But NBBB must live within the letter of the law and not seek exemptions from county requirements simply to make more money. NBBB is a profitable enterprise. It is not entitled to a special deal from the county simply to make even more money.

Economic development does not trump compatibility issues. To the contrary, economic development must be undertaken within the constraints of the neighboring environment.  As stated by the SMP’s Economic Development goal: “Provide for controlled economic development of shoreline dependent issues.  Development along shorelines will be so located and designed to ensure compatibility among uses for the purpose of achieving lasting beneficial effects and enhancing the quality of life for residents of Island County with minimum disruption or degradation of the environment.”

5.   Light and Glare Impacts

The proposal will cause significant light and glare impacts.  During our winter months, the darkness of the night sets upon the harbor around 5:00 pm with only 9 to 10 hrs of daylight.  This leaves the greater percentage of the 24 hour period in darkness which will be significantly affected by the light and glare of the proposed operation. See attached Photo 7.  This, in turn, will significantly impact the quality of life for the harbor residents and the wetland environment. FOHH incorporates biologist Dr. Dan Matlock’s letter of June 7, 2011. The proposed portable buildings can be linked to form a 212’ long X 53’ tall enclosure. (They advertise that they can manufacture up to 360’ so at any given time, the extended length could be even longer.)The shoreline variance application seeks approval for the brightly lit enclosures within 200’ of the shoreline, thus emitting light pollution into our night skies and producing a visually disruptive image across the waters of Holmes Harbor.  This light pollution of our night skies will have the effect of a 106+ building from the reflection of the Big Tops on the water, creating a double image.  

Thus, the CPA is in direct conflict with our county ordinance adopted on 3/6/2000 “protecting our night skies”.  Additionally, Chapter 17.05.090 (11) of the Island County SMP states: “All shoreline and over water activities shall be restricted to reasonable hours and/or days of operation when necessary to protect residents and properties from adverse impacts such as noise, light, and glare”.   This requirement will not be met by this proposal.

A lighting plan has been submitted in conjunction with the CPA and NBBB explains it hired a lighting consultant.

First, the assertion that NBBB can adequately mitigate the significant adverse impact from the extended hours of operation has no basis. The lighting study is performed by a commercial electrical contractor that is in the business of installing lighting, not an unbiased independent lighting consultant that has no economic gain in the fixtures or installation of the lighting. Furthermore, the sheer height and location of the work lights produces glare that transmits across the water and the surrounding community. This glare is intensified by low ceiling clouds that are illuminated during the majority of winter, and the double image reflection on the Harbor because of the mirror image qualities of water. 

Second, the Big Tops according to NBBB have a semi-gloss finish not “matte surfaces to limit the amount of glare.” The two statements are contradictory.


How does semi-gloss finish not reflect light?  See attached Photo 2. The glare is produced by only one light in this photo. A valid study needs to be done (in an EIS) of the light generated by the far greater lighting proposed by NBBB.  Additionally, the Big Tops are semi-transparent so light glare is emitted from the inside (like a frosted light bulb).  Having a work schedule greater than the present will only exacerbate this impact.

Outdoor lighting will be needed throughout the proposed complex for parking, storage, and work areas, whether 0, 5 or 15 employees are on the job at night. Workers need to see where they are going, whether indoors or outdoors. Moreover, increased need for security necessitates more lighting.  These changes, caused by the CPA, will increase the impact of neighboring properties and wetlands over 70% greater than presently.  This is because during the winter, currently only 3 hours of lighted operations is required (due to the 7 AM to 8 PM work day.)  Expansions to allow work to be done 24 hours a day, 7 days a week will roughly increase lighting impacts to residents 70% over what is experienced today. 

The resident at 5434 Cameron Road across from the parking lot will be subjected to night time glare that is disruptive to sleep patterns with the extended hours as workers come and go after dark. The lights enter directly into the home’s master bedroom. This is a significant adverse impact.

Nighttime launches produce additional unwarranted light and glare. During the past year, a community member had their sleep disrupted entirely because of the glare from the assisting tugboats at NBBB’s buoy. The tugboats have a cross bar overhead the pilot house that support several flood lights. It was not until after 1:30 am before the tugboats left. NBBB makes a spurious claim in Form D Item #18.

These increased light and glare impacts to be caused by the CPA are significant and an EIS is required.

6. Building Design

NBBB devotes a lot of beautiful words discussing the rural character of Whidbey Island and then has the audacity to suggest that its industrial buildings will fit in. The latter claim needs to be verified. (We don’t think it can.)   ICPCD must require that all architectural elevations and materials for the building components in the application be identified during the permitting process and made available to the community to review and comment on. Moreover, visual representations must be supplied depicting the buildings placed within the site from different vantage points.  It is impossible to assess the significant adverse impacts of buildings that only have a written description of a design concept. 

In attempting to mitigate the project’s awful noise impacts, NBBB has created two more significant adverse impacts. NBBB proposes a sound wall constructed of triple-stacked recycled shipping containers. A portion of this wall in the northwest corner of the shipyard is a permanent installation in the FEMA flood plain, creating flooding risks.  No FEMA review or approval has been undertaken or obtained. Moreover, the unsightliness of having an “industrial aesthetic characteristic” stacked container sound wall creates a visual blight in a predominately residential neighborhood. Full consideration of these aesthetic issues requires an EIS before any permit decisions are made.

7. Real Estate Values

Owners of real estate in the area surrounding NBBBI are currently having a disclosure issue due to the CPA proposal.  Buyers are unwilling to purchase real estate which is in the vicinity of a proposed major industrial shipyard. The unknown of the approval of the proposal acts the same as an approved shipyard, not unlike the properties around the Holmes Harbor Golf Course during their past sewer bond issue. As previously stated, the residential property located at 5434 Cameron Rd already has suffered a substantial loss in value. The loss will increase if the proposal is approved. A variance cannot be approved if granting the variance will impair or substantially diminish the value of the neighboring properties.

The impacts to be caused by the CPA proposal will reduce the property values of other surrounding properties, including the Mutiny Bay and Fish Road neighborhoods.  This will affect negatively the property tax revenues Island County receives and force the county to cut its budget or increase the tax rate (if not precluded by other law).  The hardest hit sector of Island County’s budget will be the schools.  As illustrated on the tax revenue pie chart located in the County Commissioners’ office, 29.12110% of real estate property tax revenues are allocated to the Washington State school levy and 27.0100% of real estate property tax revenues are allocated to the local schools. 

8. Air Pollution

 NBBB is not adhering at the present time to NW Clean Air Agency as evidenced by the noise consultant report that the south end of the Big Tops need to be closed during blasting.

o When blasting, fully-enclose the south end of the shelter with the typical
canvas covering (minimum 22 oz PVC).

NBBB claim as shown in the paragraph from Form D Item 18 is dubious. FOHH has no confidence that the future practices of NBBB will be any different than presently. It is a “catch me if you can” scenario, Much of the abrasive blasting occurs during the evening hours.  (The CPA proposes blasting until 7pm.)  The south end of the Big Top is not publically visible, and generally the public is not camera ready at any given moment for photo documentation of the violation.  Again with the budgetary cut backs, governmental agencies are stretched thin.  It is difficult to have effective enforcement of bad actors.

NBBB states in the Consolidated Narrative that they utilize vinyl films 20% of the time. That translates as the majority of the time (80%) vinyl film is not employed and the opportunity for fugitive emissions to occur is greater than less. The practice of working out in the open, and leaving the south end open presently speaks volumes about what will occur in the future. .

During daylight hours fugitive emissions can be more easily detected see attached Photos 8 & 9. Therefore, any painting or sandblasting must be limited to daylight hours to ensure compliance with federal, state and local standards. Governmental agencies’ enforcement after the fact is limited. It is left to the neighboring community to bear the burden of documenting air quality violations. Having the neighbors act as watchdogs is a significant adverse impact. This is unacceptable. Any permit approval must include a condition that painting or sand blasting can only be performed during daylight hours

On numerous occasions the surrounding neighbors have detected a strong offensive odor emitting from the NBBB shipyard. On one occasion the neighbor had to come inside their home to lie down due to dizziness while their spouse called the sheriff. Unfortunately, odors dissipate and enforcement response is slow. It is a difficult violation to document. However, it creates a significant adverse impact. NBBB proposes a 3000 sq ft trade shop that will house painting that has a HVAC system; however an EIS is necessary to determine if this is sufficient to trap all odors.

9. Cultural Importance

According to NBBB, there is no cultural importance to consider. NBBB is ignoring the cultural importance of Holmes Harbor expressed by the Tulalip Tribal Nation in their 2004 NBBBI MPA EIS scoping comments. “Holmes Harbor is an adjudicated usual and accustomed fishing and shellfishing area of the Tribes, as recognized by the courts in the ongoing Washington treaty rights case, United States v. Washington, and was historically used and occupied by ancestors of the Tulalip Tribes.” Additionally, in the Tulalip Tribal Nation 2004 MPA Public Comment Letter, they explain “In particular, a place at the inner end of Holmes Harbor was named SkwEkwE’lub, or “baking things in a spit.” Holmes Harbor was ringed with camps of the predecessors of the Tulalip Tribes at and before treaty times.” In the same document the Tulalip Tribe further states that there is “ample evidence” of their predecessors occupying the adjacent lands.

Apparently, NBBB is wrong in their assertion. An EIS is required to address cultural and historical preservation.

10. Parking

NBBB quotes ICC 17.03.180.Q.2.r which requires 1 stall per 1000’ sf of manufacturing area. The calculations are based on the total 2012 manufacturing area of 120,079 sq ft., equaling 120 spaces. NBBB is providing 250 spaces (Site Plan 1.5). NBBB manufactures and stores in the open. At any given time, the fabrication area is occupied by “big” vessels. Moreover, the vessels have multiple decks, allowing workers to perform duties in additional manufacturing sq footage. There is no consideration in the code when taken in a literal sense.  A manufacturing building total square footage is a combination of the footage, whether manufacturing or storage, and of all floor levels.

The required parking availability needs to address the exceptionality of the true manufacturing footprint found at NBBB. Furthermore, NBBB expresses the goal to increase their work force. Taking the historical high of 355, the 250 parking spaces would also be inadequate.  With the approval of the proposed application, parked cars could overflow onto Cameron Road and other neighboring streets. This would create a significant adverse impact and an EIS is required.

11. Traffic

NBBB discounts South Whidbey’s growth in the past 2 decades when it suggests the following:
Further NBBB stresses mitigation is implemented by “Offsetting shift times will mitigate traffic and pedestrian circulation impacts.” As previously documented, NBBB submits that they need 2 shifts 6am to 2:30pm and 2:30pm to 11pm. There is no offsetting. Employees coming and going during shift changes is significant. The new Cenex complex is scheduled to complete construction by Fall 2011, coupled with NBBB proposed application will significantly increase traffic flow onto Cameron Road and Hwy 525. Furthermore, more traffic on Hwy 525 is occurring to the extent that traffic lights have been installed at Freeland, Bayview, and Maxwelton intersections.  Additionally, WSDOT has plans to install an additional Freeland traffic light at Harbor Ave, and a round-about at the Honeymoon Bay Rd/Bush Pt Rd & Hwy 525. These future installations demonstrate that traffic flow has increased and NBBB’s traffic will have an impact on the flow. The local residents and Holmes Harbor Golf & Yacht Club community residents will be affected the most. These cumulative traffic impacts (including the likelihood of yet additional growth in the surrounding community) remain unaddressed.

A further NBBB claim is that it will use directional aisles to lessen traffic impact:

Directional aisles will not lessen traffic impact on County roads; it is the same amount of traffic whether or not the employee autos drive one direction in their parking lot or another.

A concurrency study is necessary. An EIS is required.

12. Vibration

The resident at 5434 Cameron Road reports the dropping of sheet metal and other objects at NBBB generate vibration that shakes the house similar to an earthquake. The proposed CPA will only exacerbate this significant adverse impact. An EIS is required.

13.  Flooding

According to the site plans, the northerly portion of NBBB’s yard lies within the FEMA flood line. Historically, the wetland encompassed this area. ICPCD files include the request from Frank Nichols in the early 1970’s to fill in 1/3 of the wetland to increase his yard size for parking.  His request was approved; setting the stage for an ongoing environmental issue. This is a significant issue especially due to salt water intrusion into the facility. During the storm events in January and February 2006, salt water infiltrated NBBB’s yard. As stated in a letter dated January 18, 2006 from NBBB’s past staff attorney, Lynn Hicks, to DOE “Because the high tide started prior to the NBBBI work day, 188,351 gallons of yard run off and saltwater were pumped through our storm water system, eventually making its way to the infiltration basin.” DOE issued a warning letter, dated February 10, 2006 questioning the measures taken by NBBB to address the problem.

“A three to four foot high metal plate placed along the bottom of the southeast portion of the fence and sealed with cement is expected to prevent any further marine inflow into the stormwater area.  The Department is concerned that the barrier may not have been engineered to meet the requirements in the permit.”

However, in early February 2006, the flooding persisted. Since then, NBBB has employed sand bags in addition to the metal plate. This is a bandage approach causing the salt water to be diverted, with the strength of a river, easterly into the wetlands, flooding across Woodward Ave and into the horse pasture. Every year, some degree of flooding occurs and water reaches the horse pasture.

The southerly most portion of Holmes Harbor is polluted by persistent levels of fecal coli form. In 2007, IC Board of Commissioners established the South Holmes Harbor Shellfish Protection District. IC water quality specialists have identified the horse pasture as one of the contributors to the elevated bacteria levels.

The county is working with the owner of the horse pasture to control the fecal content reaching the surface waters of Holmes Harbor. Consequently, those duties have been laid directly into the owner’s hand solely. However, the aforementioned salt water diversion methods utilized by NBBB, due to the poor site location of a shipyard in a flood plain, is actively contributing to the horse pasture’s flooding. The flooding allows fecal bacteria to enter the surface waters of Holmes Harbor. Additionally, the sand bags are not fully effective. See Photos 10 through 14.

NBBB is expending a lot of working capital to increase their production area, work hours, build new buildings, new septic system, etc. and apply for the regulatory permits to do so. NBBB needs to invest its working capital into correcting this flooding\fecal coliform problem and not externalizing its costs onto the community. FOHH wants ICPCD to insist that NBBB address this fundamental environmental issue with a properly engineered system that does not generate a problem for a neighboring property and the greater South Whidbey community. The engineered system needs to exclude salt water intrusion of the yard, and allow salt water to return at a rate sufficient to stop flooding. An EIS is required to address the significant adverse impact.

14. Sewage Disposal

In the May 17th 2011 Amended Response to Form D Application Item 18 the following paragraph has been submitted by NBBB:

The historical high for employment is 355; the 180 employee septic system will handle ½ of the employees.  Portable toilet facilities will supply 50% of the sanitary needs. This will set a precedent in Island County for any applicant to only provide 50% of the infrastructure necessary to service their site. Furthermore, there will be an inherent overuse of the septic system. Most employees will undoubtedly use the fixed plumbing bathrooms in lieu of using port-a-potties.  The on-site septic system will be overwhelmed.  NBBB’s make-shift Port-a-potty solution seems destined to lead to another septic system failure similar to the September 2009 septic system failure. As previously stated in the flooding section, Holmes Harbor is already a compromised body of water because of persistent high levels of fecal bacteria. NBBB’s proposed supplementation of the septic system infrastructure by portable toilets is unacceptable. ICPCD should not perpetuate a public health crisis by approving further expansion of a facility unable to meet the septic requirements of its work force.


The proposal will cause significant visual impacts.  The CPA’s treatment of visual impacts is cursory and unreliable.  An EIS analyzing visual impacts should be required. 

For example, visual screening techniques, such as shrubs, deciduous and evergreen trees, are proposed for the East, West, and South views of the yard.  However, the majority of homes with views of the yard are to the north of it.  There are no plans included to screen the North end of the yard which is the view the majority of the surrounding neighbors must endure. This view vantage is caused by horse shoe configuration of the harbor with NBBB at the bottom of curved portion and the horseshoe sides representing the residential community.  This is a significant adverse visual impact to the surrounding neighboring properties.  The ability to screen is nonexistent because of the necessity for access in launching.  Thus, this significant adverse visual impact cannot be mitigated. The Big Tops are in themselves a visual blight so cannot be considered mitigation.

Also, our designated scenic highway corridor, Highway 525, will also be significantly impacted. When traveling on the highway, the Big Tops with a height of 53’ block the highway ultimately from the view of the harbor.  This view of the harbor is the last view available from the designated scenic highway corridor presently.  These new impacts have not, and cannot, be mitigated by the current proposal. These are significant impacts requiring analysis in an EIS.

The real estate description of views is not exclusive to only water views, but includes mountains, and territorial. The Big Tops will degrade the Olympic mountain range view from Freeland Park diminishing the general public interest. The southerly view from the northerly neighboring properties also will be significantly impacted with the proposed expansion of more buildings, numerous configurations of Big Tops, increasing need for larger industrial equipment, etc. The resident directly across Cameron Road from the NBBB parking and proposed corporate/human resource building access has lost her view of Mt. Baker and with the proposed expansion will look directly into an industrial wall of buildings, totally out of character in this rural environment.

 NBBB’s assertion that the Big Tops “softer visual impact” is a subjective statement, from the neighboring community perspective; the color disrupts, as well as alters, the territorial view. The Big Tops colors are more noticeable in comparison with the dark green treed background of a rural area. Additionally, the statement that “Big Tops” have light absorbent membrane qualities is untrue. See attached Photo 2.

To suggest that the “Big Tops” end panels will be utilized “to shelter the northern exposed water view” is basically absurd. In the photo (Photo 3) from their website, NBBB demonstrates the absurdity of this claim. See attached Photo 3 and Photo 4.

16. Landscaping/Aesthetics

A landscaping plan is vital to determining any aesthetic impacts of the proposed project. The plan must be formulated during this permitting process and a public comment period provided to determine if there are any deficiencies.  It must stipulate the size and species of plant material that will be installed. Installation of an irrigation system must be designed to ensure that no run off will occur. Hence any irrigation system designed must be produced during the permitting process and public comment must be made available.

 NBBB further declares:
The immature plantings installed will take decades to reach maturity. See attached Photo 15. The uses of immature plantings are only a benefit to the applicant because the plantings cost less. The surrounding community suffers from the applicant’s lack of consideration to provide plantings that sufficiently fulfill the mitigation measure. Photo 15 shows the screening of the east berm is nearly nonexistent.  The environmental checklist confirms the lengthy time.

The south berm landscaping was a condition required by the late 1990 expansion, but only recently implemented. Adding the years lacking implementation translates to the community waiting approximately 22 years before plant maturity is reached. This practice by the applicant is intolerable.  To protect the greater South Whidbey community from the ill effects of the lack of compliance by NBBB to implement landscape requirements, ICPCD must request a detailed landscape plan. The plan must be accompanied by visual depictions to be representative of the growth within 1 year, 3 years and 5 years. The plantings must be of sufficient maturity at planting to reach full maturity within five years. The community should have a public comment period to determine if the plan is sufficient.  This is imperative as evidenced by the stark contrast from the description of the east berm and the physical actuality shown in Photo 15.

17. Open space

NBBB presumes its gesture to formally designate and permanently commit the wetland as open space is a benevolent offer, whereby its protection will be guaranteed. The wetlands protection is presently guaranteed by the critical area ordinance which constitutes what can or cannot be done in a Category A wetland.  According to IC Critical Area Ordinance it states as follows:

E. Alteration of Critical Areas
Specific standards are established for some Uses in ICC 17.02A.050 and some Uses and activities are covered by ICC 17.02A.060. For all other Uses and activities, no Alteration of a Category A Wetland is permitted and Alteration of all other Wetlands or Wetland Buffers may be permitted only pursuant to ICC 17.02A.090.

However, NBBB offer implies they will have the future ability to implement any future passive use necessary for them.

Moreover, FOHH questions whether the entire wetland can be considered into the calculation of “open space”. NBBB infiltration pond is a built environment component of their shipyard just as much as their septic system/drainfield or the landscaped berms are.  The septic system/drain field or the berms are not available to be used in open space calculations; neither should the infiltration pond footprint. If the open space calculation cannot meet the 20% requirement of open space for the Rural Center zoning, other areas of the site must be reserved to meet this requirement. See attached Photo 16.

18. Future expansion

NBBB MPA 2004 defined NBBB expansion plans for 15 years.  The 2011 CPA defines NBBB expansion plans for only 5 years and defers the alternate launch system design.  Piece meal submission of permit applications was to be eliminated in 2004 as indicated by the following:

However, during the past year ICPCD has allowed NBBB to piece meal as buildings have demolished, container retaining walls installed, fabrication slab replaced and a host of other additions. It appears all of the Phase I has already been completed. FOHH requests ICPCD to stop allowing piece meal permits and follow the stipulation order issued by their agency and DOE.

19. Shoreline and Beach Impacts

The shoreline in front of NBBBI’s property is also a shoreline of state-wide Significance.  Any approval of development within the shoreline must, therefore, meet the policies set forth in RCW 90.58.020(1)-(4).  These policies require state-wide interest in protecting shorelines of state-wide significance to take precedence over local interests; to preserve the natural character of the shoreline; to ensure that long term benefits of preserving the shoreline take precedence over short term benefits; to protect the resources and ecology of the shoreline.  As described throughout this letter, none of these policies are being met by allowing NBBBI to expand its operations and inflict significant impacts on the surrounding shorelines.  NBBBI will not be able to meet the state policies requiring protection of Shorelines of State-Wide Significance. 

20. Wildlife Impacts

No consideration of the impact from noise and light glare of a 24/7 industrial shipyard has been given to wildlife inhabiting or visiting in close proximity to the NBBB site. There is an eagle’s nest within range and within line of sight of the NBBB site. Additionally, the wetland supports wildlife or other smaller species that may inhabit, forage, or use it in its migratory route. For example, the NBBB noise consultant dismisses the need to restrict the large industrial cranes from the NE corner under the presumption that since Ice Floe, LLC is the owner of the wetlands, no noise abatement is necessary. The noise study was performed from a purely anthropogenic view point.

Furthermore, according to ecologists Travis Longcore and Catherine Rich in their review Ecological Light Pollution (1) explain “Some of the catastrophic consequences of light for certain taxonomic groups are well know, such as the deaths of migratory birds around tall lighted structures…”  The Big Tops are tall lighted structures and the extended hours will exacerbate their significant adverse impact. The study further determines that their findings determined even though shielded lights may reduce night sky illumination it “may still cause ecological light pollution” to ground dwelling wildlife.

 No biological assessment was performed discussing the sensitive wetland ecosystem, the resident wildlife inhabitants, or the migratory bird population. FOHH incorporates the comments of Dr. Daniel Matlock dated June 7, 2011 as part of our response. An EIS is required to address the significant adverse impacts facing the wildlife.

21.  County should not rely on an outdated 1982 EIS

The County is presently working off the 1982 EIS and anticipates issuing a DNS relying in part on the 198m EIS.  But the 1982 EIS is out-of-date and should not be used as part of the environmental review.  There are a number of errors and omissions in the 1982 EIS.  The standards for environmental impacts also have dramatically changed over the years.  NBBB’s proposal in 1982 was nothing like what is being proposed today.  Approximately 38 years ago, a commercial fishing company was allowed to drag the bottom of Holmes Harbor which environmentally impacted the harbor removing eelgrass from the harbor’s floor. The 1982 EIS was done within a 10 year period of time after the destruction of the harbor’s floor which does not represent what has occurred slowly over the last 30 years as the harbor has replenished itself.  The shipyard was expanding at that time to 5.6 acres while the present CPA is requesting nearly twice the acreage alone in impervious surface. 

Some of the inaccuracies and out-dated information in the 1982 EIS include:

The 1982 EIS states on page 70: “Light and glare from the site are presently being mitigated by the following: 1. Production is mostly limited to daytime hours, thus causing a minimum annoyance at night.”  With the proposed 24/7 operations, this will no longer apply.  Additionally, it states on pg 70: “The planting of the pine tree buffer strip will eventually screen much of the ground-level boat-building activity.  Within 3 to 5 years after planting, the buffer should also eliminate much of the light or glare at nearby properties.” However, the trees on the north side have been topped to the height of the fence. The trees on the west side have been limbed up, so the 1982 mitigation requirement is no longer in effect. The CPA proposal has no height restriction of vessels but an assumption can be made with the height of the Big Tops at 53”. However, if NBBB continues to work in the open there is no vessel height restriction. The 1982 EIS assumed a 40’ height, pg. 87, which is an increase of the height of vessels, light and glare which the mere tree buffer installed in 1982 will not be able to mitigate. 

Additionally, the vessels being fabricated were under 125’ in length.

During 1982 the employment level of NBBBI was approximately 100 employees. Currently NBBB quotes their employment rate as anywhere from 220 to 250 employees with the all time high of 355 employees.  The 1982 EIS does not represent the increased traffic flow onto the highway or surfaces roads which is nearly 2.5 to 3.5 times higher presently.

The 1982 EIS on page 93 states: “Light and glare from the site is presently effectively reduced (almost eliminated) by planting of the buffer around the boat yard.  Fencing along Bayview Avenue (now known as Shoreview Dr.) also reduces these potential impacts to the north.  The expanded facility will have additional lighting, the impacts of which could be mitigated by additional fencing and landscaping.”  Presently, none of this applies to today’s operation.  Relying on these statements woefully understates the impacts of the proposed CPA. 

The 1982 EIS on pg 41 states: “A) Fur-Bearing Game: ……..3. River Otter*   *none have been observed on or near the Nichols site.”  But today, river otters do reside heavily in Holmes Harbor.  Again, the harbor is reclaiming itself after the devastating act of being dragged.

The outdated 1982 EIS should not be applied to the wide and diverse significant impacts to be caused by the CPA project.  During the 29 years since the 1982 EIS, there has been a technology and methodology advancement unlike any prior advance ever seen.  These advancements should be used to determine the real impacts of the proposed CPA.  Not doing so would constitute a serious neglect in the county’s due diligence. These advancements which unquestionably apply to the proposal can only be adequately and lawfully evaluated under SEPA by issuing a DS which requires a full EIS, not relying on a 29-year old, outdated EIS.

22. Noise

Implementing a 24/7 work schedule will be disastrous on the neighboring community. It allows for sleep disruption, especially for early to bed residents. Some residents commute off island to their place of employment. Off island commuting requires a resident to go to bed in the early evening hours. Allowing supposedly “quiet” work or a presence by a NBBB employee, other than for security measures, during the evening hours provides NBBB an opportunity to create noise impacts, intentionally or not. “Quiet” work is a 100% increase of the present ambient nighttime noise level because currently there is no nighttime noise being generated by NBBB at all (nighttime launch exception).  Additionally, allowing noise producing work until 10 pm (seven days a week) will be disruptive to early to bed residents, children (customarily in bed by 8pm) and family dinner time. The present schedule of noise producing until 7 pm with quiet work until 8pm is more protective of the residential community’s quality of life.

The airways are public “commons”. Some industries are permitted to use the “commons” as indicated by airplane travel, however that is an exception. NBBB feels they have the right to extend their property rights or the freedom to use the airway. As children, we learned on the school yard “my right to my swing my fist ends at your nose.” NBBB does not recognize our parallel claim “that their right to create noise ends at my ear.”

The 1995 World Health Organization’s study titled Community Noise (2) states as an individual’s age hearing sensitivity diminishes, noise that can cause damage in a child hearing ability will occur at a lower level than a senior citizen. NBBB noise study lacks any consideration to children living in the neighboring community.  WHO’s study further explains:

“Blasts and other intense or explosive sounds can rupture the eardrum or cause immediate damage to the structures of the middle and inner ear, while hearing loss due to prolonged noise exposure is generally associated with destruction of the hair cells of the inner ear.”
 “The number of hair cells damaged or destroyed increases with increasing intensity and duration of noise and, in general, progressive loss of hair cells is accompanied by progressive loss of hearing.”

Noise emitted from NBBB proposed expansion of a 24/7 schedule will dramatically increase the duration of noise endured by the neighboring community. NBBB noise study does not address the human health risks.

An individual perceives noise at night to be 10dBA louder than the decibels emitted (3). Nighttime occurs at 4:30 PM during the winter months. Noise emitted from NBBB, especially across the water will be significant due to this phenomenon. 

The Wild Horse Wind Project draft EIS elucidates how industrial noise emissions are perceived (4):

“…it is well understood that new intruding noise from
industrial facilities can be readily discernible and annoying (and therefore cause an
environmental impact) even when the noise levels are below the legal limits.”

FOHH incorporates in this letter Eric Hansen’s letter critique of NBBB’s noise report.

NBBB declares nighttime launches are exempt from noise standards as protected by the ruling of the Shoreline Hearing Board from the appeal of SDP 1780.  The Hearing Board decision was based on the scale & scope of NBBB at that time, which NBBB utilized only a single crawler, and smaller vessel size.  This Hearing Board decision should have been challenged because when noise ordinances or any other regulatory actions are adopted such as water or air quality criteria, no entity is grandfathered to allow it to exceed the standards. The night launches exceed the noise level and an EIS should be performed to determine that significant adverse impacts caused by night launches. The neighboring community has had their sleep disrupted every time a nighttime launch occurs. There has been numerous human health studies performed indicating the detrimental health effects of excessive noise has on an individual.

NBBB suggests the following to help mitigate noise of the expanded hours:

How will this condition be enforced? It is absurd to burden the neighbors with the necessity to be watch dogs and know the particulars of every condition that restricts operations.  It is apparent that NBBB cannot mitigate their noise effectively. Furthermore, it is no concession by NBBB when agreeing to “do abrasive blasting only on its fabricating slab.” NBBB’s NPDES permit does not allow abrasive blasting to be performed off the fabricating slab. Moreover, the proposed fabrication slab will extend southerly emitting noise to a farther extent then presently.

Another fallacy is the noise reducing characteristics of the “Big Tops”. These are not fully enclosed structures. They are open at either end as shown in Photos 4, 5,& 6.   The majority of the time these portable structures are not assembled contiguously as shown in Photo 5. NBBB’s own noise consultant, The Greenbusch Group Inc., documents the opened ended portable

 The conditions of the approval in SDP 1780 state: “The hammering and cutting noises are objectionable because of their frequency and beat as well as volume.  These noises could be reduced up to 85% by enclosing the work within enclosed fabrication buildings.  Nichols stipulates that it would enclose its existing fabrication buildings as well as proposing a new, larger, enclosed fabrication building in which more of the boat building and assembly operation could occur.“  Likewise, the 1983 Final Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law & Order in SHB No. 83-6 on pg 16 para 6 b. states “All fabrication buildings, existing and proposed, shall be enclosed structures.” 
It is obvious that the requirement to “enclose” the facility was to assure an effective reduction of noise impacts on adjacent properties.  (Full enclose would also mitigate light, glare, pollution and airborne particulates).  Yet NBBBI’s noise study, as well as the Photos 3, 4, &5 shows that NBBB has avoided and violated the full enclosure requirement.  With this in mind, it is clear that the proposed modular buildings will not be used to mitigate noise, light, glare, air pollution and airborne particles during the construction of vessels.  Presently, NBBB is not incorporating noise blankets, noise walls, smaller-scale noise enclosures, or fully enclosed “Big Tops” to reduce hammering and cutting noises as suggested by their noise consultant. It appears NBBB has taken the position that noise abatement is only necessary if and when the application is approved.  On page 18 of the noise study the consultant recommends:

 The noise consultant conciliatory decision to substitute the noise blankets necessary for noise reduction and noise walls inside of the Big Tops with smaller-scale noise enclosure is not feasible. The Big Tops shown in the pictures have very little room after a vessel is inside. How will additional smaller-scale noise enclosures fit inside of the Big Top? How can the side of the vessel be further enclosed adequately to lend the additional noise reducing measures? The feasibility of the proposed mitigation measures can be addressed in an EIS.  Or, to state it another way, the County cannot rely on NBBB’s proposed mitigation to reduce impacts to a less than significant threshold when the feasibility of these measures has not been assessed, let alone established.

The expansion requested by the CPA will increase the noise impact exponentially from existing levels if approved.  The expansion will place an undue hardship on the surrounding property owners.  During the past 10 years since NBBB has begun to accept contracts for larger vessels, it has become very apparent to the neighboring properties the noise has increased dramatically.  Prior to NBBB’s construction of the larger vessels, we never could hear the noise from inside our homes.  Now, even well past ½ mile away this has changed. It has been reported to us from property owners as far away as Mutiny Bay Rd, Vessel Court, and Greenbank that the noise level caused by Nichols Brothers is audible and disturbing, indoors and out.

In the past, NBBB has been responsible for submitting annual noise reports and has failed to do so.  Leaving NBBB to monitor its noise levels is like leaving the cat guarding the canary.  Who at the County will monitor and enforce State and local noise regulations?  Our understanding is the Island County has neither the personnel nor the equipment for these efforts. During recent years, neighbors have called the sheriff’s department to complain about the noise. The sheriff’s department response is simply that its jurisdiction is only over residential noise disturbances. Any enforcement must be handled by the County. Noise enforcement is problematic; no County employees are available to handle either after hours or Friday enforcement matters. Furthermore, documentation is impossible unless the public has noise monitoring equipment set up at any given time. Please demonstrate how the County will enforce noise restrictions placed on NBBB.  Better yet, address this issue in an EIS.

For all of these reasons, it is evident that there will be significant noise impacts to be caused by this proposal. Noise is an invisible pollutant.  An EIS should be required by the County.

23. NBBB Environmental Stewardship

It is customary for NBBB to tout their environmental stewardship; their past record of violations belies that claim. Moreover, their own noise consultant documents the recent practices, which are inconsistent with their claim.

o When blasting, fully-enclose the south end of the shelter with the typical
canvas covering (minimum 22 oz PVC).

As a condition of their NPDES permit, DOE requires NBBB to fully enclose any activities that would allow storm water to commingle with process particulates. Furthermore, NW Air Pollution Agency strictly prohibits any fugitive emissions from escaping into the atmosphere to protect surrounding air quality. However, as noted in the above paragraph from the noise consultant, NBBB blatantly violates these environmental requirements by not enclosing “the south end of the shelters” during blasting. FOHH is not hopeful that any changes in mind set will occur with the granting of variances to keep “Big Tops” as an environmental mitigation method. The best prediction of future behavior is past behavior.  NBBB past behavior has been less than stellar. FOHH has no confidence that a larger production facility or around the clock work hours will improve their environmental stewardship, more likely only increase opportunities to have violations occur.


The cumulative impact of all the components of this CPA constitutes a significant adverse impact on the community of South Whidbey and the neighboring properties. The environmental impacts from the future alternate launch system must be included in the threshold determination. The upland improvements are interdependent on the launch system. NBBB is a water dependent industry.  Approval of this proposal severely will diminish our present quality of life and necessitate us becoming watch dogs of the NBBBI operations.  Any of the mitigating conditions any agency would place on NBBBI will not be able to be properly enforced or policed without the due diligence of the community.  This proposal, if approved, would rob us of our inherent right to enjoy our homes to the fullest extent by inflicting upon us an incompatible industrial shipyard in a rural area by a less than exemplary company.

The Washington State’s Growth Management Act was formulated to protect the existing rural areas from the pressures of overdevelopment.  Island County was considered to be just such an area which required a Comprehensive Plan, and consistent development regulations under the Growth Management Act.  The spirit and requirements of the Growth Management Act were to protect counties such as Island County from exactly this form of growth which is being presented to Island County by NBBB.

Therefore, Island County has a responsibility to all its citizens to thoroughly investigate this CPA proposal to determine its intent whether expressed or implied to create a significantly adverse impact on to the local community and its residents.  This requires the preparation of an EIS at a minimum.  Not doing so will be a repeat of the Seattle Pacific University application faux pas the county found itself embroiled in the past.  Also, Snohomish County has faced the wraths of the Growth Management Board regarding the car lot which was allowed to be built on an agricultural land which potentially could cost the taxpayers up to 9 million dollars for their rush to judgment.  Please do not incur these types of costs which the county experienced rushing through the SPU application by rushing to satisfy the needs of one business. 

In addition, the applicant has not demonstrated that it meets all of the requirements of the permits necessary for the CPA.  NBBB’s permit requests related to the CPA should be denied.

Please make our organization a party of record.

Respectfully submitted,

Friends of Holmes Harbor
Christine Goodwin
P O Box 493
Freeland Wa 98249    360 321-fohh

Cc: Helen Price Johnson, County Commissioner District 1
       Angela Homola County Commissioner District 2
       Kelly Emerson, County Commissioner District

Works Cited:

1. Longcore, T. & Rich, C. Ecological Light Pollution. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment Vol 2, No.4 (May, 2004). pp 191-198. (http://www.jstor.org/stable/3868314 .
2. Berglund, B., & Lindvall, T. (Eds.). Community noise. Archives of the Center for Sensory Research, 1995, 2(1), 1-195.
3. Cavanaugh, W., & Tocci, G. Environmental Noise: The Invisible Polluntant. Sudbury MA http://www.nonoise.org/library/envarticle/index.htm
4. Wild Horse Wind Project. Draft EIS 2004 Sec 3.08


Photo 1 Note the insignia on truck cab door. Background has been removed to highlight the crane only.

Photo 2 “Big Tops” producing glare and amplifying light
Photo 3 Shows “Big Tops” beige enclosure rim with no end panel attached as fabrication is performed.

Photo 4 No end panel to shelter the northern exposed water view. Note the WSF superstructure pilot house showing.

Photo 5 shows the middle section of the WSF superstructure with only the pilothouse portions having “Big Tops” covering them. There is no noise abatement occurring.

Photo 6 features the same WSF superstructure under fabrication as Photo 4 depicting the noncontiguous formations.

Photo 7 shows low cloud ceiling & double water reflection magnifying light & glare
Photo 8 Neighbor catches NBBB’s fugitive emissions 2007

Photo 9 Neighbor catches NBBB’s fugitive emissions 2007

Photo 10 Depth of Water in comparison to NBBB sign

Photo 11 NBBB Adjacent Wetlands and River Effect of diversion
Photo 12 Corner of Shoreview and Woodard Horse Pasture on the right
Photo 13 metal plate holding back salt water
Photo 14 Sand bag (under plastic) breach salt water in channel

Photo 15 East berm in middle next to white portable shelter “enhanced with 36..”




Background: NBBB has requested that Island County issue a Determination of Non-Significance (DNS) for their new Permit Application.  Island County will rule and issue one of three statements:

  • Determination of Non-Significance – No EIS required
  • Mitigated Determination of Significance – No EIS required
  • Determination of Significance – EIS is required

FOHH Member Action requested:  FOHH is insisting that ICPCD issue a Determination of Significance for this application and requires NBBB to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). FOHH expects to accomplish this goal through extensive comments from:

  • FOHH as an organization
  • FOHH land use attorney
  • Most importantly - each of YOU

Successfully achieving the objective depends not only on the strength and influence of FOHH as an organization but also on comments submitted from individual community members.

An EIS is a lengthy and expensive project for any applicant.  For the 2004 Master Permit Application (MPA2004), Island County Planning and Community Development informed FOHH that they would require NBBB to prepare an EIS that addressed approximately nine elements having environmental impact.  NBBB never completed the 2004 EIS because there was no stated deadline by which NBBB needed to respond. Subsequently NBBB filed for bankruptcy and was acquired by Ice Floe, LLC who withdrew the MPA(2004).

The current Consolidated Permit Application (CPA) diverges from the MPA(2004) in one of the most critical aspects of NBBB operations, the launch system.  The NBBB CPA defers defining the launch system to the future. 

NBBB asks for:
1) 24 hours a day, 7 day a week operations.
2) Extending noise producing operations until 10PM (presently 7PM)
3) Increase of building structures by 61%
4) Variance allowed to increase building height close to shore from 35’ to 53’
5) Variance allowed to increase building height in the rest of the yard from 40’ to 53’, a 32% increase in
    production area
6) Increase
impervious surfaces (asphalt/concrete) for parking lot by 10%
7) Ability to support increases in workforce
by allowing portable toilets to augment septic system design

a) Existing septic system capacity is designed for 185 employees or 220 employees for no more than 3 months
b) Historical high employee number is 355

c) If historical high employment is reached, the septic system can only support 50% of the required usage

8) Use of old shipping containers as a sound wall in a FEMA flood area
9) New parking lot for 48 vehicles on Cameron Road
10) Vendor and Client housing on Cameron Road

Requested FOHH Member Action: With the above background information in mind, FOHH is asking that each of you construct a letter and mail it to ICPCD no later than Saturday, June 4, 2011 in order to meet their deadline for environmental comments on June 8th, 2011.  Please write the letter to reflect your environmental and other concerns that the NBBB requests threaten..

Examples of questions you might ask yourself in preparing your letter::
How will the expanded noise-producing work hours affect the community or your life?
How would you feel if these hours were extended to other noise-producing businesses County-wide?
How do you feel about having manufacturing lights on throughout the night in your area -- or county-wide?
How do you feel about having the County’s building height restriction being raised by up to 18 feet higher? Will that be
   okay County-wide?
How would you feel if Island County Health allowed all businesses to install septic system infrastructure that could
   potentially handle only 50% of the business’s needs?
Do you think portable bathroom facilities would be appropriate at any business, County-wide?
How could a temporary system affect Holmes Harbor or other bodies of water in Puget Sound?
How do you feel about not knowing what the future alternate launch system will be?
How do you feel about using only an Environment Impact Statement that was completed in 1982, almost 30 years
   ago, to assess any potential environmental impacts from this proposal?
Thank you for supporting this effort to protect Holmes Harbor

Please mail your comments to:

Island County Community Development
PO Box 5000
Coupeville, WA 98239

Or hand deliver to:

Island County Community Development
6th and Main Street
Coupeville, WA

Or fax to:

Island County Community Development






Nichols Brothers Expansion

NBBBI Growth

Nichols Brothers Boat Building, Inc. (NBBBI) was established on the south shore of Holmes Harbor more than forty years ago to repair small boat engines and hulls. Over the years their skills and capabilities grew to match the size and complexity of their boats. By the summer of 2003 they had completed and launched the 360-foot, 3500-ton Empress of the North. By Spring 2004 they had built and launched the fast Navy X-Craft. And by the end of 2004 they were proposing a major three-stage facilities expansion that would permit construction of vessels as large as Washington State Ferries—up to 400 feet long and 5,000 tons in weight. In May 2006 they announced orders for two $14M catamaran ferries for the San Francisco Marine Transit Authority. The Holmes Harbor community is proud of their success but wonders about the unintended consequences of such growth.

MPA Highlights. Their Master Permit Application (MPA) proposed a 24/7 work schedule, expanded parking facilities, 11 new portable production buildings used separately or coupled together to create an enclosure as large as a football field and nearly as tall as Boeing’s hangars (65 feet high). They also proposed a marine railway extending 1400 feet into the shallow water of Holmes Harbor, much of it several feet above the beach at low tides and a potential hazard to navigation when tides were high.

Holmes Harbor is shallow and virtually non-flushing, especially at its south end. It is home to one of only two eelgrass beds on Whidbey Island, an increasingly scarce resource that provides spawning grounds for herring; herring, in turn, is food for various waterfowl and larger fish. Eagles and osprey nest in nearby firs. In good weather, both locals and visitors fish, boat, and water-ski in Harbor waters. A few hearty souls even swim on warmer, incoming tides. (See Holmes Harbor Water Quality Section for more about recent beach closures.)

This site posts the Nichols’ proposal and what we have been able to learn about it. In addition, it identifies changes to state regulations, records of Nichols’ legal infractions, plus other relevant information about the impacts of growth and change.

FOHH is not a zero-growth organization. We are, however, dedicated to the preservation and sustainability of the Holmes Harbor natural environment and a high quality of life for both businesses and residents. We invite the community to share in these goals and to work with FOHH in their attainment.

(See new Holmes Harbor Water Quality section of website that reports on elevated levels of coliform at both Freeland Park and at NBBBI resulting in shellfish harvest closure.)

Nichols' boat launch ramp maintenance permit. In late May, 2006 NBBBI applied for an Island County Public Works Department permit to do maintenance on their boat launch ramp. The public notice specifies that 1600 cubic yards of quarry rock will be used. That’s enough to cover an area 38 feet wide to a depth of 3.25 feet and a length of 350 feet—a disproportionate amount for the project identified. We are also concerned that the scale of work would likely exacerbate the fecal coliform condition of Holmes Harbor water by disturbing contaminates trapped in the ramp substrate. (See FOHH letter in the Documents and News Articles section.)

FOHH supports Nichols in their ongoing boat building and repair business. We don’t, however, support their goal for major expansion in the heart of this residential community. A nickel-and-dime approach is no more palatable than a major project completed within a definitive time frame—the end result would be the same.

Update: March 2007

During the afternoon and evening of Friday March 2, Nichols launched a 230-foot vessel at Holmes Harbor. When the sun rose and the fog cleared the next morning, community members noticed an oil slick in the southern end of Holmes Harbor. The sheen, visible in the two photos presented below, measured approximately 300 feet in length by 100 feet wide. Fohh reported the release to Oil Spill Response (National Response Center: 1-800-424-8802). The local fire department was the first to witness the sheen and view FOHH’s photos. The US Coast Guard was dispatched from Seattle. Due to the calm conditions, the remnants of the slick were still visible when the Coast Guard arrived several hours later. Wood shims and other debris also were released during the launch. Much of this debris drifted over to Freeland Park when the wind picked up later that morning. Initial reports by Nichols Brothers to the Washington Department Ecology indicated that the diesel sheen likely resulted from wet exhaust from the new generators on the launched vessel. Nichols did not deploy booms to control the sheen or recover the wood debris from the harbor. Even more disturbing is that Nichols own “spill response team” did not respond to an oil spill. If Nichols is not capable of monitoring for potential oil spills during launch, then they should not be allowed to launch during darkness hours.

All spills matter, regardless of size. Diesel is toxic to the environment and the damage starts as
soon as the fuel hits water --Campbell, Karen (ECY)

Update: February 2007

The photos, above, show mid-January and early February emissions stemming from dry-blasting at Nichols Shipyard. (Previously, wet-blasting had been used—a technique Nichols admits is more environmentally friendly.) Both types of emissions, however, are required to be "confined to shipyard repair and construction areas to the maximum extent feasible” with the residue hauled for treatment. According to their DoE Permit:

"Feasible methods of control include conducting the work in a sandblast/spray paint shed or installing plastic barriers around the vessel. Plastic barriers hung from the vessel, or temporary structures around the vessel, should be secure and arranged to prevent fugitive emissions of abrasive grit and dust [and to] effectively capture overspray from spray painting activities."

FOHH reported both of these events to the regulatory agencies. Nichols self-reported the mid-January incident, but to our knowledge, subsequent events went unreported by Nichols. In the future, FOHH hopes neighbors will report similar events, including release of noxious chemical odors. Agencies aren't here 24/7; we are. Reports coming from the community-at-large lets them know that concern is wide-spread.

Please call: Donna Ortiz de Anaya, Permit Writer, WA. State DoE, at 425-649-7276 (dort461@ecy.wa.gov)
or you can reach her via snailmail at 3190 - 160th Ave. SE, Bellevue, WA 98008-5452.
Alternatively, contact the Northwest Clean Air Agency at 1600 South Second Street, Mt. Vernon, WA 98273-5202, 360-428-1617 (1-800-622-4627), (http://www.nwcleanair.org/pdf/forms/misc/complaint_form.pdf)

Taking Action

FOHH's official response to Island County Planning plus comment letters from other organizations are posted in the Documents and News Articles section. They are available for downloading. Most Recent Posting: October 10 , 2006

Public comment in response to the initial NBBBI MPA expired Jan. 17, 2005. We thank everyone for their willingness to respond and for the contributions made to FOHH at that time. Our work goes on and so does our committment to closely follow Nichols' responses to various governmental agency queries.

The recent posting date, above, will let you see at a glance when something new has been added to the Documents and News Articles section.

The Facts page makes for easy understanding of the magnitude and impacts of NBBBI's proposed expansion. FOHH and individual citizen comment letters to County Planning have, over the past year, made a difference in how the proposal is viewed. Donations have helped FOHH secure professional advice so that our comments could be more targeted.

For your convenience, copies of the original NBBBI master permit application are available for public viewing at the Langley, Freeland and Clinton libraries. We hope the information provided will assist you in continuing to express your informed opinion of the project to elected state, local and federal officials--as well as FOHH and other supportive organizations. Expressing your views can make a difference!

Documents & News Articles

Click on the link above for a complete list of all documents and articles available. Some are MSWord files; for others you will need Acrobat Reader.

The Facts

Click on the link above for the Facts about the Nichol's Brother's Master Permit Application.

Visual Aids and Models

Click on the link above to visualize the magnitude and impact of the Nichols Brother's proposed railway system.

Friends of Holmes Harbor
PO Box 493
Freeland, WA 98249
fohh@friendsofholmesharbor.org | 360-321-FOHH (3644)

© 2006 Friends of Holmes Harbor