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Lummi Nation Wants Immediate Action In Halting Proposed Bulk Coal Terminal At Cherry Point
Posted on Friday, January 09, 2015 (PST)

The Lummi Nation, in a strongly Jan. 5 worded letter, asks the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to take immediate action to deny a permit for what would be North America’s largest coal export terminal at Cherry Point, citing significant impacts to treaty rights and irreparable damage to important crab and salmon fisheries.

 

In a letter sent to Col. John Buck of the Seattle District of the Corps, Lummi Chairman Tim Ballew II said the impact of the proposed bulk coal terminal at this historic location in the north Puget Sound cannot be mitigated. The letter was forwarded to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and each member of the state’s congressional delegation.

 

“The Lummi people have harvested fish at this location for thousands of years,” Ballew said. “We have a sacred obligation to protect this location for its cultural and spiritual significance.”

 

Pacific International Terminals, a subsidiary of SSA Marine, has proposed building a deep-water marine terminal at Cherry Point in Whatcom County. The proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal would handle export up to 54 million dry metric tons per year of bulk commodities, mostly coal.

 

In a related project, BNSF Railway Inc. has proposed adding rail facilities adjacent to the terminal site and installing a second track along the six-mile Custer Spur.

 

The Corps, the state Department of Ecology and Whatcom County are conducting coordinated environmental reviews of the Pacific International and BNSF applications under the National Environmental Policy Act and the State Environmental Policy Act.

 

The agencies have determined that the proposed export terminal and associated rail expansion require environmental impact statement. These lead agencies are coordinating to produce a federal EIS under NEPA and a state-local EIS under SEPA. The agencies are responsible for identifying and evaluating how the proposed project would affect the environment.

 

The agencies estimates that a final EIS will be completed sometime in 2017.

 

The two permits required of the Corps are for actual construction at the proposed terminal site north of Bellingham. According to the Corps those permits could not be issued before completion of the NEPA evaluation.

 

The coal terminal proposal is one of three in the Pacific Northwest now pending decisions, from state and federal agencies, and from the court system. The other two are proposed for the Boardman, Ore. area and at Longview, Wash. Both are Columbia River ports.

 

 

The proposal to build an export terminal in Whatcom County on the shores of the Salish Sea has brought sharp criticism from tribes in the Pacific Northwest and Canada, as well as from the public at large.

 

The Cherry Point site is a rich fishing ground that supports hundreds of family fishing businesses. In addition to providing more than a thousand jobs, fishing is also a vital part of the cultural heritage of area tribes and Lummi is working hard to preserve their language, resurrect traditional fishing traditions and educate Lummi youth about their culture, according to a tribal press release.

 

“As one of our tribal fishermen said, ‘it’s like putting a freeway inside the reservation,’" Chairman Ballew said. “The vessel traffic would contaminate our fish and shellfish and severely limit the ability of our tribal members to exercise their treaty rights.”

 

The Lummi have asked the federal government to uphold their legal obligation to protect their tribal treaty rights, lands and resources. To approve the permit, the tribe argues, would be a violation of these treaty rights.

 

“The Corps has an obligation to uphold our treaty rights and comply with the federal laws regarding Lummi rights to fish at Cherry Point,” Chairman Ballew said. “Our waters are a way of life and survival for our people. The bottom line is, you can’t mitigate or buy your way out of the damage that this proposed shipping facility would cause.”

 

The Corps on Monday received, along with a two-page letter, a 97-page document, including attachments, from the Lummi Nation requesting denial of the Gateway Pacific Terminal proposal.

 

“We will respond to the tribe after we have had an opportunity to review all the information provided to us,” said Patricia Cook Graesser of the Corps Seattle District’s Public Affairs Office.

 

“Generally, information received from tribes is provided to the applicant for review and response. We generally ask the applicant to coordinate with the relevant tribes and to resolve the issue,” she said. Tribes may ask for a government to government meeting with the district engineer or staff.

 

“We are reviewing the information provided by the Lummi Nation and then will also meet with applicant to discuss. The Corps needs to determine, given the information provided to us, if potential impacts to the Lummi Nation's usual and accustomed fishing could be more than de minimus. We have not yet made that determination,” Graesser said

 

The Lummi letter says that “In addition to the proposed project’s unacceptable and unavoidable impacts to the Nation’s access to this significant treaty harvesting location, and to the cultural integrity of the site, the proposed project location is within an especially rich and fertile marine environment that serves as important habitat for a number of forage fish, finfish, and shellfish (including several threatened and/or endangered species) that are inextricably linked to the Lummi Schelangen (“Way of Life”).

 

“Anticipated impacts to this significant aquatic environment include, but are not limited to, substantially increased ballast water discharges and associated risk of introducing invasive species, contaminant spills (product, bunker fuel oil, crude oil and refined products from adjacent facilities), noise, and vessel traffic. The impacts to these critical marine waters from coal alone may include: smothering, toxicity, substrate change, accumulation, and water quality degradation,” the tribal letter says.

 

“The devastating environmental impacts associated with this project, as well as the trust responsibility of federal agencies to ensure the protection of the treaty rights of the Lummi Nation, mandate the denial of any and all permits under the Corp’s jurisdiction.”

 

More information about the proposal can be found at:

http://www.nws.usace.army.mil/

and

http://www.ecy.wa.gov/geographic/EISprocess.html

 

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