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
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
“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: