By Steve Guntli
The Lummi Nation has asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deny SSA Marine’s permit for the Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) project at Cherry Point.
On January 5, the Lummi Indian Business Council submitted a 97-page document asking the corps to reject the permit application. The tribe claims that the terminal would “result in the impairment of the treaty rights of the Lummi Nation throughout the Nation’s ‘usual and accustomed’ fishing areas.”
An 1855 treaty with the United States granted the Lummi fishing rights to waters between the Fraser River and Seattle, except for Hood Canal and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. A court decision in 2000 later upheld the treaty and better defined the Lummi fishing territory.
Corps public affairs officer Patricia Graesser said the agency is reviewing the document and will respond to the tribe once that process is complete.
“We provide the tribe’s information to the applicant for review and response. We ask the applicant [SSA Marine] to coordinate with the relevant tribes and to resolve the issue,” she said. “They may ask for a government-to-government meeting with the district engineer.”
Graesser said the corps could deny a permit if the treaty access issues aren’t resolved.
The Lummi have a legal precedent in their favor. In 1992, the corps rejected a permit for Northwest Sea Farms to build a 1.4-acre salmon farm on Rosario Strait. The courts decided that the farm would impede on the tribe’s usual and accustomed fishing grounds. The decision was upheld in 1996.
The Lummi Nation has been a vocal opponent to the GPT project since it was first announced in 2011. A letter submitted in July 2013 stated “unconditional and unequivocal opposition” to the GPT. The latest letter is the first time the Lummi Nation has requested the corps deny the permit.
Power Past Coal, a confederation of businesses and organizations dedicated to stopping the export of coal from the west coast, has come out in support of the Lummi’s claims.
In a statement for Power Past Coal, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities director Crina Hoyer said the organization supports “the Lummi’s efforts to protect Washington’s natural resources and way of life by keeping dirty, dangerous coal exports out of our communities.”
A recent study from the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE) estimated that GPT would increase vessel traffic in the Puget Sound area by more than 15 percent. Vessel traffic around Cherry Point would rise by more than 30 percent, which could lead to an increased risk in oil spills. The study was not considered to be a final conclusion, and DOE officials said they needed to conduct more research.
The corps of engineers would include those results in a draft Environmental Impact Study (EIS). The EIS is expected to be released in early 2016.
The coal terminal, as designed, would be one of the largest such facilities in North America. The GPT could ship an estimated 48 million tons in dry goods to Asia each year. If approved, the facility would open in 2019.