By Steve Guntli
Executives at SSA Marine have asked the Lummi Nation to participate in a “good faith consultation” regarding the Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) project.
Earlier this month, the Lummi Nation requested the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deny SSA a permit for the project. Tribal representatives have stated the terminal would infringe on the tribe’s usual and accustomed fishing grounds.
Bob Watters, senior executive with SSA Marine, responded in a letter on January 14, saying the company is committed to finding common ground between the company and the Lummi Nation.
“I believe it is better for all if we work past our disagreements and find ways to create solutions together,” Watters said. “In talking about our natural resources and our economy, I find this approach is especially important.”
Watters said the company is committed to protecting historical tribal sites on its property, and has a standing offer out to the Lummi Nation to discuss how to enhance the tribe’s cultural and economic prospects.
Watters said denying the permit before the environmental impact study is completed would be premature.
“The purpose of the process is to gather the facts concerning impacts, mitigation and alternatives, and to hear from all interested parties so the decision in the end is fully informed and the project can be modified as needed,” he said.
SSA Marine has maintained that the GPT would create more than 1,000 permanent jobs in the area, and more than 4,000 temporary jobs as the facility is built. Watters cited polls from Earthfix and Elway Research that showed support for increased coal exports out of the Pacific Northwest. The Elway poll, released in January 2013, showed that slightly more than half the people polled supported the GPT on the condition that the terminal can comply with environmental regulation. The Earthfix poll, released in July 2014, showed 47 percent of those polled supported more coal exports, 34 percent opposed and 19 percent were unsure.
Regarding the tribe’s treaty rights, Watters said he hopes the company and the tribe can reach an agreement, as the terminal would only impact a relatively small body of water.
“Any project along the shorelines of Washington has the potential to affect tribal fishing,” he said. “The construction of our project would exclude fishing within the small area occupied by the trestle, wharf and moored vessels. To give perspective, Lummi Nation’s court-affirmed usual and accustomed fishing area is approximately 1.9 million acres. The GPT proposed lease of state tidelands is an area of 46 acres, or 2/1,000th of 1 percent of that area.”
In 1996, the corps rejected a permit for a 1.4 acre salmon farm in Rosario Straight that was located on Lummi fishing grounds. In their letter, the Lummi also cited increased vessel traffic leading to and from the GPT that would disrupt fishing in the area and cause potential ecological problems.
The Army Corps of Engineers is evaluating the tribe’s 97-page request. According to public affairs officer Patricia Graesser, the corps usually asks tribes and applicants to enter direct negotiations.