SSA Marine suspends GPT environmental impact study

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SSA Marine, the sponsor behind the Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) coal port, is suspending the environmental impact study for the project.

On April 1, the company decided to halt the review on the GPT so the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) can make a decision on a request from the Lummi Nation to block the permit for the project.

The Lummi claim the GPT will infringe on federally protected treaties that establish the tribe’s fishing rights in the waters off Cherry Point.

The USACE has yet to announce when they will make a decision on the Lummi’s claim.

The Lummi lodged their complaint with the USACE in January 2015, when the Lummi Indian Business Council submitted a 97-page document asking the USACE to reject SSA Marine’s permit application. The tribe claims the terminal would intrude on federally protected fishing grounds defined by a treaty as the tribe’s “usual and accustomed” fishing areas. The Point Elliott Treaty, signed in 1855, guaranteed the Lummi fishing rights to the waters between the Fraser River and Seattle, except for Hood Canal and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The Lummi’s claim has legal precedent. In 1996, the court upheld a 1992 decision to block a 1.4-acre salmon farm on Rosario Strait. The court based their decision around the “usual and accustomed” fishing grounds established in the Point Elliott Treaty.

The USACE has been conducting the environmental impact study on the proposed terminal since 2012. The study would determine the extent of the impact the terminal would have on the environment and ensure the project adhered to state environmental and emission standards. After several delays, the study was to be completed by October 2016.

The terminal has been controversial since the project was first announced in the early 2000s. If built, the terminal would export nearly 50 million tons of coal to Pacific markets, primarily China. The project would cost an estimated $700 million. Opponents are concerned about the impact the terminal will have on traffic, health, safety and environmental impact both here and abroad. Supporters say the terminal would create jobs and be a boon for the local economy.

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