Tribes object to cars brimming with coal, such as these, being shipped by rail through their territory and loaded at terminals that would compromise their fishing rights.

Treaty Victory as Northwest Tribes Celebrate Oregon Coal Train Rejection


Tribes opposed to the transport of coal by rail through their territory are celebrating the decision of the Oregon Department of State Lands to reject a permit application for a coal terminal along the Columbia River—not least of all because the decision was partly based on treaty and fishing rights considerations.

Ambre Energy, the company that wants to ship 8.8 million tons of coal annually to Asia through the proposed Coyote Island Terminal at the Port of Morrow, has said it will appeal. But others are calling this a precedent-setting decision that will halt other proposed projects that are even larger.

“Today’s landmark decision reflects what is in the best interest of the region, not a company’s pocketbook,” said Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission chairman Carlos Smith, in a statement. “This decision is one that we can all celebrate. It reaffirms the tribal treaty right to fish, is in the best interest of the Columbia Basin’s salmon populations, and our communities. It is a reflection of what is best for those who would be forced to live with the consequences of Ambre’s proposal, not what is best for those who would profit from it. This is the beginning of the end for this toxic threat–the Tribes will stand with the State to protect its sound decision.”

In rendering its decision on August 18, the Department of State Lands said that “while the proposed project has independent utility, it is not consistent with the protection, conservation and best use of the state’s water resources, and that the applicant did not provide sufficient analysis of alternatives that would avoid construction of a new dock and impacts on tribal fisheries.”

The decision involved hundreds of staff hours of reviewing time, which included reading more than 20,000 public comments and poring over data during the course of months, department director Mary Abrams said in a statement. The application was initially filed in 2012.

“We used data provided by a wide array of parties, and weighed this information against what Oregon law says we must take into consideration in making removal-fill permit decisions,” said Abrams. ”We fully believe that our conclusion to deny the Coyote Island Terminal permit is the right one.”

Although the terminal would be relatively small compared to others being proposed in the Northwest, the decision could set a precedent, according to those closely monitoring the issue.

“This decision is a significant setback to Ambre Energy’s proposal,” said the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which coordinates fisheries and policy on behalf of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation and the Nez Perce Tribe.

The Lummi have been outspoken in their opposition to just such a terminal at Cherry Point in Bellingham, Washington, and the Quinault Indian Nation has come out in opposition to rail transport of coal as well as crude from the Alberta oil sands in Canada and the Bakken in the Dakotas and Montana.

RELATED: Quinault Nation Passes Resolution to Oppose Coal Exports

The Yakama Nation, whose territory the trains would also pass through, took a firm stand as well.

RELATED: Yakama Fight to Protect Fishing Sites From Coal Train Terminals

"Yakama Nation will not rest until the entire regional threat posed by the coal industry to our ancestral lands and waters is eradicated," said Yakama tribal council chairman, JoDe Goudy in a statement, according to the Huffington Post.

The Lummi, who strongly oppose the terminals, said that those fighting against the coal conglomerates are in for a long fight.

RELATED: Lummi Nation Officially Opposes Coal Export Terminal in Letter to Army Corps of Engineers

"The State’s action makes a strong policy statement by recognizing Tribal Sovereignty and the Treaty Rights of the Columbia River tribes,” said Lummi Nation Chairman Timothy Ballew II in a statement, according to the website “Such decisions are few and far between. This is important not just for the Yakama and Umatilla but all Indian fishing tribes. Together we can, and will, protect our way of life."

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