Courtesy Brad Angerman
Lummi tribal members reef net fishing.

Cherry Point Dead in the Water; Another Terminal in the Works

Richard Walker

On June 6, the head of Washington state’s Department of Natural Resources denied a coal export terminal proponent’s application for an aquatic land lease in Lummi Nation’s historical territory.

It was the second permit denial in a month, and likely the deathblow to the coal export terminal proposed by Pacific International Terminals, a subsidiary of SSA Marine. If approved, the coal shipping terminal at Cherry Point would have reportedly been North America’s largest.

The waters off Cherry Point– which the Lummi know as Xwe'chieXen – have been fished since the beginning of time by the Lummi and other Coast Salish peoples. The waters are habitat for numerous sensitive species. And Cherry Point is an ancestral village site.

On behalf of the public, the state’s Department of Natural Resources owns and manages Washington’s aquatic lands and navigable waters, and any project that involves use of those public lands or waters for structures, such as docks and piers, requires a lease.

The project also required a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, certifying that the project would not have more than a de minimis impact on the marine environment. The Corps of Engineers denied the permit application on May 9.

RELATED: Coal Terminal Proponent ‘Looking At Options’ After Denial Of Permit

“Because Pacific International Holdings, LLC cannot obtain the necessary permit from the Corps of Engineers, DNR cannot approve the lease application for the project,” state Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark wrote Skip Sahlin, vice president of Pacific International Holdings in Seattle. “Accordingly, DNR will take no further action on the application.”

Lummi Chairman Tim Ballew II called Goldmark’s decision “a victory for our people —a victory for treaty rights. By denying Pacific International Terminal’s request for an aquatic lands lease for DNR-managed aquatic lands at Cherry Point, we take another huge step toward permanently protecting Lummi’s sacred site,” he said in a statement issued by his office.

“We applaud Commissioner Goldmark for following the law and upholding Lummi Nation’s treaty rights. Because of his leadership, our schelangen, our way of life, can survive for future generations of families that will fish the waters of the Salish Sea and harvest along its shores.

“By affirming the decision made by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the State of Washington recognizes the devastating impact a terminal at Cherry Point would have on Lummi’s treaty rights.

“Because of Commissioner Goldmark's decision, the water we rely on to feed our families, for our ceremonies and for commercial purposes remains protected.”

The Gateway Pacific Terminal was expected to handle up to 54 million dry metric tons per year of bulk commodities, mostly coal, including coal from the lands of the Crow Nation in Montana. BNSF Railway Inc. had proposed adding rail facilities adjacent to the terminal site.

The project was opposed by First Nations in the Pacific Northwest and Canada, particularly those who share the Salish Sea. The risk of coal and oil spills was too great, they said, and they contended that coal dust would impair the health of marine waters and nearby communities. They also contended that increased shipping would result in substantially increased ballast water discharges, which would introduce invasive species to the local marine environment.

SSA Marine claimed its terminal was designed to minimize environmental impacts. A site map shows extensive buffering, enclosed rotary dumpers, onsite stormwater treatment, and covered or enclosed conveyors.

The Lummi Nation asked the Corps of Engineers in 2015 to deny the project’s potential impacts to treaty-reserved fishing rights. SSA Marine wanted the Corps’ permit decision to be made based on a full environmental impact study.

The project had some tough hurdles to overcome.


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