Northwest tribal leaders fight for government to uphold treaties

Tulalip Tribes Chairman Mel Sheldon speaks at the rally.
Tulalip Tribes Chairman Mel Sheldon speaks at the rally. Photo courtesy Theresa Sheldon, Tulalip Tribes Board of Director.



Lummi Nation Chairman Tim Ballew II and other leaders rally in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015, to oppose the Gateway Pacific Terminal, which would export primarily coal and expand railways. Ballew says that the project would disregard treaty rights and harm the environment. Grace Toohey McClatchy



BY GRACE TOOHEY, Bellingham Herald


WASHINGTON – A proposed coal terminal and affiliated railway for Cherry Point, Wash., has sparked concern about treaty violations and environmental degradation for many Pacific Northwest tribal leaders, 10 of whom rallied together in Washington, D.C., on Thursday morning against what they said is government disregard for their treaties.

About a block from the White House, three Lummi Nation sisters crooned a song referencing the 1855 U.S. treaty with Pacific Northwest Native American tribes, reserving certain rights for their fishing, hunting and sacred grounds. “What about those promises? Fills my heart with sadness, I can’t do this on my own, we’ve got to come together and be strong,” the women sang.

But Tim Ballew II, chairman of the Lummi Nation, said those rights are in jeopardy.

“All the tribes are standing here today in solidarity to protect not just our reservation community but everybody’s community from the impacts that cannot be mitigated,” Ballew said, standing in front of leaders from the Tulalip, Swinomish, Quinault, Lower Elwha Klallam, Yakama, Hoopa Valley, Nooksack and Spokane nations and the president of United South and Eastern Tribes.

The proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal, a subsidy of SSA Marine, would act as a trading hub between landlocked domestic companies and markets in Asia, said Joe Ritzman, vice president of business development for SSA Marine. The deepwater terminal would handle up to 60 million tons of commodities, primarily coal, and the project would coincide with a railway expansion.


But the project’s designated land includes burial sites for Lummi ancestors and artifacts, Ballew said, and the coastal development would harm age-old fishing traditions within the tribe.

“The location of the pier will take away fishing grounds and the increase in vessel traffic would impede access of our fishermen to fishing grounds throughout our usual and accustomed areas,” Ballew said.

Washington state, Whatcom County and the federal government are reviewing the environmental impacts of the proposed export terminal and associated rail expansion, expecting to release state-local and federal environmental impact statements in 2017. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is the federal review agency, is also inspecting Native American treaty rights at play.

“Our current focus is the impact on treaty fishing rights, and it’s the government’s responsibility to uphold the treaty,” Ballew said.

The Lummi Tribe, whose reservation is minutes from Cherry Point, entered the Treaty of Point Elliot more than 150 years ago, which ensured the sovereign nation right to “fish at usual and accustomed grounds and stations is further secured to said Indians in common with all citizens of the Territory.”

JoDe Goudy, chairman of the Yakama Nation, said his tribe has faced similar treaty battles in Oregon, most recently when the governor halted a proposed coal export plant near their sacred ground and Columbia River fisheries. But now that decision is under appeal, putting their treaty rights at stake again, Goudy said.

“The recognition from us collectively (is) that those reserved rights go hand in hand with our sustained existence as peoples,” Goudy said. “A direct attack on such things, in our hearts and minds, is a direct attack on our sustained existence.”

Not only would the Gateway Pacific Terminal affect the Lummi Nation, Goudy explained, but the proposed railways would transport coal by the Yakama Nation’s portion of the Columbia River.

“This issue affects all of us, we’re connected in ways that the U.S cannot even imagine,” said Tyson Johnson, council member of Nooksack Indian Tribe.

SSA Marine will wait until the state, county and federal environmental reports come out, Ritzman said. But with plans for mitigation strategies and a 75 percent natural buffer of the 1,500 acres for the project, Ritzman said he expects his company’s proposal to meet all state and federal environmental requirements and not impact the fisheries.

President Barack Obama and his administration met with the tribal leaders and many more Thursday afternoon as a part of the White House Tribal Nations Conference.

“I credit the current administration for every year building on our efforts to help us rebuild our nations and I encourage them to continue that,” Ballew said. “We really want them to give this issue its due respect. It’s a human rights issue, it’s a treaty rights issue, and we need our sacred sites protected.”

Read more here:


Sacred Lands vs. King Coal

BY STEPHEN QUIRKE, Earth Island Journal


Indigenous struggles against resource extraction are gathering strength in the Pacific Northwest


Under the breaking waves of Lummi Bay in northwest Washington, salmon, clams, geoducks and oysters are washed in rhythmic cascades from the Pacific Ocean. Just north of here is Cherry Point, home for three intimately related threatened and endangered species: herring, Chinook salmon, and orcas. It is also the home of the Lummi Nation, who call themselves the Lhaq’temish (LOCK-tuh-mish), or the People of the Sea. The Lummi have gone to incredible lengths to protect the health of this marine life, and to uphold the fishing traditions that make their livelihood inseparable from the life of the sea — continuing a bond that has connected them to the salmon for more than 175 generations.


cheery point beach

Photo by Nicholas Quinlan/Photographers for Social ChangeThe Lummi Nation is currently fighting a proposal to build the largest coal export terminal on the continent at Cherry Point.



The Lummi Nation is currently fighting the largest proposed coal export terminal on the continent (read “Feeding the Tiger,” EIJ Winter 2013). If completed, the Gateway Pacific Terminal would move up to 54 million tons of coal from Cherry Point to Asian markets every year. The transport company BNSF Railway plans to enable the terminal by adding adjacent rail infrastructure, installing a second track along the six-mile Custer Spur to make room for coal trains.

The project is one of many coal export facilities proposed across the US by the coal extraction and transportation industry. In the face of falling domestic demand for the highly polluting fossil fuel, the industry is pinning its survival on exporting coal to power hungry Asia, especially China.

The Gateway proposal has sparked massive opposition from the Lummi, who say it will interfere with their fishing fleet, harm marine life, and trample on an ancient village site that has been occupied by the Lummi for 3,500 years. The village, Xwe’chieXen (pronounced Coo-chee-ah-chin) is the resting place of Lummi ancestors, and contains numerous sacred sites that the Lummi assert a sacred obligation to protect. The Lummi’s connection to their first foods, and to the village site that holds their ancestors’ remains, goes the very heart of who they are as a people, and the Nation has pledged to protect both “by any means necessary”.

The Lummi are no strangers to stopping harmful development. In the mid-1990s they managed to stop a fish farm in the bay; in 1967 they fought back a magnesium-oxide plant on Lummi Bay that would have turned the bay lifeless with industrial waste.

This article is part of our series examining the Indigenous movement of resistance and restoration.

The new threat to the Lummi Nation is being proposed by the global shipping giant SSA Marine. The coal would be supplied by Peabody Energy and Cloud Peak Energy — companies that mine in Montana and Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. It was also backed by Goldman Sachs until January 2014, when the company pulled its substantial investment from the project.

Jay Julius, a fisherman and Lummi Nation council member had attended the firm’s annual shareholders meeting back in 2013 and urged it to “take a look at the risk” of their investment.

Another coal export proposal of similar scale has been proposed in Longview, Washington about 235 miles south from Cherry Point. This has been opposed by the Cowlitz Tribe, who object to the impacts that coal would bring to the air and water quality along the Columbia River. This terminal would also create serious harm to another Native tribe at the point of extraction, 1,200 miles away in the Powder River Basin.

The Millennium Bulk Terminal in Longview is a joint proposal from the Australia-based Ambre Energy and Arch Coal, the US’ second largest coal producer after Peabody.

The terminal, which would export up to 48.5 million tons of coal annually, would be supported by Arch Coal’s proposed Otter Creek Mine in southeastern Montana (bordering Wyoming). If built, the mine could produce an estimated 1.3 billion tons of coal, and would span 7,639 acres along the eastern border of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation. This would be the largest mine ever in the United States.


loaded coal trains

Photo by Mike Danneman Coal trains operated by BNSF would haul coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana to a series of proposed export terminals along the Pacific Northwest coast.


To connect the proposed mine to West Coast ports, Arch Coal and BNSF Railway want to build a new 42-mile railroad — called the Tongue River Railroad — through the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation. Members of the Northern Cheyenne Nation and their allies have pledged fierce resistance if regulators approve the mine and the railroad, which they say, would have significant impacts on public health and the environment. According to BNSF, anywhere from 500 pounds to 1 ton of coal can escape from a single loaded rail car – on trains pulling 125 cars.

At a June hearing on the railroad organized by the US Surface Transportation Board, federal regulators heard nothing but fierce opposition to the proposed mine and its enabling railroad. A significant proportion of the Lame Deer community from the Northern Cheyenne Reservation turned out to the hearing. Their opposition to the project was echoed by local ranchers.

One rancher told the officials that they needed to understand the importance of history when they propose such unprecedented projects. “Northern Cheyenne history is very sad –  it’s tragic – and they have fought with blood to be where they are tonight.”

“My ancestors have only been buried here for about four or five generations,” he said, but “we know of lithic scatters, we know of buffalo jumps, we know of stone circles, camp sites, vision quest sites… and it is my obligation as a land owner, even though I am not a member of this Nation, that we protect what is there.”

One tribal member, Sonny Braided Hair, was more explicit in his history lesson. “Let us heal,” he said, “or we’ll show you the true meaning of staking ourselves to this land.” He was referring to the Cheyenne warrior society known as the Dog Soldiers, who became legendary in the mid-1800s for holding their ground in battle by staking themselves to the earth with a rope tied at the waist.

Such concerns about sacred sites are too often validated. In July of 2011, before applying for any permits, SSA Marine began construction at a designated archeological site in the ancient Lummi village at Cherry Point, where the Lummi have warned of numerous sacred sites, and where 3,000 year-old human remains have been found.

Pacific International Terminals had earlier promised the Army Corps of Engineers that this site would not be disturbed, and that the Lummi Nation would be consulted before any construction began nearby. They also acknowledged their legal obligation to have an archaeologist on staff when working within 200 feet of the site, along with a pre-made “inadvertent discovery” plan if any protected items were disturbed. Despite all of these assurances, the company illegally sent in survey crews to make way for their terminal, where they drilled about 70 boreholes, built 4 miles of roads, cleared 9 acres of forest, and drained about 3 acres of wetlands.

In August, Whatcom County, Washington, (where Cherry Point is located) issued a Notice of Violation to Pacific International Terminals, and the Department of Natural Resources documented numerous violations of the state Forest Practices Act. The total fines and penalties, however, added up to only about $5,000.

That’s a small price to pay for early geotechnical information, says Philip S. Lanterman, a leading expert on construction management for such projects. According to Lanterman, the information provided by those illegal boreholes was probably a huge economic benefit to the planned project. Needless to say, the meager fines don’t come close to discouraging the behavior. For opponents this incident is just a taste of things to come, and one resounding reason to never trust King Coal.

In the face of such blatant violations of their treaty rights, several Native tribes in North America — from the Powder River Basin, through the Columbia River to the Salish Sea —have banded together and declared that it is their sacred duty to protect their ancestral territories, sacred sites, and natural resources.

In May 2013, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI) unanimously adopted a resolutionopposing fossil fuel extraction and export projects in the Pacific NorthwestIn the resolution, the 57 ATNI Tribes of Oregon, Idaho, Washington, southeast Alaska, Northern California, Nevada and Western Montana voiced, “unified opposition” to investors and transporters and exporters of fossil fuel energy, “who are proposing projects in the ancestral territories of ATNI Tribes.” The resolution specifically calls for protection of the Lummi Nation’s treaty-protected fishing rights, and the sacred places that would be affected by the Cherry Point project.

Indigenous resistance to these projects has been bolstered by allies in the environmental movement who have been fighting the export of US coal to foreign markets in the East. Of 15 recent proposals to build major new coal export facilities across the US, all but four (including Gateway and Millennium) have been defeated or canceled within the past two years.

In January this year, the Lummi Nation asked the Army Corps to immediately abandon the environmental review for Gateway Pacific and the Custer Spur rail expansion, stating that the project violates their reserved and treaty-protected fishing rights. If the environmental review is abandoned, the Army Corps would have effectively cancelled the project. In response to this letter the Army Corps gave SSA Marine until May 10 to respond, but later extended the deadline by another 90 days. Environmental reviews of the terminal and BNSF’s Custer Spur rail expansion are due in mid-2016, but it appears likely that the Army Corps will have rejected the Gateway Pacific terminal by then, rendering any rail expansion redundant.


people gathered around a totem pole

Photo courtesy of Sierra ClubIn 2013, James launched a totem pole journey to build solidarity for Indigenous-led struggles against fossil fuels, including the struggle to protect Xwe’chieXen. Pictured here, ranchers, environmentalists, and members of the Northern Cheyenne totem pole blessing ceremony in Billings, Montana.


In order to keep the pressure on, leaders from nine Native American tribes gathered in Seattle on May 14 to urge the Army Corps to deny permits for SSA Marine. “The Lummi Nation is proud to stand with other tribes who are drawing a line in the sand to say no to development that interferes with our treaty rights and desecrates sacred sites,” said Tim Ballew II, Chair of the Lummi Indian Business Council. “The Corps has a responsibility to deny the permit request and uphold our treaty.”

The Lummi have clearly had important successes in stopping harmful development in the past. But with so much on the line for coal companies, can they really use treaty rights to stop a coal terminal of this size? “Without question,” says Gabe S. Galanda, a practicing attorney specializing in tribal law in Washington State. “Indian Treaties are the supreme law of the land under the United States Constitution, and Lummi’s Treaty-guaranteed rights to fish are paramount at Cherry Point.” If the Army Corps decides to deny their permit, Galanda says that coal developers would find it “very difficult if not impossible” to successfully challenge them. By contrast, he says, “the Lummi Nation would have very strong grounds to attack and invalidate” any approval that the Army Corps might grant to the coal exporters.

In a similar case last year, Oregon’s Department of State Lands denied a key building permit for Ambre Energy’s coal export terminal project in Boardman, Oregon. The terminal was planned directly on top of a traditional fishing site of the Yakama Nation. In both Boardman and Cherry Point, the coal companies have implied that the protected Indigenous sites that would be harmed by their projects either do not exist, or that the tribes using them are too incompetent to know their true location.

Just two years after filing paperwork with Whatcom County admitting that they had “disturbed items of Native American archeological significance”, Bob Watters of SSA marine wrote “Claims that our project will disturb sacred burial sites are absolutely incorrect and fabricated by project opponents.”

One of the Cherry Point Terminal’s most fierce opponents is the diplomat, land defender and master carver Jewell Praying Wolf James. James is the head of the Lummi House of Tears Carvers, and has created a tradition out of carving and delivering totem poles to places that are in need of hope and healing.

In 2013, James launched a totem pole journey to build solidarity for Indigenous-led struggles against fossil fuels, including the struggle to protect Xwe’chieXen. James traveled 1,200 miles with his totem pole in 2013 — from the Powder River Basin to the Tsleil Waututh Nation across the Canadian border. In 2014, he launched another 6,000-mile totem pole journey in honor of revered tribal leader Billy Frank Jr, a Nisqually tribal member and hero of the fishing rights struggle. Frank passed away on May 5, 2014 — the same day he published his final piece condemning coal and oil trains.

These totem pole journeys have gained international attention as pilgrimages of hope, healing, decolonization, and Native resistance to the extractive industries.

At the end of August, James concluded his third regional totem pole journey against fossil fuels, carrying the banner of resistance to many tribes who are standing up as fossil fuel projects get knocked down. He held blessing ceremonies in Boardman and Portland where coal and propane projects were recently shot down, passed through the Lummi Nation and Longview where coal has yet to be defeated, and ended in the Northern Cheyenne Nation at Lame Deer, where the community has rallied in opposition to a mine whose devastation would reverberate from Montana, down the Columbia River, and up to Cherry Point.

“There are many of us who are joining, from the Lakota all the way to the West Coast, to the Lummi, south to the Apache, up to the Canadian tribes,” said Northern Cheyenne organizer Vanessa Braided Hair at a recent Tongue River Railroad hearing. “We’re gonna fight, and we’re not gonna stop.”



Lummi tribe says talk of Cherry Point land grab is a fabrication



BY RALPH SCHWARTZ, The Bellingham Herald


A nonprofit with close ties to a proposed coal terminal at Cherry Point is telling local and federal agencies that Lummi Nation plans to take over part or all of Cherry Point in an effort to “de-industrialize” an area that already includes two oil refineries and an aluminum smelter.

Lummi Chairman Tim Ballew called the claim a fabrication and a distraction from the tribe’s effort to halt Gateway Pacific Terminal through an exercise of its treaty rights to fish near Cherry Point and elsewhere in north Puget Sound.

“There’s just no way they could be blowing the cover on some plan we don’t have,” Ballew said.

Northwest Jobs Alliance wrote to the Whatcom County Planning Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last month, asking them to oppose a tribal takeover of Cherry Point.

“It has come to our attention that there are those who would de-industrialize the Cherry Point (industrial area), but this rather radical notion would not serve the public interest,” the Alliance wrote in an Aug. 12 letter to the Planning Commission. The letter was signed by Chairman John Huntley and President Brad Owens.

Not named in the letter was Craig Cole, who is listed in the state’s corporations database as the director of the Northwest Jobs Alliance. Cole also was hired to do public relations for Gateway Pacific Terminal’s proponent, SSA Marine.

Cole said on Friday, Sept. 11, he is one of more than 100 members of the Alliance.

“I am one of the directors and support its focus on family-wage job growth and retention,” Cole said, along with “the continued viability of the Cherry Point industrial area.”

The Alliance delivered its message to the public in a press release on Thursday, Sept. 10.

The release refers to “a plan by the Lummi Nation to annex Cherry Point to its reservation.” The Alliance equivocates on just how much land it believes the tribe would take, but in some of its statements the group assumes the worst.

“It would decimate the job and tax base of the county, in particular the budgets of the Ferndale and Blaine school districts and Fire District 7, for which Cherry Point industries carry much of the tax load,” Huntley said in the release.

“While the Lummi people themselves and their treaty rights deserve great respect, this ploy to snatch nontribal land is just plain wrong,” the Alliance said in an Aug. 20 letter to the Corps.

The Alliance points to a single page that it claims is a “Lummi Nation planning document” from 2012. The page describes a strategy that includes defeating the coal terminal, acquiring Cherry Point and placing it in trust.

Tribes can ask the federal government to acquire properties and hold them in trust for tribal use, even land outside a tribe’s reservation.

Lummi Chairman Ballew reviewed the document and said it did not come from the tribe.

“What they presented definitely has not been produced by the Nation,” he said.

Owens didn’t answer directly when asked by a reporter if the Alliance believed Lummi Nation wanted to tear down existing industries at Cherry Point.

“The indicators are that they’re in opposition to growth at Cherry Point, and that their goal is to acquire Cherry Point property and have it placed in trust,” Owens said.

Cole said the documented evidence of the tribe’s intentions said “in an unambiguous way” that the tribe is intent on taking Cherry Point land.

“Some of it is pretty direct,” he said.

Documents used by the Alliance to support its claim include a 2012 resolution by the Lummi Indian Business Council to acquire Cherry Point “in order to prevent any further projects” and protect the cultural value of the area “in perpetuity.”

The only property specifically mentioned by the tribe for acquisition was the terminal site, and only after the coal terminal project was defeated. The documents say any acquisition of the terminal site would happen through negotiations with its owner, SSA Marine — not through a forceful snatching of the land, as the Alliance stated.

Ballew, who was not chairman when the 2012 ordinance was approved but sat on the council, acknowledged that acquiring a portion of Cherry Point was “a part of the operative part of the resolution.”

“But the more significant policy statement in that resolution is to protect the site,” Ballew said. “That doesn’t mean necessarily that the tribe acquires the land.”

“As far as I know the property isn’t for sale, and we haven’t taken that into consideration,” he said.

Ballew emphasized the importance of protecting the tribe’s cultural heritage at the coal terminal location, which he said was the site of an ancestral village. For now, he said, the tribe is focused on protecting its fishing rights through its request to the Corps to stop Gateway Pacific Terminal.

“They’re fabricating a false conspiracy,” Ballew said. “This is a distraction to our request to the Corps to protect our treaty rights.”

The tribe says the terminal pier and up to 487 ships per year traveling to and from the port would do irreparable harm to tribal fishing. At full capacity, Gateway Pacific Terminal would export 48 million metric tons of coal a year to overseas markets.

In its letter, the Alliance asked the Corps to “publicly disassociate” itself from the tribe’s takeover plans and reject its request to halt the terminal project.

Corps spokeswoman Patricia Graesser said the agency continues to consider the tribe’s request.

“The Army Corps of Engineers is focused on evaluating the actual proposal we have in hand for the Gateway Pacific Terminal and not on speculation regarding what may or may not happen with regard to future property ownership at Cherry Point,” she said.

Read more here:


Lummi Nation rejects coal terminal applicant’s invitation to negotiate

Members of the Lummi Nation protested the proposed coal export terminal at Cherry Point on Sept. 21, 2012, by burning a large check stamped "Non-Negotiable." On Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015, Lummi Chairman Tim Ballew reiterated that stance, saying the tribe’s treaty rights were “not for sale” and the tribe would not negotiate with the company proposing the terminal.PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
Members of the Lummi Nation protested the proposed coal export terminal at Cherry Point on Sept. 21, 2012, by burning a large check stamped “Non-Negotiable.” On Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015, Lummi Chairman Tim Ballew reiterated that stance, saying the tribe’s treaty rights were “not for sale” and the tribe would not negotiate with the company proposing the terminal.


By Ralph Schwartz, Bellingham Herald


Lummi Nation sent another clear message about a proposed coal terminal on Tuesday, Feb. 3: Under no terms will it accept Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point, an area near the Lummi Reservation with cultural and economic value to the tribe.

Lummi Chairman Tim Ballew  responded Tuesday to a Friday, Jan. 30,  request from terminal proponent SSA Marine to meet face to face and discuss how to “harmonize the facility with the environment.”

“I can assure you that we have carefully considered the impacts associated with this project and have concluded that these impacts simply cannot be avoided, minimized, or mitigated,” Ballew wrote in his response to Skip Sahlin, vice president of project development for Pacific International Terminals, an SSA Marine subsidiary created to develop Gateway Pacific Terminal.

“While we appreciate your desire to engage on these issues, we remain steadfastly opposed to this project and do not see the utility in pursuing any further discussion,” Ballew added.

Officials at SSA Marine had no comment.

Ballew sent  a letter Jan. 5 on behalf of the Lummi Indian Business Council to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, asking the agency to immediately reject a permit for the coal terminal because it would interfere with the tribe’s fishing grounds. The tribe has a right granted by an 1855 treaty to fish in its customary areas, which include Cherry Point and the shipping lanes that would see more traffic with the opening of Gateway Pacific Terminal.

Plans indicate the terminal could open as early as 2019 and would export up to 48 million metric tons of coal a year overseas.

Corps spokeswoman Patricia Graesser said the agency would give an initial response to the Lummis’ request on Wednesday, Feb. 4, but it wouldn’t be a decision on whether to reject the permit.

As determined in past court cases about disruptions to tribal fishing areas, the Corps needs to decide whether Gateway Pacific Terminal would have impacts that were more than negligible. Lummi Nation in its request to the Corps cites a vessel traffic study, which concluded that the traffic added by the terminal’s operation would increase by 73 percent the disruption of Lummi fishing by vessels.

In reaching out to the Lummis on Friday, Jan. 30, Sahlin mentioned the politics around the coal terminal decision, “and the pressure from many divergent interests to sway decision making.”

SSA Marine officials have accused terminal opponents of  getting the facts wrong. Sahlin said in his letter that more productive discussions would result if SSA Marine and Lummi Nation met face to face, as they have previously.

“We would welcome the opportunity to a return to such a fact-based interaction,” Sahlin wrote.

“Negotiation between Lummi and Pacific International Terminals is not an option,” Ballew said in a prepared statement. “Our treaty rights are non-negotiable and not for sale.”

In an interview, Ballew said the Corps in consultations with the tribe could reach a decision on the Lummi request in months rather than years. Graesser said in an email to The Bellingham Herald the Corps’ decision does not have a deadline.

The Corps will continue to draft an environmental impact statement for the terminal, a step that comes before permit approvals.

“I’m of the opinion that this government-to-government consultation (between the Corps and the tribe) puts the EIS process on the back burner,” Ballew said, “and their attention now should be on … making a decision based on the information that we’ve given them.”

Read more here:


Lummi Nation asks Army Corps to reject Cherry Point coal terminal

Then-Lummi Nation Chairman Clifford Cultee, left, and Hereditary Chief Bill James speak at a 2012 protest against a proposed coal export terminal at Cherry Point. The tribe sent a letter on Monday, Jan. 5, 2015 to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, asking the agency to reject a permit application for the coal terminal because it would interfere with tribal fishing grounds. PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
Then-Lummi Nation Chairman Clifford Cultee, left, and Hereditary Chief Bill James speak at a 2012 protest against a proposed coal export terminal at Cherry Point. The tribe sent a letter on Monday, Jan. 5, 2015 to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, asking the agency to reject a permit application for the coal terminal because it would interfere with tribal fishing grounds. PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD


BY RALPH SCHWARTZ, The Bellingham Herald


Lummi Nation sent  a letter on Monday, Jan. 5, to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, asking the agency to immediately reject a permit application for a coal terminal at Cherry Point because it would interfere with tribal fishing grounds.

An environmental group in Bellingham called the action “historic.”

Lummi Nation cited its rights under a treaty with the United States to fish in its “usual and accustomed” areas, which include the waters around Cherry Point. A court decision in 2000 clarified the Lummi fishing territory, first established in 1855, to include northern Puget Sound from the Fraser River to Seattle, with the exception of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Hood Canal.

“The Lummi have harvested at this location since time immemorial and plan to continue into the future,” said the Lummi letter, signed by Chairman Tim Ballew. “The proposed project will impact this significant treaty harvesting location and will significantly limit the ability of tribal members to exercise their treaty rights.”

The letter was authorized by the Lummi Indian Business Council on Wednesday, Dec. 31.

A manager at RE Sources for Sustainable Communities in Bellingham said in a message to members that the Lummis had made “an historic announcement.”

“This is a critical development in the fight to block the Cherry Point coal terminal,” wrote Matt Petryni, clean energy program manager at RE Sources.

Past case law suggests Gateway Pacific Terminal could be in trouble. The corps rejected a permit in 1992 for a salmon farm in Rosario Strait on the grounds that the farm, though no larger on the surface than 1.41 acres, would interfere with Lummi fishing. The decision withstood a challenge in U.S. District Court.

“There’s a precedent for a threshold of impact on treaty rights,” Ballew said. “I trust that the Corps will uphold its constitutional responsibility.”

Officials for Gateway Pacific Terminal said they could not comment before the deadline for this story.

The coal terminal, if approved by federal and state agencies, and Whatcom County, would ship up to 48 million metric tons of coal annually to Asian ports, starting as early as 2019.

While environmentalists who have actively opposed the coal terminal for years celebrated, they didn’t declare victory.

“One of the things I’m sure of is that the Corps will respond to the gravity of this statement,” said Crina Hoyer, RE Sources’ executive director. “What the ultimate end result will be, it may be decided in the court.”

Corps officials said they will review the 97-page document submitted to them on Monday by the tribe. If the Corps finds that treaty-protected fishing would be disrupted to any significant degree, it will pass the information along to project applicant SSA Marine of Seattle for review.

“We generally ask the applicant to coordinate with the relevant tribes and to resolve the issue,” the Corps said in a statement on Monday.

Lummi Nation consistently has opposed the coal terminal publicly. Tribal members in 2012  burned a symbolic check representing a presumed buy-out from the coal industry. Last year, the tribe toured the western U.S. and Canada with a  totem pole to raise awareness of their opposition to fossil-fuel transport. The tribe also has criticized Gateway Pacific Terminal in written comments to permitting agencies.

“This is the strongest statement that we’ve seen from the Lummi Nation,” Hoyer said.

A  report released last month provided preliminary evidence that the terminal would impede tribal fishing. The vessel traffic study, developed by SSA Marine and Lummi Nation with oversight by the state Department of Ecology, indicated that cargo ships and other traffic for Gateway Pacific Terminal would increase the number of vessels in north Puget Sound by 15 percent. Vessel traffic in the vicinity of Cherry Point would increase 33 percent. The risk of oil spills also would increase.

Those results,  released on Dec. 18, were not taken to be final. Ecology officials emphasized that further study of vessel traffic would be included in a draft of the environmental impact statement on the coal terminal, expected in early 2016.

Even so, the Lummis mentioned the vessel traffic study in their letter to the Corps.

“Review of the impacts associated with this project, including … (the vessel traffic study) lead to the inescapable conclusion that the proposed project will directly result in the substantial impairment of the treaty rights of the Lummi Nation,” the letter said.

Read more here:


Western Washington tribe brings protest against planned coal export terminal to Spokane


Colin Mulvany photoTotem pole painter and carver Lucy London touches up the paint on a traveling 19-foot totem pole that visited Spokane on Tuesday. The totem pole’s 2,500-mile, two-nation journey includes stops in communities impacted by increased coal and oil rail traffic.
Colin Mulvany photo
Totem pole painter and carver Lucy London touches up the paint on a traveling 19-foot totem pole that visited Spokane on Tuesday. The totem pole’s 2,500-mile, two-nation journey includes stops in communities impacted by increased coal and oil rail traffic.


By: Wilson Criscione The Spokesman-Review


Members of a Western Washington tribe stopped Tuesday near the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Spokane, part of a “totem pole journey” to protest plans to build a coal export terminal north of Bellingham.

The proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal would be located at Cherry Point. According to the project’s website, it would be the largest shipping and warehouse facility on the West Coast, sending dry bulk commodities such as coal, grain and potash to Asian markets.

Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart and congressional candidate Joe Pakootas both spoke out against coal exports at the event, which included Native American songs and a 19-foot totem pole.

Stuckart said the companies and politicians advocating for more coal export terminals are “addicted to fossil fuels.”

He said Spokane serves as a major rail hub for the Inland Northwest and proposed new export terminals, including the Gateway Pacific Terminal, would add an additional 30 miles of trains carrying fossil fuels every day, which could create public safety risks and risk polluting the Spokane River.

Jewell James, with the Lummi tribe, said the terminal would contaminate lands surrounding Cherry Point with arsenic and mercury.

But officials involved in the project say they are taking environmental impacts into consideration.

Craig Cole, a consultant for the Gateway Pacific Terminal Project, said there has never been a more stringent environmental review of a project in the state’s history, and called some of the opposition to the project “nonscientific fear mongering.”

He encourages people to wait for results of an environmental impact statement in two years.

“We’re just saying: Why would you take the word, either of an opponent or proponent of the project, when you can wait for this very extensive environmental impact statement?” Cole said.

The project’s website claims it will provide more than $11 million per year in state and local tax revenue, as well as 1,250 jobs.

“Frankly, I’m more concerned about an overall movement in this state which is aimed at de-industrializing our economy,” Cole said. “There is a very dangerous trend toward opposing anything that has anything to do with industry or manufacturing.”

But James is skeptical.

“No matter what they promise you, it’s still just a promise. In the end, they’re more concerned with the bottom line: Profit,” James said.

Those opposing coal exports scored a victory last week in Oregon, when state regulators rejected a proposal for a coal terminal on the Columbia River that would have exported millions of tons of coal to Asia each year.

James and the Lummi tribe assisted tribes in Oregon in opposing the terminal. He is hoping for a similar result in Washington.

“I hope the people of Spokane and the tribe will start putting pressure on (Governor) Jay Inslee,” James said.

Stuckart said at the event Tuesday that it is unacceptable to use energy independence as a justification to destroy ancestral lands and for rail companies to spill coal in waterways. He said it’s no longer enough to make rail cars safer or to include the city in an environmental impact statement.

“The demand is simple: Leave it in the ground,” Stuckart said.

‘Coming crisis’: more trains carrying coal and oil


Mark Mulligan / The HeraldA train of tank cars — each bearing the placard 1267, denoting that the tank carries crude oil — waits on the tracks going through Everett recently.
Mark Mulligan / The Herald
A train of tank cars — each bearing the placard 1267, denoting that the tank carries crude oil — waits on the tracks going through Everett recently.

By Jerry Cornfield, Herald Writer


EVERETT — A surge in coal and oil trains through Snohomish County is a “coming crisis” which threatens to irreparably damage the quality of life in several communities unless addressed, the mayor of Edmonds warned Friday.

Drivers already face long backups at railroad crossings more often because freight rail traffic is increasing, and the situation will only worsen if plans for new oil refineries and a coal export terminal proceed, Mayor Dave Earling said.

“We all need to acknowledge it is a serious problem,” Earling said in opening comments at an event focused on coal and oil trains in the county. “I view it as a coming crisis and one we need to start taking care of today.”

The forum on the county campus began with supporters and opponents of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal politely sparring over the economic good and the ecological bad of building it.

Seattle-based SSA Marine’s proposal for the terminal at Cherry Point is undergoing extensive environmental review now and, if approved, could be operating at full capacity in 2019.

By then, the terminal could be handling about 54 million metric tons of dry bulk commodities per year, most of it coal from the Powder River Basin in Montana.

That would add nine loaded trains per day heading to the terminal and nine empties coming from it. The trains are expected each to be about 1.6 miles long.

Ross Macfarlane, a program manager for Climate Solutions, and Eric de Place, a policy director for Sightline Institute, argued against the terminal, saying it runs counter to efforts by the state to pursue alternative sources of energy.

“It locks us into a dirty energy cycle that is extremely destructive,” de Place said.

But Terry Finn, a consultant with Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, and Joseph Ritzman, a vice president of SSA International, countered that rejecting the terminal ignores the market reality that the potential purchaser of the coal, China, will buy coal elsewhere and burn it nonetheless.

“I don’t think it makes one iota of difference” in the world of energy, but it will mean a loss of jobs and economic development for Washington, Finn said.

The duos also disagreed about the threat of coal dust and the risk of derailments.

But it was the potential of more coal and oil trains tying up even more traffic on city streets that seemed foremost on the minds of elected leaders and residents in attendance.

A report issued by the Puget Sound Regional Council in July found that freight rail traffic in Washington is expected to grow 130 percent by 2035 — without the new coal terminal. That would amount to 27 to 31 more trains per day between Seattle and Spokane and up to 10 more per day between Everett and Vancouver, British Columbia.

The report amplified Earling’s concern. The city has two at-grade railroad crossings leading to the waterfront. When trains come through town and the crossing arms go down, access to the waterfront is cut off.

He said a 2005 report done for the city of Edmonds predicted the number of trains passing through the city each day could rise from roughly 35 to 70 by 2020 and 104 by 2030. That study didn’t factor in added rail shipments of coal and crude oil.

Edmonds isn’t the only city with concerns.

The mayors of Marysville, Mukilteo and Snohomish and an Everett city councilman attended Friday. So did Snohomish County Executive John Lovick.

“It is really a complex issue that impacts cities dramatically,” Snohomish Mayor Karen Guzak said.

Marysville could endure the most disproportionate impact of the surge in rail traffic because of its numerous at-grade rail crossings. Wait times could increase by as much as 147 percent per day within the city, the regional council study found.

A possible solution is to eliminate at-grade crossings by building overpasses or underpasses, known as “grade-separation” projects. But the regional council report estimates they would cost anywhere from $50 million to $200 million, paid for mostly with public money.

According to federal law, railroads only can be required to contribute up to 5 percent of that cost.

During a question-and-answer period, Reid Shockey of Everett, a member of the Snohomish County Committee for Improved Transportation, pressed Finn on whether BNSF Railway might put up a greater percentage of the cost of grade separation.

Finn said he couldn’t commit BNSF to any figure.

“I think it’s something that is negotiable,” he said.


2014 totem pole journey honors tribes’ stewardship of land, water

By Jewell James, courtesy to the Bellingham Herald August 11, 2014 

For generations, tribal peoples have witnessed the impact of faceless “persons” — corporations — on the land, water, air and human and environmental health. Though at times consulted, we have not been heard as a real voice in defending our traditional homeland territories. Instead, we have seen and experienced degradation of environmental integrity and destruction of healthy ecosystems. We suffered as our traditional foods and medicines were lost, and our people’s health plunged.

The Lummi, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, and all Coast Salish tribes, face devastating proposals that would bring coal by rail from Montana and Wyoming to the West Coast for export overseas. Indeed, the Cherry Point (in our language, Xwe’chi’eXen) proposal poses a tremendous ecological, cultural and socio-economic threat to Pacific Northwest tribes.

Xwe’chi’eXen is a 3,500-year-old village site where many of our ancestors lived and made their final resting places. Today, 60 percent of Lummis have direct ancestral ties to this site. Around it, the Salish Sea supports a Lummi fishing fleet (450 vessels) that feeds and supports tribal families.

Coal exports threaten all of this. We fear the desecration of Xwe’chi’eXen, the first archaeological site to be placed on the Washington State Register of Historic Places. We wonder how Salish Sea fisheries, already impacted by decades of pollution and global warming, will respond to the toxic runoff from the water used for coal piles stored on site. How will Bellingham’s recreational and commercial boaters navigate when more than 400 cape-sized ships, each 1,000 feet long, depart Cherry Point annually — each bearing 287,000 tons of coal? What will happen to the region’s air quality as coal trains bring dust and increase diesel pollution? And of course, any coal burned overseas will come home to our state as mercury pollution in our fish, adding to the perils of climate change.

Already, coal export officials have shown breathtaking disrespect for our heritage. To save time and boost profits, Pacific International Terminals bulldozed what they knew to be a registered archaeological site and drained our wetlands without a permit.

This proposal is not based on economic necessity. The inflated number of jobs promised is an old, old story; one filled with promises made, and broken. At the end of the day there would be far fewer jobs created and many sustainable jobs lost or compromised. The defeat of this madness is our aboriginal duty as the first Americans, but it also speaks to the collective interest of all citizens and — most importantly — as members of the human family who are part of, not masters over, creation. But this is a new day.

To those who would sacrifice the way of life of all peoples of the Pacific Northwest, we say: Take notice. Enough is enough! This summer’s proposed changes to the site design are beside the point. Mitigation is not the issue. We will stop the development of the export terminal and put in its place a plan that honors our shared responsibility to the land and waters of Xwe’chi’eXen and all our relations.

In August we make our journey from South Dakota to the Salish Sea and north to Alberta, Canada, stopping with many of the tribal and local communities whose lives unwillingly intersect with the paths of coal exports and tar sands. We will carry with us a 19-foot-tall totem that brings to mind our shared responsibility for the lands, the waters and the peoples who face environmental and cultural devastation from fossil fuel megaprojects. We travel in honor of late elder, and leader, and guiding light Billy Frank, Jr., who would remind us that we are stewards placed here to live with respect for our shared, sacred obligation to the creation, the plants and animals, the peoples and all our relations. He guides us, still. Our commitment to place, to each other, unites us as one people, one voice to call out to others who understand that our shared responsibility is to leave a better, more bountiful world for those who follow.

We welcome you to the blessing of the journey at 9:30 a.m., Sunday, Aug. 17 at the Lummi Tribal Administration Center, 2665 Kwina Road.


Jewell James is a member of the Lummi Nation and head carver of the Lummi House of Tears Carvers.

Read more here:

M’ville mayor wants to bridge gap if coal trains come through town

By: Steve Powell, Arlington Times

MARYSVILLE — Mayor Jon Nehring has a love-hate relationship with the proposal for a new coal terminal in Cherry Point.

What he wouldn’t like would be increased train traffic in town. What he would like is federal and state money to build more bridges over the railroad to improve traffic flow with fewer delays waiting for trains.
Nehring said he’s been fighting the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal north of Bellingham for 3 1/2 years.
“They were trying to slide that through with no comments,” Nehring said.
But he and others met with then-governor Chris Gregoire, who slowed down the process.
“There’s so much opposition now” to it going to Ferndale. “It’s hard to predict” where it might end up, although he said Longview might be a good choice.
The City Council passed a resolution against the terminal in May of 2012.
A survey published July 24 by the Puget Sound Regional Council showed that a new coal terminal north of Marysville would bring up to 18 new trains per day through town. That would slow down commercial and commuter traffic, emergency response times, and ultimately have an economic impact of $1.65 million per year in Marysville alone, the report says.
“The beauty of this is it brings attention to our railroad problems outside of Snohomish County,” Nehring said of the publicity surrounding the survey.
Currently the only routes that bypass the train tracks to get in and out of the city are north and south of town. But if you live, work and/or need business services from 4th to 116th streets, “You have to wait the trains out,” the mayor said.
The mayor and council favor on- and off-ramps at Interstate 5 and 4th Street in a $50 million project.
Nehring said increased coal train traffic wouldn’t bring much help to Marysville. He said Ferndale would see all of the job growth.
The mayor also said the city will see an increase in train traffic no matter what. The report, prepared by a team of consulting firms, points out that freight rail traffic in Washington by 2035 is expected to grow 130 percent to 238 million tons of cargo, even without the new coal terminal. Rail freight already has increased 81 percent from 1991 to 2012, from 64 to 116 millions tons.
Marysville has 16 at-grade crossings on public streets along the north-south rail line. Long trains frequently create backups in town, often clogging the off-ramps from I-5. Wait times at crossings, which range from a total of 22 minutes to an hour and a half per day, could increase by as much as 147 percent per day within Marysville.
The trains are expected to be about 1.6 miles long. One report Marysville commissioned in 2011 noted that a single long train could simultaneously block all the railroad crossings between First Street and NE 88th Street.
Train noise and vibration, vehicle circulation and access impacts, and safety concerns, along with lower property values, are key concerns about increased railroad usage.
The mayor also said he’d like to city BNSF pay more for mitigation of increased train traffic. Federal law limits its cost to 5 percent, about what Wal Mart paid for traffic mitigation for its new store at Highway 529, the mayor noted.
Seattle-based SSA Marine’s Gateway Pacific Terminal project is in the planning stages and isn’t expected to be operating at full capacity until 2019.
City leaders in Marysville have studied their rail problems for years and recently hired a consultant to research alternatives to the city’s multiple at-grade crossings. The new PSRC report estimates that mitigation projects would cost $50 million to $200 million each. Two environmental impact statements are expected in mid-2015, at which time a public comment period will begin.
If the terminal does end up at Cherry Point, Nehring just wants government to mitigate the impacts.
“Just don’t clog our city down,” Nehring said.

Study: Coal Project Would Help One Puget Sound County But Others Would Pay

A council of governments in the central Puget Sound region commissioned a study by an independent consultant. It concluded that economic benefits of a proposed coal export terminal would be concentrated in Whatcom County, where it would be built. | credit: Katie Campbell
A council of governments in the central Puget Sound region commissioned a study by an independent consultant. It concluded that economic benefits of a proposed coal export terminal would be concentrated in Whatcom County, where it would be built. | credit: Katie Campbell


By: Ashley Ahearn, OPB


If it’s built, the coal-exporting Gateway Pacific Terminal will create more than two thousand jobs in Whatcom County during construction and several hundred permanent jobs once it’s operational.

The outlook for the the central Puget Sound region isn’t as optimistic, according to a new economic study from the Puget Sound Regional Council issued Thursday.

“It’s an economic model that creates very few jobs, certainly very, very few in the region … and has grave consequences for mobility here in Puget Sound,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said in response to the study.

Low income communities in Kent and Seattle will be disproportionately affected by the coal train traffic, according to the study. Residential and commercial properties along coal train routes could decline as much as $282.3 million and $133 million, respectively.

“Communities along the rail lines will face a host of negative impacts, most of those are bad for business, with very little positive economic development from this particular activity and there’s no assurance the costs of upgrades won’t fall to us as well,” Constantine said.

With a capacity to export roughly 54 million metric tons of coal per year, the terminal would be the largest facility of its kind on the west coast. It would also have implications for the state’s rail system unlike any of the region’s other coal export proposals.

If BNSF Railway is unable to increase capacity on its main north-south line through Puget Sound, according to the study, the added 18 coal trains per day to and from Cherry Point could cause delays that hurt export-related jobs, stunt port growth and squeeze out current commodities and passenger rail.


Anticipated delays caused by Gateway Pacific Terminal train traffic
A new study commissioned by the Puget Sound Research Council anticipates the 18 additional coal trains per day to and from the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal would create delays at rail crossings.’


The Gateway Pacific project would increase delays at rail crossings between 38 and 85 minutes, according to the study. Those delays could be nearly three hours by 2035 without rail system updates. Rail traffic is expected to increase regardless of whether the terminal becomes operational, and the study did not account for the simultaneous increase in rail traffic of crude oil, which has also caused delays on the region’s rail lines.

Terry Finn, a retired BNSF Railway lobbyist who serves on one of the council’s advisory boards, said in a letter to the council that its study was the latest attempt by opponents to use scare tactics to stop the coal project.

The completed terminal could force an upgrade of existing rail lines, which would instead boost the region’s economy, according to the study.

A business coalition formed to advocate for coal exports called the Alliance for Northwest Jobs & Exports issued a statement in response to the report.

It said that the report’s overall conclusions are not supported by the facts and that “greatly exaggerated costs projected in the study just don’t add up.”

Kathryn Stenger, a spokeswoman for the alliance, said in an email that other studies have concluded that the Gateway Pacific Terminal would economically benefit the entire region. The Washington State Farm Bureau, Association of Washington Business, and Washington State Labor Council have all endorsed Gateway Pacific, she said.

A separate economic study done for the Washington Farm Bureau in 2013 concluded coal terminals would result in lower costs and new markets for other Washington businesses.

BNSF Railway says it is investing approximately $235 million in Washington state this year to expand rail capacity and to replace and maintain network infrastructure.

There are 77 crossings in cities and towns in the Puget Sound area. Kent Mayor Suzette Cook said they present a safety issue as train traffic increases.

“At grade crossings are also a major problem with deaths. We’ve had several deaths occur on our tracks within the last year,” Cook said. “Cities are not in a position to shoulder the cost because other than avoidance of tragedy, the benefits are not there.”