Tribal Fishery Opposes Washington Coal Terminal

Tribal treaty fishing rights give Washington tribes the opportunity to weigh in on, and even block, projects that could impact their fishing grounds.(Ashley Ahearn/KUOW Photo)
Tribal treaty fishing rights give Washington tribes the opportunity to weigh in on, and even block, projects that could impact their fishing grounds.(Ashley Ahearn/KUOW Photo)

December 11, 2013 Here&Now

About a quarter of all the coal the U.S. exports goes to Asian markets. To meet the demand, there are plans to build what would be the largest coal terminal in North America at a place called Cherry Point in the far northwestern corner of Washington state.

But there’s a hitch. The waters surrounding Cherry Point support a fishing industry worth millions of dollars. It’s also a sacred place for the Lummi tribe, whose reservation is nearby. And thanks to a landmark legal decision in the 1970s, tribes have the right to weigh in on — and even stop — projects that could affect their fishing grounds.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Ashley Ahearn of KUOW reports.


Ashley Ahearn, environment reporter for KUOW and part of the regional multimedia collaborative project EarthFix.


Follow link to listen to Transcript



Coal prices are at the highest levels in months thanks to strong demand from Asian markets like China. And to help meet that demand, there are plans to build a huge new coal terminal in Washington State, at a place called Cherry Point. But the waters surrounding Cherry Point support a fishing industry that’s worth millions of dollars, and it’s a sacred place for the Lummi tribe, which has the right to weigh in on or put a stop to projects that could affect their fishing grounds.

From the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, KUOW’s Ashley Ahearn reports.

ASHLEY AHEARN, BYLINE: Jay Julius and his crew pull crab pots up out of the deep blue waters near Cherry Point. From massive buckets on deck comes the clack and rustle of delicious Dungeness crabs in futile attempts at escape. We’re about 15 miles south of the Canadian border.


AHEARN: Jay Julius is a member of the Lummi tribal council. His ancestors have fished these waters, just like he does now, for thousands of years. One out of every 10 Lummi tribal members has a fishing license, and the Lummi tribal fishery is worth $15 million annually.

COUNCIL: So now we’re entering the proposed area for the coal port. As you can see, the buoys start.

AHEARN: Dozens upon dozens of crab pots buoys dot the waters around us, like a brightly colored obstacle course as we approach Cherry Point.

COUNCIL: We see buoys up there.

AHEARN: If the Gateway Pacific Terminal is built, it could draw more than 450 ships per year to take the coal to Asia. Those ships would travel through this area of Cherry Point. The tribe is worried that its shellfish, salmon and halibut fishery will suffer.

COUNCIL: What does that mean to our treaty right to fish? This will be no more.

AHEARN: That treaty right to fish could play a major role in the review process for the Gateway Pacific Terminal and the two other coal terminals under consideration in the Northwest. In the mid-1800s, tribes in this region signed treaties with the federal government, seeding millions of acres of their land. But the tribal leaders of the time did a very smart thing, says Tim Brewer. He’s a lawyer with the Tulalip tribe.

TIM BREWER: What they insisted on was reserving the right to continue to fish in their usual and accustomed fishing areas. Extremely important part of the treaty.

AHEARN: Those treaty rights weren’t enforced in Washington until a momentous court decision in 1970s known as the Boldt Decision. It forced the state to follow up on the treaty promise of fishing rights that were made to the tribes more than a century before. Brewer says the phrase, usual and accustomed fishing areas, has implications for development projects, like coal terminals.

BREWER: If a project is going to impair access to a fishing ground and that impairment is significant, that project cannot move forward without violating the treaty right.

AHEARN: And in recent decades, tribes have flexed to those treaty muscles. The Lummi stopped a fish farm that was planned for the water’s off of Lummi island in the mid-’90s. The tribe argued that constructing the floating net pens would block tribal access to their usual and accustomed fishing grounds.

BREWER: And in that case, the Corps of Engineers denied that permit on that basis. There was no agreement that was bled to be worked out there.

AHEARN: But in other situations, agreements had been made.

DWIGHT JONES: My name is Dwight Jones. We’re at L.A. Bay Marina.

AHEARN: Jones is the general manager of the marina. Behind where he’s standing, Seattle’s Space Needle pierces the downtown skyline in the distance.

JONES: L.A. Bay Marina is the largest privately owned and operated marina on the West Coast. We have about 1,250 slips.

AHEARN: The marina was built in 1991 after a decade of environmental review and haggling with the Muckleshoot tribe. The marina is within the tribe’s treaty fishing area.

JONES: It was contentious, I guess, would be the right word.

AHEARN: Could they have stopped this project from being built?

JONES: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely they could’ve stopped it.

AHEARN: But they didn’t. Instead, the tribe negotiated a settlement. The owners of L.A. Bay Marina paid the Muckleshoot more than a million dollars upfront. And for the next hundred years, they will give the tribe eight percent of their gross annual revenue.

JONES: Anybody in business can tell you that eight percent of your gross revenue is a huge number. It really affects your viability as a business, so…

AHEARN: What would you say to companies that are trying to build a coal terminal?


JONES: I’d say good luck. It’s a long road, and there will be a lot of cost and the chances are, the tribes will make it – will probably negotiate a settlement that works well for them and will be – not be cheap.

AHEARN: SSA Marine and Pacific International Terminals, the companies that want to build the terminal at Cherry Point, have lawyers and staff members trying to negotiate a deal with the Lummi. But Jay Julias, a Lummi councilmember, laughs when I asked him how he feels about the company’s efforts to make inroads with the tribe.

COUNCIL: I say they’re funny, but I think they’re quite disgusting. The way they’re trying to infiltrate our nation, contaminate it, use people – it’s nothing new.

AHEARN: SSA Marine declined repeated requests to be interviewed for this story. But they emailed a statement. It says: We sincerely respect the Lummi way of life and the importance of fishing to the tribe. We continue to believe we can come to an understanding with the Lummi nation regarding the Gateway Pacific Terminal project. For HERE AND NOW, I’m Ashley Ahearn in Seattle. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Coal-export impact study loses steam in Legislature

$150,000 in funding removed from budget to avoid political fray

A coal train is heading north through the old Georgia-Pacific site in Bellingham, Washington. Rail lines that few people noticed for years are suddenly busy with trains, and the increased traffic has generated a backlash in communities across the country.
Philip A. Dwyer — Bellingham Herald/MCT


Published: April 12, 2013 on the Bellingham Herald

A House Democratic budget proposal to spend $150,000 to study the larger economic impact of coal-export facilities on Washington state was dying just one day after majority Democrats introduced their proposed $34.5 billion operating budget plan on Wednesday.

Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, had asked to include the money in the budget, saying it “recognizes the need for Washington to thoroughly evaluate the economic impacts of coal exports in our state.” But Thursday evening the money was on its way to being removed at Carlyle’s request.

“We felt it was a gesture to avoid the potential of a political battle that would not be constructive,” he explained in a text as the House Appropriations Committee was starting work on a series of amendments to the budget measure, Senate Bill 5034. Carlyle said it was he who asked to remove the funds.

The proposal had offered Washington a chance to gain additional information on an issue that is intensifying politically, and Carlyle had initially said lawmakers did not want “to let the project proponents and the federal government be the only sources of information on this issue.”

The coal industry’s attempt to restore its flagging fortunes by shipping much more of the fossil fuel to China and India by way of Washington and Oregon is attracting growing objections.

As McClatchy Newspapers reported last week, the industry has dropped proposals for export terminals in Coos Bay, Ore., and Grays Harbor. The surviving four proposals call for coal exports from the Gateway Pacific terminal near Bellingham, the Millennium Bulk Terminals of Longview, the Morrow Pacific Project at Port of Morrow, Ore., and the Port Westward Project at Port of St. Helens, Ore.

The exports could hit 100 million tons of coal a year and increase carbon emissions by some 240 million tons a year.

Gov. Jay Inslee campaigned on a clean-energy platform and has talked a lot about the economic opportunity in moving away from fossil fuels.

Last month, he joined Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber in asking the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality to consider climate-change and air-pollution impacts of exporting coal from federal lands to Asia.

“We cannot seriously take the position in international and national policymaking that we are a leader in controlling greenhouse gas emissions without also examining how we will use and price the world’s largest proven coal reserves,” they said.

The House budget proviso called for the Office of Financial Management to look at the “potential cumulative economic impacts of proposed coal-export projects in the Pacific Northwest.”

It specified that the agency must take into account impacts to transportation infrastructure, economic development opportunities “forgone in favor of coal-export projects,” global carbon emissions, the state’s major economic clusters, and taxpayers.

The Republican-dominated Senate Majority Coalition Caucus was unlikely to go along. It watered down Inslee’s signature bill on climate change, reducing him to the role of non-voting chairman and stripped the legislation of language spelling out Washington’s vulnerability to global warming and acidifying oceans.

Carlyle said that “given Inslee’s deep reluctance” about the coal exports and a regional economic study by Puget Sound Regional Council, that impacts from the export projects will continue to be assessed.

Native Americans march against coal trains

Idle No More
by LOR MATSUKAWA / KING 5 News,, March 22, 2013

SEATTLE — Two-hundred Native Americans and their supporters marched through Seattle during Thursday night’s rush hour to protest proposed coal trains that would pass through the city on their way  to a shipping terminal planned to be built near Bellingham.

The group called “Idle No More” represented several tribes who support the Lummi Nation, which opposes the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal because they say it would hurt the environment.

“There’s wind energy, there’s solar enegy, there’s tidal energy,” said one of the event organizers, Olivia One Feather of the Standing Rock Nation. “Now is the time to come together and brainstorm on what we can do to move past coal.”

The group rallied at Westlake Park before following a police escort to the headquarters of SSA Marine on Harbor Island. SSA Marine is the terminal’s developer. Senior Vice President Bob Waters said the company respects the right of people to express their opinions. He said the $700,000 project is undergoing a “vigorous” environmental study co-lead by the Washington State Dept. of Ecology, Whatcom County and the Army Corps of Engineers. He said construction is easily “a couple years out.”

As the participants played drums and sang songs of healing, Shania Belgarde, a senior member of the Chippewa Nation, clapped along.  Her message to government leaders: “I’d just like them to listen to us, the Native Americans.  We need our land.”

Watch video coverage here.

124,000+ comments received for proposed Cherry Point terminal

Whatcom County, Washington Depart. of Ecology, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
February 6, 2013



The public provided more than 124,000 comments on the scope of an upcoming environmental impact statement (EIS) for a proposed bulk-cargo shipping terminal and rail spur improvements at Cherry Point, according to a preliminary count by the three agencies that conducted a recently-concluded four-month public comment period.

Form-letters or e-mails made up approximately 108,000 of the total, submitted by people who responded to 24 organized comment campaigns identified so far.  The agencies received more than 16,000 uniquely worded comments. Work continues on a final comment count and breakdown. 

The 121-day comment period ran from Sept. 24, 2012, to Jan. 22, 2013. 

The official website,, provides additional details about the scoping process, project proposals, and displays comments received. 

Pacific International Terminals, a subsidiary of SSA Marine Inc. (SSA), proposes to build and operate the Gateway Pacific Terminal between Ferndale and Blaine. The terminal would provide storage and handling of exported and imported dry bulk commodities, including coal, grain, iron ore, salts and alumina. BNSF Railway Inc. proposes to add rail facilities and install a second track along the six-mile Custer Spur.

Whatcom County, the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology), and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) together are conducting the EIS process for the proposed terminal projects and jointly will produce one EIS. Whatcom County and Ecology must follow the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), and the Corps must follow the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Scoping is a preliminary phase of the EIS process when the agencies identify potential adverse impacts and decide which of these to analyze in the EIS. The three lead agencies gathered input from other agencies, tribes and the public. After considering comments, the lead agencies will decide what should be included in the EIS.

The EIS will evaluate a reasonable range of alternatives, potentially affected resources, significant unavoidable adverse impacts of various alternatives, and explore possible means to avoid, minimize and mitigate effects of the proposals.

The three co-lead agencies hosted seven public meetings during the comment period, which drew total attendance of more than 8,700.  People at the meetings submitted 1,419 hand-written comments and 1,207 verbal comments.  Of the verbal comments, 865 were given in front of audiences, and 342 were recorded individually. 

The agencies consider all comments on an equal basis, regardless of how people submitted them.

The joint NEPA/SEPA EIS process enables the co-lead agencies to avoid duplicated efforts where the two laws overlap, while meeting each statute’s separate requirements.  Parts of the joint EIS process described on the website apply to both statutes and parts apply to one or the other.

The scoping process does not address whether the proposal should receive permits. Scoping only helps define what will be studied in the EIS.  Decisions about issuing permits to construct the proposed projects will not be made until after the EIS is complete.

The co-lead lead agencies plan to issue a scoping report in the next few weeks with a thorough assessment of the comments. Then, they will review that input and issue plans later this year for a draft EIS, which may take at least a year to prepare. The lead agencies will seek public comment on the draft EIS, and then produce a final NEPA/SEPA EIS.