Hundreds of Siksika First Nation homes lost to flood

Anger and despair as disaster strikes small community

John Rieti, CBC News

As the truck rattles to a stop, Siksika Chief Fred Rabbit Carrier looks out over the flooded community of Chicago Bridge where houses sit amid floodwater like islands.

Severe flooding has forced around 1,000 Siksika people from their homes on the Alberta reserve, a large portion of which hugs a stretch of the Bow River about 100 kilometres east of Calgary. The disaster has been unfolding there since Friday, when the river poured over its banks and covered some areas with over a metre of floodwater.

“How are we going to recover from all of this is what went through my thoughts,” Chief Rabbit Carrier told CBC News on Sunday.

“There’s a sense of hopelessness… as a leader you have to overcome that and put emotions aside and start working toward the recovery.”

Chief Rabbit Carrier said the community is still in a state of emergency. The reserve’s recreation centre has been turned into a shelter where a list of items — baby formula, diapers, towels, blankets and non-perishable food — are in high demand. The phone in the centre’s main office rings constantly.

“We’ve been very fortunate that we have not lost anybody,” Chief Rabbit Carrier said.

In the lobby, a group of volunteers hoping to rescue animals trapped in the flood gets organized. They’ve already saved several animals, but plenty of barn animals and pets alike have perished. “If it has a pulse, we’ll save it,” one volunteer said.

First Nation feels forgotten

Sally Fox, who has lived on the Siksika reserve for her entire life, refused to go to the emergency shelter, opting instead to sit at a makeshift campsite on the hill overlooking her flooded blue house.

Chicago Bridge resident Sally Fox set up a makeshift camp overlooking her flooded home where she's been since Friday.

Chicago Bridge resident Sally Fox set up a makeshift camp overlooking her flooded home where she’s been since Friday. (John Rieti/CBC)

 

“I hope the house is OK,” Fox said, “but I fear the worst.”

As she looks out, her husband and grandson trudge up the flooded front driveway. It’s the first time since Friday the water’s been low enough in her community of Chicago Bridge to survey the extent of the damage.

While Fox is stoic about the fate of her house, she’s furious with the lack of media coverage.

“It was all about the Saddledome, they forgot about us,” Fox said.

Chief Rabbit Carrier, while pleased by the presence of several news crews on Saturday, agrees. “We had to beg for coverage,” he said.

People on the reserve are “angry” he said, that the media focused so heavily on Calgary’s clean-up while people in Siksika were fighting to save their homes.

The message today, expressed clearly by everyone here is this: Siksika needs help.

Homes lost

In Little Washington, there’s almost a kilometre-wide swath of flowing water still covering the community. Residents say it could be weeks before the community is dry. Even then, most of the 45 houses here likely won’t be saved.

Some 45 homes in the community of Little Washington have been severely damaged.

Some 45 homes in the community of Little Washington have been severely damaged. (John Rieti/CBC)

 

Ratford Black Rider lost his house, three cars and a school bus in the flood.

“The water came in so fast, we only had less than half an hour to get what we can out,” he said.

The four Siksika communities — a popular golf resort on the reserve was also destroyed — hit hardest all sit on low-lying land, nestled beneath foothills. Little Washington residents checking on their homes said there has been some flooding in the past, but it’s never been more than a little water in the basement — not even during the major floods of 2005.

Today the water is still moving quickly, gushing over a cracked Little Washington road on its way toward Medicine Hat.

Chief Rabbit Carrier says he hopes his community can get into “recovery mode” in the next 24 hours. But he said he hopes when the water subsides, people don’t forget about Siksika.

Skokomish Tribe upgrades water quality lab

Charlene Nelson, Shoalwater Bay Tribe chair and Guy Miller, Skokomish Tribe chairman, finalize the Skokomish Tribe’s purchase of water quality lab equipment from the Shoalwater Bay Tribe.

Charlene Nelson, Shoalwater Bay Tribe chair and Guy Miller, Skokomish Tribe chairman, finalize the Skokomish Tribe’s purchase of water quality lab equipment from the Shoalwater Bay Tribe.

Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

The Skokomish Tribe is upgrading its water quality lab to a state-of-the-art facility.

The tribe recently purchased high-end water quality lab equipment from the Shoalwater Bay Tribe to conduct more sophisticated work, such as looking for cancer-causing compounds.

“It’s a major deal for Hood Canal,” said Ron Figlar Barnes, the Skokomish Tribe’s EPA coordinator. “It’s an opportunity for tribes within Hood Canal and Puget Sound to have close access to this type of equipment and help everyone. We’re bringing high-end water quality equipment to a more centrally located area.”

The Shoalwater Tribe used the equipment to research toxins causing reproductive issues with its tribal members. The tribe tested a variety of sources, including water, soil, tissue, marine animals and finfish, looking for compounds that are toxic, such as flame retardants and PCBs.

“We haven’t had a need for it lately though, so now we’re able to pass it on to someone else,” said Gary Burns, director of Shoalwater Bay Tribe’s environmental program.

Without the new equipment, the Skokomish Tribe could test water samples only for dissolved oxygen, e.coli, phosphorus, nitrate, nitrite and ammonia  The tests help alert the tribe to any potential water quality problem in the Skokomish River and potentially Hood Canal. The tribe still has to send off water samples to be tested for fecal coliform but hopes to do it in-house in the future.

“Once the advanced lab is set up, which is expected to be within a year, the tribe will be able to expand testing to include fish and shellfish tissue,” said Figlar Barnes.

“We’re not going to limit ourselves,” said Guy Miller , the Skokomish Tribe Chairman. “We’re going to use it in every way we can to help our people, our community and our natural resources.”

Washington High School Drops Redskins Mascot

Indian Country Today Media Network

Despite widespread community support for keeping the name, Port Townsend High School in Port Townsend, Washington will drop its Redskins name and mascot. The Port Townsend School Board voted unanimously last night to make the change, according to the Associated Press.

The school board’s decision was made on the recommendation of a study group that found that the name was offensive to Native Americans and  it should be retired. But this didn’t sit well with the nearly 300 people in attendance last night, with many routinely cheering speakers who opposed the name change and booing those who took an opposing view, reports the Peninsula Daily News.

With Port Townsend’s decision, only one high school in Washington state still uses Redskins as its mascot, Wellpinit, according to the Capital News Service’s The Other Redskins study.

Students and community members will select a new mascot and nickname for Port Townsend High.

 

Read more at https://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/06/25/washington-high-school-drops-redskins-mascot-150094

Welcome to Fearless Summer: Protesters Block Keystone XL Construction

Indian Country Today Media Network

Eight people locked themselves to construction equipment early on Monday June 24 to inaugurate what the Tar Sands Resistance group has dubbed Fearless Summer, a series of protests against the Keystone XL pipeline and Alberta oil sands development in general.

Nine people were arrested in the civil disobedience action, according to NewsOK.com, chaining themselves to a work trailer and construction equipment outside Seminole, Oklahoma. By 9 a.m. much of it was over, with four people who had been chained to an excavator detaching themselves “for their own safety,” NewsOK.com reported.

“Eight individuals blocked construction of a pump station for TransCanada’s controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline on Seminole land-by-treaty by locking on to equipment in the largest action yet by the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance,” the group said in a statement. “The group took action today, physically halting the construction process, as a part of an effort to prevent the Great Plains from being poisoned by inherently dangerous tar sands infrastructure, as well as demonstrate the necessity for direct confrontation with industries that profit off of continued ecological devastation and the poisoning of countless communities from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf,” the group said. This action comes during the first day of a nationwide week of coordinated anti-extraction action under the banner of Fearless Summer.”

Keystone XL is up for a decision this year, with the final environmental report still pending. Construction of pieces of the project has begun already, in anticipation of full approval.

 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/06/24/welcome-fearless-summer-protesters-block-keystone-xl-construction-150088

Tribes Have Mixed Feelings About Tightrope Walker Coming to the Grand Canyon

Anne Minard, Indian Country Today Media Network

Famed tightrope walker Nik Wallenda last made headlines in June 2012 by tightrope walking across Niagara Falls. This year, he’s headed for a remote section of the Grand Canyon on the Navajo Nation—which also happens to house a site held deeply sacred by the Hopi and other tribes.

The Discovery Channel will air the stunt live on June 23, as Wallenda tightrope walks higher than he’s ever attempted before—1,500 feet above the Little Colorado River near its confluence with the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. His walk over Niagara Falls was only 200 feet off the ground. There’s another difference: he wore a safety harness over Niagara Falls, but will not do so over the Grand Canyon. That’s allowing publicists at the Discovery Channel to advertise the stunt as a “nail-biting” event, and “one of the most daring and captivating live events in history.”

Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation officials say they welcome the event as a chance to showcase their portion of the Grand Canyon. The tribe operates two viewpoints along Highway 64, which runs west from Cameron, Arizona to the Grand Canyon’s oft-visited South Rim in Grand Canyon National Park.

“Our visitation in this part of the Canyon is very low,” said Geri Hongeva, Navajo Parks and Recreation spokeswoman. “We would like families to come visit this area someday. There’s a lot of history; there’s a lot of culture there. We don’t have the budget to reach out to 13 million viewers. This is a great opportunity for us.”

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly is also excited for the spectacle, said his spokesman, Erny Zah.

“He’s happy that Nik wants to come here,” Zah said. “There’s going to be a worldwide audience that’s going to have the ability to see what we have to offer on the Navajo Nation. Any time we can take the spotlight for a little while and showcase our land, he’s definitely excited about that.”

Not everyone is as thrilled. Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, director of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office, said his biggest concern is a cultural one. The Hopi Tribe has identified the Little Colorado River Gorge as a significant clan migration route.

“The Gorge and the Canyon are not about taking lives,” he said. “They’re about life, especially the spiritual lives of our ancestral people.”

Kuwanwisiwma said when a base jumper died in the area last year due to a parachute failure, it presented a cultural burden to the Hopi people—and, he suspects, to the Navajos living nearby.

“We were told that this guy is not wanting to wear a safety harness,” Kuwanwisiwma said. “What if he does fall? It’s another cultural dilemma for the Hopi people.”

For Wallenda, 34, his boldness represents a meaningful personal conquest.

“The stakes don’t get much higher than this,” he said in a Discovery Channel press release. “The only thing that stands between me and the bottom of the canyon is a two-inch thick wire.”

Wallenda said the event will be the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to walk at such a great height as well as a chance to honor his great-grandfather, the legendary Karl Wallenda, who died after falling from a tightrope in Puerto Rico in 1978.

Kuwanwisiwma said there have been other concerns about the approval process for the stunt on the Navajo side. Despite a 2006 agreement between the two tribes to honor each others’ cultural and religious sites, there wasn’t so much as notification—much less consultation—before the event was permitted.

“That didn’t make us too happy, that we had to learn about it ourselves,” he said.

Nevertheless, the permit has been granted and the date has been set. Hongeva said the Navajo Nation Park and Recreation Department will have to follow the lead of Discovery Channel security teams, and assist in keeping the public away from the actual location. Spectators will be allowed to congregate at Navajo Tribal Park near Cameron, but space will be limited. She’s advising fans to show up no later than noon to watch the 6 p.m. walk. Once Wallenda begins, he’s expected to finish in about 40 minutes.

Nik Wallenda looks out at the Grand Canyon, where he'll walk the tightrope without a safety harness in June. (Courtesy Discovery)
Nik Wallenda looks out at the Grand Canyon, where he’ll walk the tightrope without a safety harness in June. (Courtesy Discovery)
Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/04/07/tribes-have-mixed-feelings-about-tightrope-walker-coming-grand-canyon-148632

Even without terminals, coal trains will increase

Trains would feed growing, but much smaller, terminals in B.C.

Jennifer Buchanan / The HeraldA coal train passes through Everett in May. Proposed export terminals would increase the number of trains between Seattle and Bellingham.

Jennifer Buchanan / The Herald
A coal train passes through Everett in May. Proposed export terminals would increase the number of trains between Seattle and Bellingham.

Bill Sheets, The Daily Herald

If coal export terminals proposed for the Pacific Northwest are never built, the number of trains rumbling through Washington state filled with coal would still increase.

Coal is already shipped from British Columbia, and terminals there are expanding.

Based on projected numbers, however, those increases would not come close to equaling the combined capacity of the terminals proposed for Cherry Point near Bellingham and two others in the Northwest.

Opponents of building coal export terminals in Washington say they would bring traffic congestion from the number of trains, and generate coal dust and greenhouse gases.

Supporters say Cherry Point will create jobs — 4,400 temporary, construction-related jobs and 1,200 long-term positions, according to SSA Marine, the Seattle company that wants it built.

If Washington says no to the terminal, coal trains will still come through Western Washington, but the jobs will go north to Canada, SSA Marine spokesman Craig Cole said.

“We do know there’s demand (for coal in Asia) and port operators will seek to service that demand, whether they’re in the United States or British Columbia,” he said.

The proposed $650 million Gateway Pacific terminal at Cherry Point would add an average of 18 trips per day — nine full trains going north and nine empty trains traveling southbound — between Seattle and Bellingham. Marysville, which has 16 street crossings, and Edmonds, with a crossing at the ferry dock, would be the communities most affected in Snohomish County.

On average, about four coal trains per day pass through Snohomish County on their way to Canada, according to BNSF Railway.

The Cherry Point terminal could ship an estimated 60 million tons per year of coal, grain, potash and scrap wood for biofuels to Asia. Coal would make up the bulk of the shipments, according to the state Department of Ecology, which is handling the environmental review for the project. That review is expected to take at least a couple more years.

The Millennium terminal proposed for Longview, Wash., would have a coal capacity of about 48 million tons, according to the ecology department. Trains to this port would travel across the state but not north to Seattle and beyond.

Another smaller terminal targeted for Boardman, Ore., on the Columbia River could handle just under 9 million tons.

Together, these ports could ship 117 million tons per year.

Possible expansions at the five ports in British Columbia could add 55 million tons per year to their current capacity, according to numbers compiled by SSA Marine.

If all of the B.C. expansions come to pass, they would roughly equal the output of Gateway Pacific.

“There will be additional coal that will be going to British Columbia, and we will be working hard to increase the percentage,” said Jim Orchard, senior vice president of marketing and government affairs for Cloud Peak Energy, a coal-mining company based in Denver.

At the same time, it won’t equal what could be shipped through the U.S. terminals, he said.

Cloud Peak operates two mines in Wyoming and one in southeastern Montana, in the area known as the Powder River Basin, Orchard said.

The greater the shipping capacity, the faster the coal can be mined without piling up, he said.

Without the U.S. terminals, “the timing with which we get to new reserves, it just would take longer,” Orchard said.

The largest potential British Columbia terminal expansion could occur at Ridley Terminals in Prince Rupert, B.C., 460 miles north of Vancouver by air.

This port gets ships to northern Asian ports one day faster than those sailing from Vancouver and three days faster than ships leaving from Long Beach, Calif., according to the Ridley website.

Right now, Ridley handles about 12 million tons per year. It has plans to double to 24 million tons, but has access to a vacant area nearby that could allow it to grow by 36 million tons or more on top of its current capacity, according to numbers compiled by SSA Marine.

It could potentially grow by even more than that.

Adjacent to Ridley’s current terminal is a 110-acre wooded tract called “Area A” that could be used by the terminal for further expansion, according to quotes from Ridley president George Dorsey in Coal Age magazine in March 2012.

“All that’s needed are the capital investments necessary,” Ridley said in the story. “Area A gives us the capacity to double the facility, from 24 (million tons) to 50 (million tons) and beyond. There’s so much space, it’s infinitely expandable.”

A Ridley official could not be reached for further comment.

“B.C. terminal operators are very competitive and capable and, like most businesses, will creatively endeavor to find a way to meet needs,” said SSA Marine’s Cole.

Still, Prince Rupert’s distance from the U.S. mines would increase travel costs, said Dennis Horgan, vice president and general manager of the Westshore Terminal in Tsawwassen.

“It’s a long way up there,” he said.

Currently, BNSF trains carrying coal through Washington end their run at Tsawwassen, said Courtney Wallace, a spokeswoman for the railroad.

Westshore is increasing its capacity by 4 million tons per year, to 33 million, and will be maxed out, Horgan said.

Some trains do pass over the Canadian Rockies carrying coal from Wyoming mines to Prince Rupert, according to Horgan.

“It’s still a long way,” he said.

Most of the coal shipped from Prince Rupert comes from British Columbia, Horgan said.

Westshore and Ridley ship only coal, he said. Neptune Terminal and Fraser Surrey Docks in Vancouver handle a mix, and Pacific Coast Terminals, based in Port Moody, ships mostly sulfur but has plans to add coal, according to Horgan. These terminals put together are much smaller than the Tsawwassen and Prince Rupert facilities.

Other commodities could figure into the picture, Wallace of BNSF Railway said.

“It is important to keep in mind that freight rail traffic will increase with or without coal export,” she said in an email. “Train volumes through any community ebb and flow based on several factors: market demand, customer needs, economic conditions, etc.

“Washington state’s economy is built on trade and ports and demand is increasing domestically for all goods as the population grows,” she said. “That’s a good thing, especially for a state like Washington that is heavily dependent on trade.”

Subsistence fishermen appeal convictions

Rachel D.Oro, Associated Press

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Nearly half of the subsistence fishermen who were found guilty of illegal fishing on the Kuskokwim River are appealing their convictions.

Their attorney, James J. Davis Jr., filed a notice a notice of appeal, triggering a process that could last months before arguments are made.

Assistant Attorney General Laura Fox said 11 fishermen are appealing the convictions handed up in Bethel in May. The appeals were filed earlier this month.

The Yup’ik fishermen were cited last year during a poor king salmon run.

During their trials before a judge, about two dozen fishermen argued they have a spiritual right to fish for king salmon when restrictions are in place. The fishermen’s defense was based on a free exercise clause of the Alaska Constitution.

Bruce Ward, an acting District Court judge, found the state’s need to restrict kings supersedes the fishermen’s religious rights.

In siding with the state, Ward said he looked at the case closely, reviewing a case decided by the Alaska Supreme Court in 1979. The case shows that the free exercise clause may work when religion is involved, the conduct is religiously based and the person is sincere. Ward said the fishermen met the first two requirements and addressed the sincerity question in individual trials.

Ward, however, decided that there is a compelling need to restrict the Kuskokwim king run based on recent data.

Davis was camping in recent days and not reachable by phone. But he said earlier in an email the goal of the appeal is to “reverse the trial court and hold that there were other things the state could have done to protect subsistence.”

Davis has said the state could press for action against the commercial Pollock trawlers that catch thousands of kings each year as bycatch off Alaska’s coast. He also maintains the state can protect king runs and still allow Yup’ik fishermen a subsistence priority over non-Yup’ik residents, even for a short fishery limited to people with a spiritual connection to it.

In the convictions, Ward imposed $250 fines for all but one fisherman, who was fined $500. They fishermen also were placed on probation for one year.

Altogether, 60 fishermen from western Alaska originally faced misdemeanor charges of using restricted gear or fishing in closed sections of the Kuskokwim River during the king run last summer.

Most charges were later reduced to minor violations. Many of the fishermen pleaded guilty to the reduced counts and were ordered to pay $250 fines.

The Plight of the Honeybee—and How You Can Help

Darla Antoine, Indian Country Today Media Network

Honeybees are holy. They are matriarchal powerhouses, spiritual catalysts . . . and they’re dropping like flies.

It’s a phenomenon that’s become known as Colony Collapse Disorder. While its causes are contested and debated, it’s largely agreed that the bees are dying from some sort of a combination of exposure to pesticides (in the field and in their hive), and of exposure to pathogens and viruses. All of which may potentially be caused, and prevented, by commercial beekeeping practices. This is a big deal because it’s estimated that we rely on bees for up to 40 percent of our food—bees are the pollinators that make our food happen!

It’s been attributed to Einstein, but someone once said that if the honey bee goes extinct, we humans will follow four years later.

FOUR years later.

So what can you do? Well you can buy your honey locally for starters. Big operation beekeepers often harvest all of the honey in their hives and give the bees high fructose corn syrup to live off of during the winter. They also buy pre-fabricated honeycombs to speed the honey-making process up and to make the slats of honey produce more uniformly. The honeycomb is where the Queen bee lays her eggs. There are generally two sizes of honeycomb in a hive: large and small. These different sizes create different kinds of bees, which lends biodiversity to the hive, creating a healthier, stronger, hive. For example: the smaller honeycombs create bees that are disease tolerant, while the larger honeycombs create bees that are tolerant to the cold. That means that if there is a sudden cold snap, some of the disease-resistant bees might die, but there would be plenty of cold-resistant bees left to keep the hive going and to help regenerate it. And vice versa.

The problem in most commercial operations is that they slip in pre-fabricated honeycombs to save time and to get the bees producing honey faster. These combs are also reusable and disposable—easier and cleaner to work with. However, these combs are also only come in one size: large. That means large commercial productions for honey have a lot of cold-resistant bees and not many disease-resistant ones, which may be one reason so many honeybees have died in the last few years. This then leads commercial beekeepers to use antibiotics and pesticides in their hives— which is bad for the bees and bad for us when we ingest their honey or use the beeswax.

Another bonus to buying your honey locally: the honey will be infused with local pollens (from the pollen-collecting process) and over time this exposure to local pollens will help reduce or eliminate your seasonal allergies.

What else can you do to help the bees out? Become a beekeeper! It’s really pretty simple and inexpensive to get into beekeeping. I recommend finding a local beekeeper and asking her for some tips on getting started. You can also check out area beekeeping organizations for classes on beekeeping and other sources for getting everything you need to get started. You can also check out websites like BackYardHive.com Also be sure to check with your city or county ordinances—sometimes you can get a property tax break for having a hive on your land.

If you’re not a beekeeper, but still want to help the little beauties out, plant a diverse selection of flowers in your garden to help attract bees and consider not using chemical applications on your plants and soil. The bees will thank you for it.

Darla Antoine on a recent visit to Washington State.
Darla Antoine on a recent visit to Washington State.

 

Darla Antoine is an enrolled member of the Okanagan Indian Band in British Columbia and grew up in Eastern Washington State. For three years, she worked as a newspaper reporter in the Midwest, reporting on issues relevant to the Native and Hispanic communities, and most recently served as a producer for Native America Calling. In 2011, she moved to Costa Rica, where she currently lives with her husband and their infant son. She lives on an organic and sustainable farm in the “cloud forest”—the highlands of Costa Rica, 9,000 feet above sea level. Due to the high elevation, the conditions for farming and gardening are similar to that of the Pacific Northwest—cold and rainy for most of the year with a short growing season. Antoine has an herb garden, green house, a bee hive, cows, a goat, and two trout ponds stocked with hundreds of rainbow trout.

 

Read more at https://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/06/21/plight-honeybee-and-how-you-can-help-150038

Biologists want island for salmon habitat; farmers worry about livelihoods

Dan Bates / The HeraldA bald eagle prepares to leave its perch on Smith Island near I-5 and the Snohomish River in January.

Dan Bates / The Herald
A bald eagle prepares to leave its perch on Smith Island near I-5 and the Snohomish River in January.

Noah Haglund, The Herald

EVERETT — Biologists see Snohomish County’s Smith Island project as their best chance to revive threatened chinook salmon in the Puget Sound basin.

Others consider it a threat to their livelihood.

The project is a massive undertaking to breach an old 1930s dike along Union Slough north of Everett and build new dikes farther from the water. By flooding more than 300 acres, the county hopes to bring back some of the salmon habitat converted to farmland after settlers arrived here in the 1800s.

“The Snohomish River basin is the most important chinook-producing river in the Puget Sound area, second only to the Skagit River system,” County Councilman Dave Somers said. “Rebuilding the Snohomish River is a very top priority for the entire Puget Sound.”

By sheer size, the Smith Island proposal is the second largest estuary-restoration project in the region after the 750-acre Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in the south Puget Sound.

It will come at a price: $18 million, most of it from grants. The total includes $2 million from the city of Everett.

That’s an awful lot to pay, some argue, for a project estimated to restore 900 or so spawning adult chinook per year to the Snohomish River and its tributaries.

There’s more to the cost than what the county will pay. A neighboring lumber mill and tree farm worry that resulting changes to the estuary could put them out of business. At a minimum, they want to see the county conduct more thorough studies.

There’s also a vocal contingent of farmers dead-set against what they view as needless destruction of what is now agricultural land. State law, they correctly point out, requires the county to protect farmland, even as federal law often spells out conflicting steps to protect salmon.

You can expect to hear more about Smith Island in the coming months — and beyond. After years of study, the county on June 10 issued a final environmental impact statement. That’s a precursor to seeking permits.

Balancing the competing needs of farmers and fish is one of the trickiest feats governments in Western Washington are asked to perform. It’s why Snohomish County convened the nonpartisan Sustainable Lands Strategy three years ago to seek equilibrium.

In Snohomish County government, it’s easy to find leaders on both sides of the fish-farmer teeter-totter.

Somers, who worked as a fisheries biologist for the Tulalip tribes before joining the County Council, said there’s solid science behind the Smith Island project and its benefits for salmon.

The county arrived at this point after more than a decade of study, he said. Nobody was forced from the land.

“We bought the land from a willing seller,” he said. “We have not condemned any land.”

Councilman John Koster, a former dairy farmer, is staunchly opposed because once saltwater floods the ground, it will become unfarmable.

“The bottom line for me is it’s taking out in excess of 300 acres of farm ground when we have people looking to farm and (it flies) in the face of our mandate to conserve farm ground,” he said.

While opposed to the project, Koster can’t see any way for the county to back out. To sell the land, the county would have to repay grants used for the purchase years ago.

“This is a freight train running down the track and I don’t know that it’s even possible to stop it,” Koster said.

The fate of the Smith Island project, from here on, won’t necessarily rest with the County Council.

With a final environmental impact statement issued, people can ask Snohomish County to consider any unanswered concerns.

The county must submit a shoreline development permit, among others, before breaching dikes or any construction. That permit can be appealed after it’s issued, likely late this year. The appeal would go to a state hearings board.

Smith Island sits between Union Slough to the east and the main stem of the Snohomish River to the west.

The county project involves the part of the island east of I-5 and north of Everett’s sewage treatment plant.

Buse Timber, on the west side of I-5, is one of the businesses that could be affected. Originally founded in 1946, Buse has about 70 workers and is now employee-owned.

“We’re not opposed to the project, we just need some assurance,” said Mark Hecker, Buse’s recently retired president and a former commissioner with the local diking district.

The company has two concerns: being protected from floodwaters and being able to use Union Slough to float logs to the mill.

“We’ve never had any flooding as long as those dikes have been there,” Hecker said. “So they’re pretty strong.”

Buse wants the county to make commitments about dredging the slough if the new dike system causes it to silt up.

“That channel is pretty critical for us,” Hecker said. “If that were shut off, it would seriously impact whether we could run or not.”

Another nearby business facing potential effects is Hima Nursery, an 80-acre organic farm on the east side of I-5. Owner Naeem Iqbal worries that tampering with the dikes would prevent his land from draining properly and allow saltwater to seep in, potentially wiping out his nursery.

On Friday, Diking District 5, which is comprised of local landowners, voted to appeal the county’s final environmental impact statement. They’re asking the county for further examination the issues business owners have raised.

“Negotiations with the county have been going on for two and a half years and some of those issues aren’t resolved yet,” attorney Peter Ojala said.

If not for the fish-habitat plans on Smith Island, some farmers would like to grow crops there.

Ken Goehrs, of Everett, represents a Mount Vernon farmer who’s had trouble finding good cropland in the Snohomish Valley.

As Goehrs sees it, the county is looking to spend millions to destroy ag land. If farmed, that same land could provide jobs for dozens of agricultural workers.

“There is not enough farmland here to start with,” he said. “It’s going to destroy farmland. It’s going to take jobs out of the valley and it’s going to take taxes out of their (the county’s) coffers.”

The Smith Island project was spawned by the 1999 Endangered Species Act listing of the chinook salmon.

To address the problem, the federal government in 2007 adopted an overall Puget Sound recovery plan, part of which addresses the Snohomish River basin.

The Smith Island property, by 2001, already had been identified the best of a dozen places in Snohomish County for re-creating salmon habitat, according to a report from the county’s Public Works Department. The other sites would have carried similar costs for realigning dikes.

Federal studies have identified two distinct populations of naturally spawning chinook salmon in the Snohomish estuary: Skykomish chinook and Snoqualmie chinook. Several environmental factors, including habitat loss, have driven those populations to about 3 to 6 percent of historical levels, respectively.

The Puget Sound Partnership, which consists of government agencies, businesses and the public, said the spot near the mouth of the Snohomish River has importance beyond those two groups of salmon.

“This project potentially benefits all 22 populations of chinook in Puget Sound, including Nisqually fish leaving Puget Sound that may use the Snohomish estuary as well,” spokeswoman Alicia Lawver said.

If completed, the Smith Island project would satisfy about a quarter of the goals for restoring salmon habitat in the Snohomish River basin.

Supermoon will rise in weekend night sky

The supermoon of 2012 rises over Entiat, Wash., in this photo by skywatcher Tim McCord snapped on May 5, 2012. (Tim McCord)

The supermoon of 2012 rises over Entiat, Wash., in this photo by skywatcher Tim McCord snapped on May 5, 2012. (Tim McCord)

Joe Rao, Space.com

The largest full moon of 2013, a so-called “supermoon,” will light up the night sky this weekend, but there’s more to this lunar delight than meets the eye.

On Sunday, June 23, at 7 a.m. EDT (1100 GMT), the moon will arrive at perigee — the point in its orbit its orbit bringing it closest to Earth), a distance of 221,824 miles. Now the moon typically reaches perigee once each month (and on some occasions twice), with their respective distances to Earth varying by 3 percent.

But Sunday’s lunar perigee will be the moon’s closest to Earth of 2013. And 32 minutes later, the moon will officially turn full. The close timing of the moon’s perigee and its full phase are what will bring about the biggest full moon of the year, a celestial event popularly defined by some as a “supermoon.”

You can watch a free webcast of 2013 supermoon full moon on SPACE.com on Sunday at 9 p.m. EDT (0100 June 24), courtesy of the skywatching website Slooh Space Camera.

While the exact time of the full moon theoretically lasts just a moment, that moment is imperceptible to casual observers. The moon will appear full a couple of days before and after the actual full moo most will speak of seeing the nearly full moon as “full”: the shaded strip is so narrow, and changing in apparent width so slowly, that it is hard for the naked eye to tell in a casual glance whether it’s present or on which side it is.

During Sunday’s supermoon, the moon will appear about 12.2 percent larger than it will look on Jan. 16, 2014, when it will be farthest from the Earth during its apogee.

Supermoon’s big tides
In addition, the near coincidence of Sunday’s full moon with perigee will result in a dramatically large range of high and low ocean tides. The highest tides will not, however, coincide with the perigee moon but will actually lag by up to a couple of days depending on the specific coastal location. [The Moon Revealed: 10 Surprising Facts]

For example, for New York City, high water (6.3 feet) at The Battery comes at 8:58 p.m. EDT on Sunday, or more than 12 hours after perigee. From Cape Fear, N.C., the highest tide (6.5 feet) will be attained at 9:06 p.m. EDT on Monday, while at Boston Harbor a peak tide height of 12.3 feet comes at 12:48 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, almost 2 days after the time of perigee.

Any coastal storm at sea around this time will almost certainly aggravate coastal flooding problems. Such an extreme tide is known as a perigean spring tide, the word spring being derived from the German springen, meaningto “spring up,” and is not — as is often mistaken — a reference to the spring season.

Spring tides occur when the moon is either at full or new phase. At these times the moon and sun form a line with the Earth, so their tidal effects add together (the sun exerts a little less than half the tidal force of the moon.) “Neap tides,” on the other hand, occur when the moon is at first and last quarter and works at cross-purposes with the sun. At these times tides are week.

Tidal force varies as the inverse cube of an object’s distance. We have already noted that this month the moon is 12.2 percent closer at perigee than at apogee. Therefore it will exert 42 percent more tidal force at this full moon compared to the spring tides for the full moon that will coincide with apogee next January.

Huge moon at moonrise
Usually the variation of the moon’s distance is not readily apparent to observers viewing the moon directly.

Or is it?

When the perigee moon lies close to the horizon it can appear absolutely enormous. That is when the famous “moon illusion” combines with reality to produce a truly stunning view. For reasons not fully understood by astronomers or psychologists, a low-hanging moon looks incredibly large when hovering near to trees, buildings and other foreground objects. The fact that the moon will be much closer than usual this weekend will only serve to amplify this strange effect.

So a perigee moon, either rising in the east at sunset or dropping down in the west at sunrise might seem to make the moon appear so close that it almost appears that you could touch it. You can check out this out for yourself by first noting the times for moonrise and moonset for your area by going to this website of moonrise times by the U.S. Navy Oceanography Portal.

Happy moon-gazing!