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.

 

Yakama Nation Protests Coal Export Terminal

Yakama Nation fishers and tribal leaders hopped on boats to the fishing site. As a protest, they dropped a net right next to the proposed Morrow Pacific coal export facility. | credit: Courtney Flatt

Yakama Nation fishers and tribal leaders hopped on boats to the fishing site. As a protest, they dropped a net right next to the proposed Morrow Pacific coal export facility. | credit: Courtney Flatt

 

By Courtney Flatt, NPR

BOARDMAN, Ore. — Yakama Nation tribal members took to the Columbia River Tuesday to protest a proposed coal export facility in eastern Oregon. The tribe says the export facility would cut fishers off from treaty-protected fishing sites along the river.

More than 70 people held signs and waved flags on the banks of the Columbia River, just downstream from the proposed Morrow Pacific coal export terminal.

Fishers and tribal leaders rode boats to the treaty fishing site, dropping a fishing net right next to the proposed coal export facility to assert their treaty fishing rights.

Yakama Nation Chairman JoDe Goudy has fished the Columbia River since he was 6 years old. He said the proposed coal export terminal would threaten the river, fish, and the tribes’ treaty-protected fishing rights.

“We believe that an attack on these things is an attack on our very essence and our way of life,” Goudy said.

Ambre Energy, the company backing this export terminal, has said the project will not interfere with treaty fishing rights.

Goudy said the tribe isn’t concerned about whether any company chooses to acknowledge treaty fishing rights.

“[Our fishing rights] exist, regardless of what they wish to say on black and white, or on anything that they can document. We live it. We see it. We know it. We practice it on an annual basis. We practice it when the fish come. We go where the fish are,” Goudy said.

Yakama Nation fishers and tribal leaders hopped on boats to the fishing site. As a protest, they dropped a net right next to the proposed Morrow Pacific coal export facility. | credit: Courtney Flatt

Yakama Nation fishers and tribal leaders hopped on boats to the fishing site. As a protest, they dropped a net right next to the proposed Morrow Pacific coal export facility. | credit: Courtney Flatt

 

Members from the Lummi Nation also traveled to the protest. The tribe is fighting another proposed coal export terminal near Bellingham, Washington.

Just before Lummi Nation council member Jay Julius hopped on a fishing boat, he said it’s tribal members’ responsibility to protect future generations and their fishing rights.

“The coal company said they don’t fish here anymore, and we’re going to prove them wrong. The treaty doesn’t say, ‘if they fish here sometimes.’ It’s pretty clear. It says all usual and accustomed areas,” Julius said.

Julius said a larger proposed coal export terminal at Cherry Point would directly impact fishing areas there.

The Morrow Pacific Project would transport about 9 million tons of coal per year from the Powder River Basin to Boardman in eastern Oregon. Coal would then be barged down the Columbia River to Clatskanie, Oregon. From there, it would then be transported to Asia.

Documents Reveal Coal Exporter Disturbed Native Archaeological Site

Ashley AhearnLummi tribal council member Jay Julius points to an area of Cherry Point that was disturbed by Pacific International Terminals.

Ashley Ahearn
Lummi tribal council member Jay Julius points to an area of Cherry Point that was disturbed by Pacific International Terminals.

BELLINGHAM, Wash. – Three summers ago the company that wants to build the largest coal export terminal in North America failed to obtain the environmental permits it needed before bulldozing more than four miles of roads and clearing more than nine acres of land, including some wetlands.

Pacific International Terminals also failed to meet a requirement to consult first with local Native American tribes, the Lummi and Nooksack tribes, about the potential archaeological impacts of the work. Sidestepping tribal consultation meant avoiding potential delays and roadblocks for the project’s development.

It also led to the disturbance of a site from which 3,000-year-old human remains had previously been removed—and where archeologists and tribal members suspect more are buried.

Pacific International Terminals and its parent corporation, SSA Marine, subsequently settled for copy.6 million for violations under the Clean Water Act.

According to company documents obtained by EarthFix after the lawsuit made them public, Pacific International Terminals drilled 37 boreholes throughout the site, ranging from 15 feet to 130 feet in depth, without following procedures required by the Army Corps of Engineers under the National Historic Preservation Act.

Map showing locations of 37 boreholes that Pacific International Terminals drilled at the proposed site of the Gateway Pacific Terminal.
Map showing locations of 37 boreholes that Pacific International Terminals drilled at the proposed site of the Gateway Pacific Terminal.

(The original document the image is from, is available here.)

 

The Gateway Pacific Terminal is one of three coal export facilities proposed in Oregon and Washington. Mining and transportation interests want to move Wyoming and Montana coal by train so it can be loaded onto vessels on the Columbia River or Puget Sound and shipped to Asia.

The projects have been met with strong opposition from various groups concerned about increases in train and vessel traffic, coal dust and climate change.

The conflict between Gateway Pacific developers and the Lummi tribe underscores just how deep opposition can run among Native Americans whose homelands are in close proximity to proposed coal-shipping facilities. For tribes, the stakes include the protection of their treaty fishing rights and the sanctity of their ancestral burial grounds.

One of the boreholes at the Gateway Pacific site was drilled within an area designated as “site 45WH1,” the first documented archaeological site in Whatcom County, about 20 miles south of the Canadian border.

Boreholes are drilled to test the soil composition and geology of a site. In this case, the test was to help determine if the ground at Cherry Point could stand up to 48 million tons of coal moving over it each year.

Government regulators and tribal officials say they were unaware of Pacific International Terminals’ non-permitted work at Cherry Point until a local resident was out walking in the area, saw the activity, and reported it.

Pacific International Terminals said it was an accident. The company had planned to drill 36 more boreholes at the site before their activity was reported.

According to a document the company submitted to the Army Corps of Engineers four months prior to the non-permitted activities at the site, Pacific International Terminals knew the exact location of site 45WH1 and had said that “no direct impacts to site 45WH1 are anticipated as the project has been designed to avoid impacts within the site boundaries.”

In the document the company said that to mitigate potential impacts it would have an archaeologist on hand for any work done within 200 feet of site 45WH1. The company also acknowledged that it needed an “inadvertent discovery plan” in case human remains or other artifacts were uncovered, and that it would be required to consult with the Lummi tribe under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act before any work could begin at the site. Pacific International Terminals did none of those things.

“By going ahead and doing it illegally and then saying, ‘oh sorry,’ but actually having the data now, it allows them to start planning now,” said Knoll Lowney, one of the lawyers who represented the Bellingham-based environmental group RE Sources in its lawsuit against the terminal’s backers. “That way if they get their permits someday they’re ready to build right then.”

Pacific International Terminals and its parent company, SSA Marine, declined repeated requests for an interview; Bob Watters, senior vice president of SSA Marine, emailed this statement:

“We sincerely respect the Lummi way of life and … their cultural values. Claims that our project will disturb sacred burial sites are absolutely incorrect and fabricated by project opponents. We continue to believe we can come to an understanding with the Lummi Nation regarding the Gateway Pacific Terminal.”

Site 45WH1

Cherry Point and the waterways surrounding it are a culturally significant place for the Lummi Nation and other tribes. Ancestors of the Lummi peoples hunted, fished and buried their dead at Cherry Point for more than 3,000 years. And there is no shortage of archaeological evidence to prove it.

45WH1, a small section of Cherry Point, just 50 by 500 meters in size, is the most extensively studied archaeological site in Whatcom County. The location is not shared publicly because it is spiritually important to the tribe and they are afraid of people looting the site.

Western Washington University Faculty Herbert Taylor and Garland Grabert conducted seven separate field excavations at the site between 1954 and 1986.

Western Washington University Anthropology Professor Sarah Campbell. (Ashley Ahearn)
Western Washington University Anthropology Professor Sarah Campbell. (Ashley Ahearn)

Both archaeologists have since died. Sarah Campbell, a professor of anthropology at Western Washington University, has studied the artifacts from 45WH1 since the late 1980s. It is a large collection, filling 150 boxes and includes harpoon points, shells, amulets, lip ornaments, reef net weights, beads, jewelry, blades and bone and rock tools, among other things.

Cherry Point is an area rich in potential for future research, Campbell says as she sorts through boxes filled with tiny plastic bags, each one labeled “45WH1.”

The area was used not only to hunt and fish, but also to manufacture reef net weights made of stone, which suggests permanent residence at the site. Campbell and others believe the site was used extensively over a long period of time, spanning from 3,500 years ago until relatively recently.

Arrow point found at site 45WH1. (Ashley Ahearn)
Arrow point found at site 45WH1. (Ashley Ahearn)

The Lummi signed a vast majority of their traditional land away in a treaty with the federal government in 1855. A portion of their traditional land known today as Cherry Point was taken at a later date; the tribe has disputed whether this was done lawfully. It is now owned by SSA Marine and Pacific International Terminals.

“That’s one of those things that makes Cherry Point important is it has a long time span,” she says. “And it provides the chance to see the changing use over time. The chance to do those comparisons through time is really important and useful.”

The Western Washington University collection also includes human remains, and Campbell believes that there are more Lummi ancestors buried at Cherry Point.

“It would be highly, highly, highly unlikely that there are not human remains in unexcavated areas of the site,” she cautions. “It’s absolutely prudent to assume that there are.”

‘My People’s Home’

From the deck of his fishing boat, the God’s Soldier, Lummi tribal council member Jay Julius looks to the shore of Cherry Point. He says that, for the Lummi, the spiritual and cultural value stretches far beyond the boundaries of site 45WH1.

“I see this as my people’s home. I can envision it,” Julius says quietly. “I know what’s there now.”

Reef net weights, carved from the rocks of Cherry Point. (Ashley Ahearn)
Reef net weights, carved from the rocks of Cherry Point. (Ashley Ahearn)

Julius cites Pacific International Terminals’ unpermitted activity at Cherry Point as a major source of tribal opposition to the Gateway Pacific Terminal.

“When I come out here, it’s all that’s on my mind—is what took place here at Cherry Point when these guys bulldozed over it and called it an accident,” he said. “It’s obvious. It doesn’t take a genius to figure it out.”

Despite the fact that the Lummi tribal council asserted its “unconditional and unequivocal” opposition to the Gateway Pacific Terminal in a letter it sent to the Army Corps of Engineers on July 30, the Lummi chose not to take part in the civil suit brought by RE Sources.

That, the group’s attorney Knoll Lowney said, would have strengthened the environmental group’s case against Pacific International Terminals and SSA Marine. The Lummi had standing in a civil court because they could have demonstrated that they were harmed, culturally and spiritually, by Pacific International Terminal’s unpermitted activity at Cherry Point.

“If they don’t take part in the legal process, they’re weakening themselves. They’re throwing away their weapons,” said Tom King, an expert on the National Historic Preservation Act who served on the staff of the federal Advisory Council For Historic Preservation in the 1980s.

The council oversees the permitting of projects that could affect places of historic and archaeological significance, like the Gateway Pacific Terminal.

It is unclear why the Lummi decided against participating in the environmental lawsuit. Diana Bob, attorney for the Lummi, declined to be interviewed for this story.

King said Pacific International Terminals’ non-permitted drilling and disturbance at Cherry Point could put approval of the Gateway Pacific Terminal at risk because the company skirted the requirements of the so-called “106 process” under the National Historic Preservation Act.

“I think the Lummi have a very strong case,” he said. “The site, the area, the landscape—they can show that it’s a very important cultural area and permitting the terminal to go in will have a devastating effect on the cultural value of that landscape.”

The Army Corps of Engineers is now working on finalizing what’s called a “memorandum of agreement” between Pacific International Terminals and the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation. The Army Corps says the document, which was obtained by EarthFix and KUOW under the Freedom of Information Act, will serve as a retroactive permit.

The Lummi Nation refused to sign the memorandum or accept the $94,500 that was offered as mitigation.

For now, the coal terminal backers are being allowed to move ahead with the permitting process. But that doesn’t mean the larger questions have been resolved around how compatible a coal export terminal is at a location where local Native Americans have lived for millennia.

The tribe and historical preservation officials with the state and federal governments have written letters to the Army Corps objecting to its decision limiting the geographic area studied to determine the potential for damage to archeological resources at Cherry Point—another point of contention as the review continues.

 

Environmental coalition wants single coal port study

By Bill Sheets, The Herald

A coalition of environmental groups is asking the federal government to step in and combine the environmental studies for three different coal export terminal proposals into one.

In addition to the Gateway Pacific terminal proposed for Cherry Point near Bellingham, export terminals also are proposed for Longview in southwest Washington and Boardman, Ore., on the Columbia River.

Earthjustice, a Seattle environmental law firm, sent a letter on Wednesday to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers offices in Seattle and Portland.

The letter was signed by 11 environmental groups, including Climate Solutions, National Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club and the Washington Environmental Council.

The Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports, a Seattle-based group of business organizations and others formed to support the export terminals, issued a counterstatement to the environmental groups’ request Wednesday.

“This is a stall tactic, pure and simple,” said Lauri Hennessey, a spokeswoman for the Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports.

“We continue to support the (environmental study) process as it exists today.”

Meanwhile, last week, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, a coalition of tribes in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Northern California, issued a joint resolution opposing fossil fuel exports.

“We will not allow our treaty and rights, which depend on natural and renewable resources, to be demolished by shortsighted and ultimately detrimental investments,” said Tulalip Tribal Chairman Mel Sheldon, Jr., who is a vice chairman for the tribal coalition, in a written statement.

The environmental groups’ letter points out that while the terminals will be located only in those three towns, the trains will be carrying coal from Montana and Wyoming across Idaho and Washington state.

The Gateway Pacific terminal, proposed by SSA Marine of Seattle, would serve as a place to send coal, grain, potash and scrap wood for biofuels to Asia. Trains would bring coal from Montana and Wyoming across Washington state to Seattle and north through Snohomish County to Bellingham.

The terminal is expected to generate up to 18 more train trips through Snohomish County per day — nine full and nine empty.

Proponents, including U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., point to job creation. Opponents say the plan could mean long traffic delays at railroad crossings and pollution from coal dust.

More than 14,000 people registered comments on the Gateway Pacific plan last fall and winter. The comments are being used to determine the environmental issues to be studied. The process is expected to take at least a couple of more years.

Meetings were not held in Montana or Idaho despite the fact that trains will be rolling through those states, the groups point out.

The petition asks for the area-wide study to include the effects of increased mining in Wyoming and Montana; increased rail traffic throughout Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon; and the effect of coal exports on domestic energy security and pricing. The petition also asks for hearings to be held around the region.

On the positive side, the plan is projected to create 1,200 long-term positions and 4,400 temporary, construction related jobs, according to SSA Marine.

No hearings have been held yet for the Longview terminal, said Larry Altose, a spokesman for the state Department of Ecology. The Army Corps of Engineers has yet to require a study for the terminal in Oregon, according to Power Past Coal.

Common aspects of the two terminals in Washington state may be studied together as it stands now, he said. The ecology department and Army Corps of Engineers are working on both the Bellingham and Longview proposals, with help from Whatcom and Cowlitz counties, respectively.

For instance, if train traffic from the Longview terminal has a ripple effect on train traffic north of Seattle, or vice versa, then it may be included in both studies, Altose said. The same goes for any other issues, such as coal dust, that may be addressed in the studies, he said.

Washington’s ecology department, of course, does not have jurisdiction in Oregon.

Therefore “the unified approach is something that would involve the federal government,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the Army Corps of Engineers office in Seattle could not be reached for comment.