State could put cutout for proposed Cherry Point coal terminal in aquatic reserve

Lummi fisherman Jay Julius steers his boat as his cousin Austin Brockie, center, and daughter Teja Julius, right, sort through fresh-caught crab on Sept. 15, 2015, near Cherry Point.
Lummi fisherman Jay Julius steers his boat as his cousin Austin Brockie, center, and daughter Teja Julius, right, sort through fresh-caught crab on Sept. 15, 2015, near Cherry Point. eabell@bhamherald.com

The state Department of Natural Resources will consider incorporating an area set aside for the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal into the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve after a request from Lummi Nation earlier this week.

On Monday, Sept. 12, Lummi requested DNR reevaluate an area that was left out of the reserve when it was put together for the then-proposed terminal, which would be the largest coal terminal in North America.

In May, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied GPT a needed permit because it would impact Lummi Nation’s treaty-protected fishing rights, and DNR followed suit, denying a separate lease application because the federal permit hadn’t been obtained.

“The Lummi Indian Business Council cited those treaty rights in asking Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark to include the terminal’s cutout in the reserve’s boundaries,” DNR announced in a statement Thursday, Sept. 15.

When the Cherry Point management plan was made, DNR drew lines around existing or proposed agreements to use state-owned aquatic lands in or next to the reserve, according to the DNR statement. One of those was for Gateway Pacific Terminal.

“Specifically, we are formally requesting a boundary change to the Reserve to include the ‘cutout’ formerly intended for the no longer viable Pacific International Terminal (PIT) industrial pier,” the Sept. 12 letter from LIBC reads. “The Reserve is located on the western shores of Whatcom County and was intended, at least in part, to protect this unique ecosystem that is central to our Schelangen (‘Way of Life’).”

Land designated as part of a reserve is basically unavailable to be leased from the state for new uses, and the intent of creating the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve was to ensure long-term environmental protection of that area, according to the area’s management plan.

The management plan states DNR will consider new uses in the reserve for existing industrial piers and one new pier (as of now, that would be the area set aside for the proposed terminal) as well as recreational activities, environmental education, research, restoration and a few other uses.

“Significantly, the area that we know as Xwe’Chi’eXen (Cherry Point), is of profound cultural and spiritual significance to our people,” the LIBC letter states. “We insist that the Reserve be managed in a manner that neither violates our treaty rights, nor our cultural values.”

As made clear by the Corps’ denial of PIT’s application for GPT, the letter continues, “an industrial pier within the ‘cutout’ is incompatible with the Reserve’s management objectives intended to ensure consistency with the avoidance of impacts to treaty rights as well as the protection of our cultural values.”

The process of amending the reserve could take a few months, and will have to go through a public review through a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) process, said Joe Smillie, a DNR spokesman.

Over the next few weeks, the agency will put together a committee of technical experts to work on the amendment, and more information about the public input process will be made available, Smillie said.

“We haven’t done this before, this type of amendment,” Smillie said. “We’re expecting it to take two or three months.”

Goldmark has the final decision on any boundary change, the DNR news release states.

“Our decision to consider the Lummi request is consistent with the Army Corps’ determination,” Goldmark said in the announcement. “We respect the efforts of the Lummi people to maintain their treaty fishing rights.”

SSA Marine, backer of the terminal proposal, did not return a call seeking comment Thursday.

Samantha Wohlfeil: 360-715-2274, @SAWohlfeil