Two Lummi Nation leaders explored buying land for development at Cherry Point without permission from the tribe, and right next to the site of a proposed coal export terminal the tribe has fought against for years, according to emails obtained by The Bellingham Herald.
The emails show Lummi Indian Business Council member Henry Cagey, who the council has since started a recall process against, reached out to the state Department of Natural Resources this fall, along with Bernie Thomas, who has been placed on paid leave from his position as education director at Lummi Nation School.
They were interested in learning how to buy 160 acres of DNR-owned land off Kickerville Road at Cherry Point.
The parcel they were interested in borders land owned by Pacific International Terminals, the SSA Marine company that has been trying to get approval for the Gateway Pacific Terminal there.
Lummi Nation received a victory against the terminal earlier this year when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied a needed permit for the over-water pier, as it would interfere with treaty-protected fishing rights.
Cagey was charged with neglect of duty and gross misconduct by the LIBC on Wednesday and will have the opportunity to dispute the charges at a special council meeting Nov. 26, when he may be recalled.
On Oct. 4, Thomas wrote to DNR’s tribal liaison Joenne McGerr to introduce himself and explain that he was “working closely with Henry Cagey,” who he had previously served with on the Lummi Indian Business Council.
Thomas wanted to see if it would be possible to buy the land before the end of the year. He and Cagey had visited the site a few years ago, and it had been offered to Lummi Nation, Thomas wrote, but at the time they didn’t have the money.
“Now we believe we have found the means to purchase the land but with a very short window of opportunity to do so,” the email reads.
McGerr asked other DNR staff to provide the related state laws and outline the process, but when she found out the property bordered the PIT-owned land, she decided to contact Lummi Chairman Tim Ballew II to clarify what the plans were.
She explained that she had been talking with Thomas, who had indicated there wasn’t a council resolution to buy the land yet, and that the land would “be for LNG storage or something like that, but said it wasn’t completely decided yet.”
“He said that a friend of the Tribe (he mentioned that this friend owned the White Sox and some other team) was going to buy it and just ‘give it’ to the Tribe,” McGerr wrote to Ballew on Oct. 28.
In an Oct. 17 email to Steven Edelson and Henry Cagey, Bernie Thomas said he had told the state Department of Natural Resources, “the land would be used for all lawful purposes, for example, a ocean container van storage or processing plant compatible with BP Refinery.”
After she realized the parcel was on the same site as PIT land, McGerr wanted to know if the tribe was pursuing an agreement with PIT.
“It’s confusing to hear talk of LNG storage and similar development, given the conversations between yourselves and the Commissioner,” she wrote.
The tribe has asked DNR Commissioner Peter Goldmark to remove an aquatic “cutout” set aside for the coal terminal pier and incorporate that land into the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve. Public comments are being accepted on that proposal through Friday.
Ballew replied Oct. 29 to say all of that was news to him, and he was alarmed tribal officials would lead her to believe that Lummi has interest in a project that hadn’t been discussed by leadership, especially at Cherry Point.
The council, including Cagey, adopted a resolution early this year to protect Xwe’Chi’eXen (the traditional name for Cherry Point) “from projects that compromise the integrity of the sacred sites,” Ballew wrote. The council has adopted similar resolutions several other times dating back to the 1990s.
After the recall against Cagey was started, Thomas asked McGerr in an Oct. 31 email to correct her statements, as she had “erroneously reported one suggested land use as LNG rather than what I said which was propane storage and distribution to tribal elders.”
But in an interview Wednesday, Thomas said there wasn’t any plan for the land, and he had only reached out to DNR to clarify what the process would be to buy it.
LIBC had passed a resolution in 2008 to explore possibilities for that site, and Thomas said the tribe ultimately would have to decide what the property would be used for if it wanted to buy it.
“There’s a wide range of discussions about what could the land be used for,” Thomas said. “The interest in the land was just that, the land. … Some sort of economic reason would have to be conjured up as to what it would be, but I certainly wasn’t going to propose anything in particular.”
Thomas said he didn’t have permission to say who the man was who was interested in the site, but did say it wasn’t White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf.
In an Oct. 17 email to Edelson and Cagey, Thomas updated the two on his communication with DNR and said he had told McGerr, “the land would be used for all lawful purposes, for example, a ocean container van storage or processing plant compatible with BP Refinery.”
This story was updated at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016, after Edelson’s identity was confirmed.