Timeline: Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point

Jay Julius and his daughter Teja Julius pull a crab pot from the water on Sept. 15, 2015, near Cherry Point in Washington. Julius, a Lummi tribal member, said a proposed coal terminal nearby would threaten the tribe’s ability to harvest crab and salmon. On May 9, 2016, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied a required permit for the terminal, dealing a possibly fatal blow to the project.
Jay Julius and his daughter Teja Julius pull a crab pot from the water on Sept. 15, 2015, near Cherry Point in Washington. Julius, a Lummi tribal member, said a proposed coal terminal nearby would threaten the tribe’s ability to harvest crab and salmon. On May 9, 2016, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied a required permit for the terminal, dealing a possibly fatal blow to the project. eabell@bhamherald.com

“Time immemorial:” Lummi Nation fishes off Cherry Point.

Jan. 22, 1855: Lummi fishing is protected by the Point Elliott Treaty, signed by Puget Sound tribes and the U.S. government.

1954: Operations begin at what is now Phillips 66 refinery and pier.

1966: A second pier begins operations at Cherry Point: Alcoa’s Intalco Works.

1971: A third Cherry Point pier opens at what is now BP Cherry Point.

June 1, 1971: Washington’s Shoreline Management Act takes effect.

1972: 21,000 gallons of oil spill off Cherry Point. Evidence suggests herring population suffered long term as a result.

Feb. 12, 1974: Boldt decision in federal court reasserts treaty fishing rights, says tribes have right to half the fish in “usual and accustomed” areas.

Aug. 27, 1976: Whatcom County’s new shoreline management program, arising from the 1971 Shoreline Management Act, designates Cherry Point as a “conservancy” with industrial uses allowed. Conservancy status clashed with multiple industrial proposals for Cherry Point over the next decade.

1976: Chicago Bridge and Iron proposes to build offshore oil drilling rigs at the site that later would be proposed for Gateway Pacific Terminal. (The drilling rig proposal is rejected in 1982 by the governor, citing Shoreline Management Act.)

June 4, 1982: While in Seattle, former Secretary of Transportation Brock Adams mentions Cherry Point as “a prime prospect” for a new coal terminal.

1983: Kiewit proposes to build offshore oil drilling rigs on the Cherry Point uplands (plan rejected in 1984 by the state, citing Shoreline Management Act).

June 9, 1987: State and local officials work with industry to create the Cherry Point Management Unit, which relaxes the 1971 Shoreline Management Act to encourage development by streamlining permitting and allowing certain types of dredging.

June 18, 1992: Pacific International Terminals submits an application for a pier to ship cargoes including coal, potash, fertilizer “and possibly some outgoing petroleum products.” The project, Gateway Pacific Terminal, conflicted with another development proposed at the same time — Cherry Point Industrial Park. County and state officials said they would allow only one pier. The industrial park eventually was abandoned.

1996: All herring fisheries closed to protect the dwindling population.

May 9, 1996: A federal judge upholds a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decision to deny a permit to Northwest Sea Farms, which wanted to build a salmon farm west of Lummi Island that would have kept Lummi fishers out of 11 acres of their accustomed fishing grounds. The ruling is cited by the Corps and the tribe in 2015 as establishing the standard for protecting fishing rights.

Feb. 5, 1997: Lummi council raises concerns about GPT, including disruption of historic sites and fishing practices, degradation of water quality, and infringement of tribe’s senior water right.

April-June 1997: The total mass of spawning herring, a major food source for endangered chinook salmon, drops below 3,000 tons and stays below that level through 2015. From 1973 to 1986, herring averaged 9,200 tons around Cherry Point. The Department of Fish and Wildlife estimated that 3,200 tons of herring need to survive to spawn if the species is to be viable locally.

May 13, 1997: County council approves GPT’s 1992 application.

June 18, 1997: State appeals county approval of GPT, citing concerns over herring and other issues. Environmentalists file separate appeal.

Aug. 31, 1999: Appeal of GPT dismissed after parties reach settlement. The agreement includes a prohibition on port development at Cherry Point after GPT, participation by PIT in salmon and herring population studies, a vessel traffic study, and numerous environmental protections.

Aug. 1, 2000: Waters off Cherry Point declared an aquatic reserve, protecting them from “conflicting uses” until herring and salmon populations rebound. Still allowed: a wastewater pipeline at Birch Bay and the piers at BP Cherry Point refinery, ConocoPhillips refinery, Alcoa Intalco Works, and the proposed GPT.

2002: Negotiations between PIT and the state Department of Natural Resources for a commercial tidelands lease put on hold pending the release of the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve Management Plan.

November 2010: Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve Management Plan released.

January 2011: Australian thermal coal’s monthly price peaks at US$141.94 per metric ton.

February 2011: In second try for port, PIT submits water-quality permits to state and federal agencies.

Feb. 28, 2011: PIT’s project information document gives extensive details of the new GPT. Major exports initially would be coal, potash and coke.

Feb.-April 2011: Letters and statements of support for GPT come from local leaders including mayors of the small cities and Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike; U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett; Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale; and Rep. Vincent Buys, R-Lynden.

June 3, 2011: Mayor Pike reverses himself, announces opposition to GPT. He cites heavy exports of coal.

June 6, 2011: PIT submits major project permit to county.

July 19, 2011: County inspects GPT site, finds unpermitted land clearing and damage to wetlands.

Sept. 14, 2011: Price of Powder River Basin coal peaks. This is the source of the coal to be shipped from GPT.

Dec. 12, 2011: RE Sources files a federal lawsuit against PIT for filling wetlands on its property without a permit.

Sept. 21, 2012: Lummi Nation burns a symbolic check during a ceremony at Cherry Point, to signal PIT money will not buy the tribe’s support.

Sept. 24, 2012: 120-day scoping period begins for environmental impact statement, known as an EIS. Public asked to comment on what the EIS should include.

Oct. 27, 2012: 2,000 attend a scoping meeting at Squalicum High School, with most in attendance opposed to the terminal.

Nov. 29, 2012: Terminal supporters make a stronger showing at a scoping meeting in Ferndale, although opponents accuse the proponent of hiring day laborers to hold places in line.

Jan. 21, 2013: Scoping period ends with the public submitting 125,000 comments.

July 31, 2013: State, county officials announce broad environmental review of GPT will include train traffic, human health impacts and overseas greenhouse gas emissions.

Sept. 18, 2013: Lummi members make first stop in totem pole journey demonstrating opposition to GPT. Tribe makes similar totem pole journeys in 2014 and 2015.

Oct. 1, 2013: Federal judge agrees to a settlement between RE Sources and PIT over the 2011 wetland violation, with PIT paying $1.6 million.

Feb. 27, 2014: Contract signed to begin EIS. 13-month timetable eventually extended due to delays.

April 18, 2014: PIT submits a revised terminal layout that takes up less space and affects fewer wetlands.

Dec. 18, 2014: Ecology publishes a vessel traffic study of the risk of spills and increased disruptions to fishing from 487 vessels per year coming and going from GPT.

Jan. 5, 2015: Lummi Nation asks Army Corps of Engineers to halt GPT to protect treaty fishing rights, citing results of the vessel traffic study.

July 29, 2015: Congressmen from coal-rich Montana urge the Corps to complete draft EIS before ruling on Lummi fishing rights.

Aug. 3, 2015: Alpha Natural Resources Inc., the nation’s second-largest coal company, files for bankruptcy after losing almost all its market value since 2011.

October 2015: Wyoming-based Cloud Peak Energy Logistics announces it will halt its coal exports through Westshore Terminals, south of Vancouver, B.C., agreeing to pay a series of penalties for opting out of shipments from 2016 through 2018. It cites low coal prices as the reason.

Dec. 3, 2015: U.S. House Resolution 8 passes. It includes a piece, Section 2006, pushed by U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Montana, that would stop the Corps from halting the GPT project until after the EIS is complete and all applicable federal agencies have finsined their reviews. The measure has not yet passed the Senate.

December 2015: Global Coal Sales Group, which markets thermal coal produced by Montana-based Signal Peak Energy, says it will scale back its exports through Westshore through 2018.

January 2016: Australian thermal coal drops to $53.37 per metric ton, 38 percent of its January 2011 peak and its lowest price since December 2006.

Jan. 11, 2016: Arch Coal, one of the largest players in the Powder River Basin, files for bankruptcy protection.

February 2016: Cloud Peak Energy, which has a 49 percent stake in GPT, reports a $205 million loss for 2015 because of sagging coal prices and lack of demand.

Feb. 10, 2016: Analyst Andy Roberts, who was among the most bullish on the GPT project and coal, reverses course in a report, saying the export terminals that once seemed essential are “nothing more than a risky long term bet.”

March 16, 2016: Peabody Energy, which back in 2011 announced it might export 24 million tons of Powder River Basin coal per year via Gateway Pacific, warns it may file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. It is no longer involved in GPT. Shares of Peabody, the nation’s largest coal miner, have fallen more than 97 percent in the past year.

April 1, 2016: SSA Marine announces it is suspending the environmental review, known as the EIS, for the project until the Army Corps of Engineers decides if the project interferes with tribal fishing rights.

April 13, 2016: Peabody Energy files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

May 9, 2016: Corps rejects permit for GPT, ruling it would interfere with the treaty-protected Lummi fishing rights. The ruling likely blocks the terminal from being built.

Sources: Department of Natural Resources, SSA Marine, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, The Bellingham Herald archives