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Cherry Point coal terminal hits another hurdle with lease denial

5 things to know: The proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal

At a time when coal industry is struggling, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will make a decision about a permit application for a coal terminal at Cherry Point. Discover who is backing the project, who is opposing the project, and the kind of imp
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At a time when coal industry is struggling, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will make a decision about a permit application for a coal terminal at Cherry Point. Discover who is backing the project, who is opposing the project, and the kind of imp

Those who hope to build North America’s largest coal export terminal at Cherry Point received more bad news Monday as project backers were denied a needed land lease.

On June 6, Gateway Pacific Terminal’s owners received news their application for an aquatic land lease from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources had been denied by state Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark.

The news followed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers May 9 decision to deny terminal backer SSA Marine’s application for a needed permit. The Corps cited the fact the project would impact Lummi Nation’s treaty-protected fishing rights.

Goldmark wrote that DNR denied the aquatic land lease application, “because the project cannot meet minimum requirements set forth in statute and rule.”

Specifically, state law requires applicants get a permit from the Corps or another federal agency in order to build or improve a structure on state-owned aquatic lands.

“Because Pacific International Holdings, LLC cannot obtain the necessary permit from the Corps of Engineers, DNR cannot approve the lease application for the project,” Goldmark wrote.

Because of Commissioner Goldmark’s decision, the water we rely on to feed our families, for our ceremonies and for commercial purposes remains protected.

Lummi Chairman Tim Ballew

Lummi Chairman Tim Ballew II applauded the decision.

“By denying Pacific International Terminals’ request for an aquatic lands lease for DNR-managed aquatic lands at Cherry Point, we take another huge step toward permanently protecting Lummi’s sacred site,” Ballew said in a news release. “Because of Commissioner Goldmark’s decision, the water we rely on to feed our families, for our ceremonies and for commercial purposes remains protected. But this is more than a victory for our people — it’s a victory for treaty rights.”

Pacific International Holdings and Pacific International Terminals are subsidiaries of SSA Marine.

It’s really as a result of the Corps’ determination. ... That could all change depending on what we do in terms of challenging that decision.

Bob Watters, senior vice president of company seeking to build Gateway Pacific Terminal

SSA Marine Senior Vice President Bob Watters said the company was still looking through the letter with lawyers to determine what it meant.

“It’s really as a result of the Corps’ determination,” Watters said. “That could all change depending on what we do in terms of challenging that decision.”

Watters said the company was still analyzing the best strategy to challenge the Corps’ May decision and could have an announcement on its next steps in a month or so.

“Quite frankly we were completely surprised by the determination,” Watters said of the Corps’ decision. “We believed that was a completely political determination rather than a well-analyzed and thought-out regulatory determination.”

The Corps ruled the project would impact Lummi’s treaty-protected fishing rights based on the fact that the proposed trestle and associated wharf would take up 122 acres over water.

“The Corps may not permit a project that abrogates treaty rights,” Col. John Buck, commander of the Corps’ Seattle District, said at the time the decision was announced.

‘No Coal Community Celebration’ planned for Friday

Along with Lummi Nation, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities welcomed news of the denials, and plans to celebrate “the end of the coal terminal fight” on Friday, June 10.

They and others opposed to the terminal will host a “No Coal Community Celebration” from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday at the Fairhaven Village Green, 1207 10th St.

The celebration was planned after the Corps issued its decision in May.

“This win is a testament to the power and leadership of the Lummi Nation and the dedication of our community,” said Crina Hoyer, executive director of RE Sources, in a news release. “Thousands of concerned families, health professionals, business leaders, tribes, affected communities and elected leaders have helped make this happen.”

There will be speeches, live music, an “appreciation station” where people can make posters and cards thanking Lummi Nation, and a beer garden hosted by Boundary Bay Brewery to raise funds for RE Sources.

When asked for his thoughts on the celebration, Watters said he thought it “may be premature.”

Samantha Wohlfeil: 360-715-2274, @SAWohlfeil

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