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    Coal port faces huge obstacle in Lummi opposition

    Cultural concerns and treaty rights to protect fish loom large for a shipping terminal near Bellingham.
    The totem pole Jewell James is carving to protest coal exports.

    The totem pole Jewell James is carving to protest coal exports. Photo: Paul K. Anderson, Chuckanut Conservancy.

    Lummi Master Carver Jewell James at work.

    Lummi Master Carver Jewell James at work. Photo: Paul K. Anderson, Chuckanut Conservancy.

    Lummi Nation then-Chair Cliff Cultee (left) and Hereditary Chair Bill James with the check they will burn at Cherry Point.

    Lummi Nation then-Chair Cliff Cultee (left) and Hereditary Chair Bill James with the check they will burn at Cherry Point. Photo: Floyd McKay

    Lummi master carver Jewell James is taking another ceremonial totem pole on a long trip, but this time it won’t be going as a healing pole — like those he carved for the three 9-11 sites — this pole is a political and cultural statement aimed at the export of coal from ports in the Pacific Northwest.

    The pole is taking shape only a few miles from the proposed site of the largest coal terminal in the region, at Cherry Point north of Bellingham on Georgia Strait.

    It’s a site that James and other Lummis regard as sacred; their ancestors lived, fished and died at Cherry Point through the centuries before white men discovered the area, imposed treaties on the natives and pushed them onto reservations.

    The reservations are still there, as are the natives, and pressure continues to bring industry with its economic development, jobs, shipping, railroads, pollution, threats to native fishing areas and trampling of ancient grounds. Over the last two centuries, Cherry Point has seen two oil refineries, an aluminum plant and now plans for yet another giant industry.

    Now, the Lummis appear to be well-positioned to play a key, perhaps the most critical role, in determining the fate of a huge proposal to export coal to China from Cherry Point. If the tribe's objections to the port hold and their treaty rights under federal law withstand any legal questions, the path to approval of the port planned by SSA Marine of Seattle faces a giant obstacle. Company officials, for their part, say they believe the plan can win support from the tribe.

    SSA Marine wants to export 48 million tons annually of Powder River Basin coal, and this time the Lummis are deeply dug in. Their line was first drawn a year ago when Lummi elders burned a ceremonial million-dollar check on the beach at Cherry Point and declared no compromise or financial offer would change their opposition to the Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT).

    Lummi speakers were forceful at seven public meetings last year hosted by public agencies charged with reviewing the proposal. Tribal leaders have hosted public events in Whatcom County, where the fate of two key permits will be decided. They even wrote a play, “But What About Those Promises?” to dramatize exploitation of their ancestors.

    Up next is the totem pole, which begins its journey about Sept. 19 at the Powder River Basin coalfield in Wyoming and follows by truck the long and winding rail route to Cherry Point. Ceremonies and rallies along the way will reach Seattle and Cherry Point about Sept. 27 to 29.

    The Lummis, with regional tribal support, are mounting a two-pronged attack on GPT: the cultural side, headed by James and associates in the Lummi Sovereignty and Treaty Protection Office; and a resource side, relying on key federal court decisions protecting “Usual and Accustomed” fishing rights granted in treaties dating to 1855.

    Lummis are quick to say the two items are inseparable because salmon is integral to every aspect of their — and all Salish tribes' — life. Scholars support that claim and note that Salish tribes have never deviated from their relationship with salmon.

    “Prior to and following the arrival of EuroAmericans, the shorelines of Cherry Point were used as fishing villages and the tidelands and waters of Georgia Strait were used to harvest fin and shellfish for commercial, subsistence, and ceremonial purposes,” Lummi chairman Tim Ballew II said in 24-page letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in January. "Although the Lummi Nation still fishes the waters of Georgia Strait, the resources have been degraded by human activities and shoreline development has precluded the use of traditional hunting, fishing, and gathering sites along the shorelines.”

    The Corps has jurisdiction over wetlands and piers and it must deal directly with the 5,000-member tribe in a “government to government” manner honoring tribal sovereignty.

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    Posted Mon, Aug 19, 9:20 a.m. Inappropriate



    Posted Mon, Aug 19, 10:47 a.m. Inappropriate

    It's no secret that Lummi Nation wants to build a new marina, with all the bells and whistles at the Gooseberry Pt.
    My prediction is they will swallow their opposition when SSA Marine/Peabody offer to build it for them, at no charge.
    Big money talks and BS walks.


    Posted Mon, Aug 19, 11:40 a.m. Inappropriate

    It's happened before: http://blog.catspawimages.com/2011/04/24/elliott-bay-marina/ We'll see how important this particular site is to the Lummis. I think the coal part has more major obstacles to overcome than just buying off one opponent. This is no Elliot Bay Marina...


    Posted Mon, Aug 19, 1:55 p.m. Inappropriate

    "Ballew left open the door for talks with the Corps, and Estok will meet with tribal leaders later this month, a Corps spokesperson says. No mention was made of talks with SSA Marine, however."

    The door is still open...and will be until resolutely slammed shut. If this were the Tulalips or Muckleshoots, one would assume the Tribe's position to be merely a bargaining chip. Fishing rights still get lip service among the local Tribes as a revered cultural artifact, but their usual and accustomed gambling casinos are now the main chance. The Lummis, however, have always been among the more militant native groups, so they are fully capable of drawing a line in the sand. Besides the threat of a lawsuit based on protecting treaty rights, the principal consequence of Lummi opposition to the Cherry Point coal terminal would be its effect on the various federal resource agencies. They would likely become far less lenient and compromising in their review of project environmental impacts.

    The news from Lummi underscores my basic hunch that if any coal port gets approved in Washington, it will be Longview. Local environmental impediments there are fewer, and public opposition far less. And if you look at the rail coal haul routes from the east, the trains almost reach Longview before having to veer north through the Puget Sound region to access Cherry Point. It's so much simpler, quicker and cheaper to just continue west to Longview. Why would anyone choose to go elsewhere?


    Posted Mon, Aug 19, 3:30 p.m. Inappropriate

    The Longview facility certainly has its selling points but, reading between some lines, I think the Columbia bar and the relatively constricted space of the (dredged channel) on the Columbia dampens enthusiasm amongst the shippers. The hulls coming to pick up the coal are, presumably, empty with some ballast; the bar may be a concern for that kind of ship in that load condition. How much seawater ballast can a coal ship take on? and empty? I wish I knew. It could be those concerns that prompted SSA and partners to try for Cherry Point. It's a lot safer.


    Posted Mon, Aug 19, 11:22 p.m. Inappropriate

    The Columbia River bar at the mouth of the Columbia and the Pacific Ocean is well known, and well documented for its dangers. That isn't to intimate that coal transport cannot safely happen in Longview.

    Posted Tue, Aug 20, 4:20 p.m. Inappropriate

    As a journalist, Mr. McKay's credentials are paper perfect. It's a shame that lately, in keeping with modern journalism, he follows the Murdoch/Fox ethic of unabashed bias at the expense of accurate reporting. How long can Crosscut continue to claim to produce "high quality local journalism", if fails to distinguish editorial content from fact?

    I happen to agree with Mr. McKay's activist position on the GPT, and wish the tribe a fair and equitable hearing of its case, but this kind of yellow journalism cannot be held in higher regard than any Limbaugh rant.


    Posted Wed, Aug 21, 2:47 p.m. Inappropriate

    Can you be specific about the "unabashed bias" and "yellow journalism" in this article? How is making generic attacks on someone's reporting any different?


    Posted Wed, Aug 21, 9:06 p.m. Inappropriate

    Agreed. Sidezone - your shorts are all twisted up - for what exactly. It was a simple report on what the Lummi were up to regarding their cultural view of the coal port issue. What exactly is the bias here? Seems a pretty standard cultural interest piece to me without and slant or opinion.


    Posted Thu, Aug 22, 9:21 a.m. Inappropriate

    I hope the Lummis stay resolute in the face of this disastrous proposal.

    The Mucks, on the other hand, would happily accept a fat check for a new fish hatchery in exchange for looking the other way to just about anything, including coal trains, even though their biologists know full well that rising water temperatures, future water shortages and massive floods will make their supposedly beloved salmon a distant memory in just a few generations.

    Mud Baby

    Posted Thu, Aug 22, 8:57 p.m. Inappropriate

    What's the problem? If a super-size Communist Chinese coal freighter sinks, explodes, or collides with an oil tanker and fouls the Salish Sea with oil and coal for several years, we/USA can sue them for damages in a Communist Chinese court. This probably won't happen because Communist Chinese coal freighters are very well maintained and modern and, their courts are fair and just. Aren't they?

    Who wants to sell American coal, a resource owned by the citizens of the USA (public lands), to the Communist Chinese? Keep it in the ground! Sorry Wall Street pigs...No Sale!


    Posted Sun, Aug 25, 1:58 p.m. Inappropriate

    Coal, it's there when you need it. Leave it in a pile under ground for when we do need it.

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