Is this any way to protect Puget Sound?

Gathered on the shore of Maury Island, residents wonder how we could be allowing Glacier Northwest to start loading nearly 3 million tons of gravel a year.
Gathered on the shore of Maury Island, residents wonder how we could be allowing Glacier Northwest to start loading nearly 3 million tons of gravel a year.

This morning, under a gray sky, a knot of people in nylon and Gore-Tex stood on the gray stones of a Maury Island beach beside the gray waters of Puget Sound. Above them, a steep, sandy bank rose to the gleam of wet Madrona. Kayaks, canoes, and other small craft were pulled up on the stones. Offshore, a couple of kayakers bobbed in the waves while happy dogs retrieved large sticks. Just up the shore, a tall orange-and-white crane stood on a dark barge, ready to start dismantling the long, decrepit dock and conveyor belt that, 30 to 40 years ago, transferred gravel to other barges for projects around the Sound.

If all goes according to plan, the old dock will be replaced by a new one, some 400 feet long, that will load nearly 3 million tons of gravel a year onto huge barges for the profit of Glacier Northwest, a subsidiary of the Japanese multinational, Taiheyo Cement. Each barge will carry some 10,000 tons, or roughly as much gravel as the mine currently produces for local use each year. Just last week, after 10 years of permitting, litigation, and maneuver, outgoing Commissioner of Public Lands Doug Sutherland gave Glacier a lease to operate on state aquatic lands at the site. The Department of Ecology, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had already approved. These people had gathered on the shore to protest Sutherland'ꀙs decision.

Some held signs referring to Glacier'ꀙs donation of $50,000 to a PAC that supported Sutherland in his unsuccessful campaign for a third term. For Sutherland to rule in Glacier'ꀙs favor after his campaign benefitted from that donation was unseemly — as was his decision to rule in the short time between losing the election and heading out the door.

How can it be legal for Glacier to do that in a designated state marine reserve, along an undeveloped shoreline, in a spot flanked by eelgrass beds, in the year 2008? Good question. Eelgrass? No problem. Glacier'ꀙs slatted dock will minimize shading of the eelgrass beds, its dock extension will keep tug propellers more than 100 feet away, and its computer modeling shows the propeller wash won'ꀙt do the eelgrass any harm. Effects of noise on marine mammals? No problem. (Not that anyone has really looked.) Effects of noise on people who live in houses just up the beach? No problem there, either. Glacier won'ꀙt be allow to run 24/7. Nights and weekends should be quiet.

And yet, and yet . . . If we'ꀙre really so filled with ardor for saving Puget Sound, how does this project make sense? Why hasn'ꀙt the governor tried to stop it? Why hasn'ꀙt the Legislature?

These are not questions that have escaped People for Puget Sound president Kathy Fletcher or the other people who were standing on the shore. Some have vowed to keep fighting. At nine o'ꀙclock this morning, the people still standing there sang a chorus of 'ꀜWe Shall Overcome,'ꀝ then walked back up the beach, picking their way between shoreline deadfall and a rising tide.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Daniel Jack Chasan

Daniel Jack Chasan

Daniel Jack Chasan is an author, attorney, and writer of many articles about Northwest environmental issues.