Allow review of coal terminal to address concerns of all

As the nearly four-year-long review of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal nears completion, opponents of the project at the Cherry Point industrial park seem intent on saying and doing anything necessary to stop this project before all the facts are compiled and released to the public.

A Feb. 6 opinion column and a Feb. 18 article by Chris Winter in The Herald were the latest salvos, painting a picture of tribal interests being ignored and sacred fishing grounds being desecrated in the pursuit of new development. A clear-eyed look at the facts tells an entirely different story.

The issue of tribal treaty rights has always been included in the public scope of analysis outlined as part of the public record in defining what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would evaluate in its review of the proposed Gateway facility. And honestly, they should consider this important question. The Lummi Nation, like every other stakeholder, has a right to have its issues and concerns thoroughly evaluated in the decision making process.

The Lummi and their concerns, however, are only one consideration in this process. The other stakeholders — including other tribal interests, such as Gateway project partners the Crow Nation — are afforded the same rights as the Lummi in having their interests weighed before a decision is rendered. Just as it would be irresponsible for the Army Corps to grant a permit upon consideration of only one of the 37 environmental elements identified through public comment for the analysis scope, the agency shouldn’t deny the permit at this point in the process without evaluating all the other environmental impacts as planned.

The Lummi recently suggested in this paper that they have spent years “researching the impacts of a shipping terminal at Cherry Point. The effects that the terminal would have on treaty rights cannot be mitigated.” If true, the Corps’ review and final environmental impact statement will only bolster their efforts by identifying and outlining those concerns. There is no harm or impact to the Lummi in the near-term by completing this agreed-upon review. The only conceivable reason the tribe has for wanting to short-change the process at this late stage is they may be worried that analysis won’t support their position.

The impact of the Corps’ next move won’t be limited to the proposed shipping terminal at Cherry Point. A decision by the Corps to approve or deny the permit based on the concerns raised by one party, prior to holding a public comment hearing, could set a dangerous standard for circumventing the process and dissuade public involvement with future projects including the Lummi Nation’s proposed 250-slip yacht marina slated for Fisherman’s Cove.

It’s only right that permitting decisions about large-scale projects that will greatly affect our community not be made behind closed doors without transparency of an administrative record or the opportunity for public comment. The public environmental review scope includes treaty rights and a “no-project” alternative, and these concerns should be evaluated publicly upon the release of the draft environmental review statement, not prior.

Looking to the future, the Gateway Pacific Terminal will play a critical role in sustaining this region for generations to come. It will create thousands of family-wage jobs for organized labor in the state, including some of my union’s brethren, and will generate millions of dollars in new revenue for our local schools and community, yet there are a lot of factors and points of view to consider before this port is built. The worst thing that could happen now, however, is if the review process that’s designed to protect all the disparate interests with a stake in this project is suddenly cut short, the facts of the situation are ignored, and the concerns of one group are considered with greater weight than others. It’s imperative that we let the process play out.

Doug Scott is president of the NW Washington Building &Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO.

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