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The Gristle

Fix’s Foxy Fix

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

FIX’S FOXY FIX: In 2011, the Port of Bellingham dredged the I&J Waterway and adjacent areas at the mouth of Squalicum Creek. The agency dumped the dioxin-tinged dredge spoils across the bay on city property at the foot of Cornwall Avenue—itself an old landfill for wood waste and industrial byproduct, significantly tainted with dioxins, furans and other toxins associated with pulp mills and wood treatment—and covered the spoils with white plastic sheeting. The agency did all this without a hell of a lot of public process, and in doing so foreclosed on any number of potential cleanup strategies and locked in a dismal policy of covering contaminants with other contaminants that will become the model for the cleanup of Bellingham Bay. Now, after other options have been unilaterally foreclosed upon, the state Dept. of Ecology seeks the public’s permission in a review of DOE’s draft cleanup plan for the Cornwall property.

Maneuvering behind the scenes to lock in a dismal fait accompli has become the port’s standard procedure for the central waterfront.

Contra the Gristle’s report of potential delays in permits for Whatcom Waterway, POB Executive Director Rob Fix boasted to listeners at the members’ breakfast of the Building Industry Association of Whatcom County (BIAWC) last week that the permits had all been taken care of through sly maneuvering with the district commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Colonel Bruce Estok is due to retire his command at the end of July, Fix told listeners, and is committed to move those permits off his desk. Lummi Nation is divided on the merits of its petition for a more thorough cleanup of Whatcom Waterway, he assured builders.

“The commissioners were told by staff on Thursday the outgoing colonel had intimated he wanted the cleanup docs off his desk by June,” Port Commissioner Michael McAuley confirmed.

All of this is, of course, surprising news to Lummi Nation.

“We met with the Colonel for several hours this week, and he said nothing about a decision being imminent,” LIBC Chairman Tim Ballew said. Ballew said that the port cutting a deal with USACE without working with the tribe would be be judged as a serious breach of partnership with the Lummi Indian Business Council.

Whether there might be a sliver of difference among individual tribal members about their commitment to the integrity of the marine environment, the salient information is there is no difference of opinion at all about that on LIBC, the seat of tribal government. To claim otherwise is foolish.

“The only real difference of opinion on the council,” an elder tells the Gristle, “is some of us want to work together with the local community to come up with a plan that works for everybody and others don’t give a rip, we’ll work it out through our treaty with the federal government.”

That’s not a split the port should want to hew at with a pickaxe, as disputes can take decades to wind through federal courts. Lummi, meanwhile, has nearly 160 years of experience with disputes lasting for generations. Memories are long in Indian Country, and all that’s changed in a century is tribes have grown prosperous as courts honor the contracts of treaty.

Fix’s foxy fix is a ghastly misread of Indian organization and intent on par with General Custer’s confident ride into a blind defile at Little Big Horn. Make no mistake: Downstream of the port’s cocky arrogance, a betrayed and angered Lummi Nation can block things off for the City of Bellingham in ways too numerous to detail. The city will suffer the consequences, even as port staff high-five and twerk their little victory.

“An adversarial approach to Lummi Nation is, in my view, really stupid, because they have the authority and standing to make the challenge they have made,” Commissioner McAuley commented. “I don’t think the port has done everything it can to manage that relationship in a positive way.

“When you decide there’s going to be capping not dredging, you are not going to get the water depth that you want,” he continued. “The port is, I think, completely abdicating its duties in support of our waterfront economy by not digging that channel deeper, making access more available. We will just continue to lose the asset.

“The I&J Waterway is part of a cleanup plan that will be dredged to 18 feet, maintained as a federal channel, even though there is almost no commerce there or at least commerce that requires that depth. The depth at the center of our waterfront commerce? Eight feet,” he said. “I think it is a massive failure. The only place we do waterfront commerce is allowed to go shallow as part of our plan.

“I can absolutely guarantee that the waterway plan as currently conceived is the wrong plan for the future,” McAuley predicted. “We should take the time we need to make this a better plan.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has historically outlined its treaty obligations with policies that include consultation with tribal governments. The Corps established these principles in response to the treaty clause in Article II of the U.S. Constitution, as well as those established by federal law and executive order that guide national policy toward First Nations. That consultation has not happened for Whatcom Waterway.

“A treaty right is going to be directly impacted by this decision,” said Jay Julius, LIBC secretary. “We have faith—it is our prayer—that the Army Corps of Engineers is going to uphold their trust responsibility and the U.S. Constitution.”

Ecology is hosting a public meeting from 6 to 8pm Thurs., June 5, at the Bellingham Public Library in the Lecture room to discuss the Cornwall Avenue Landfill cleanup plan. Ecology representatives will be present to provide details and answer questions. The public is invited to comment on the plan through July 2.

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