Wednesday, November 23, 2016
FOREVER PROTECTING: Something to be thankful for: Earlier this month the Washington State Department of Natural Resources announced the agency would begin the final steps in considering a request to remove a 45-acre “cutout” reserved for a shipping terminal adjacent to the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve and include the area in the Aquatic Reserve boundary, established to preserve, restore and enhance environmentally sensitive state-owned aquatic lands. A technical advisory committee of scientists recently evaluated if the terminal cutout met the criteria to be included within the reserve boundary and unanimously recommended DNR incorporate the area into the reserve. As part of their public process, the agency received more than 5,300 public comments, most in support of the boundary change. The package now moves on to the desk of the elected state Commissioner of Public Lands.
Last week, Lummi Nation formally thanked DNR for considering the expansion of the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve.
The expansion would include an area that was intended for the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal coal pier. An approved boundary change would parallel and therefore reinforce findings issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in May that determined the proposed pier and service trestle would “have a physical over-water impact of at a minimum 122 acres,” and was therefore materially significant to the area’s ecological function. The boundary change would likely foreclose on any sizable pier being constructed at that location in the future, and would therefore bolt shut a door that has been left open a tiny crack since last spring.
Through that tiny crack, a full-blown energy export project might smash the door wide open—particularly in a new federal regime that considers those projects imperative and the regulatory framework that permits them an intolerable nuisance, if not an existential threat to the imperative.
The possibility that crack could be smashed open became sorrowfully real to Lummi leadership this month after DNR staff—trawling through the record of tribal communications—dutifully queried the tribal government about puzzling emails the agency had received.
The emails indicate Lummi Indian Business Council member Henry Cagey and associates, along with corporate and investment interests, reached out to DNR earlier this fall with a covert plan to purchase 160 acres of DNR-managed land in proximity to the GPT site for the construction of a storage facility for liquified natural gas (LNG). Cagey and his investment group wanted to determine if it would be possible to buy the land before the end of the year.
“We believe we have found the means to purchase the land but with a very short window of opportunity to do so,” an email to DNR asserted, stressing that speed and confidentiality were required.
“I am confused,” Joenne McGerr, DNR’s tribal liaison, wrote LIBC on Oct. 28, after a parcel search determined the property was governed under Joint Aquatic Resources Permit Application (JARPA) for SSA Marine/Pacific International Terminals, the project applicants for the GPT pier. “Is the Tribe pursuing an agreement with the project proponent that we should be aware of?
“It’s confusing to hear talk of LNG storage and similar development, given the conversations between yourselves and the Commissioner [of Public Lands],” McGerr wrote.
“This is news to me,” LIBC Chairman Tim Ballew II replied. “I am alarmed that tribal officials would lead you to believe that Lummi has an interest in a project that has not been properly discussed by leadership.”
The council—including Cagey, a former LIBC chairman—adopted a resolution early this year to protect Xwe’Chi’eXen—the ancestral name for Cherry Point—“from projects that compromise the integrity of the sacred sites,” Ballew wrote. The council has adopted similar resolutions several other times dating back to the 1990s.
With no purpose for storage other than staging for export, an LNG facility would of course breathe new economic life into a pier that had suffocated in the collapsing fortunes of coal. Its presence would unleash urgent new force to the GPT proposal.
Cagey told tribal council members he was trying to secure the economic future of the tribe.
Cagey was charged with neglect of duty and gross misconduct by the LIBC last week and will face a special council meeting Nov. 26, when he may be recalled. If he is not recalled, Cagey faces censure from the tribal council. Such a rebuke has already been drafted by all five of the other living LIBC chairmen.
Commenting only briefly on the action, Ballew said, “This is a Lummi leadership decision, a statement of accountability to ensure that our leadership decisions reflect the value of our people.
“We’re confident that the Department of Natural Resources will hold true to the process, and a determination to include the area into the Reserve would only be right and in keeping with other decisions,” Ballew said. “Once that is done, the waters will always be forever protected at Xwe’Chi’eXen for our children and grandchildren. This would be exactly what our elders and past leaders have requested so many times through the years.”
Cagey’s impulse is a troubling footnote in a story of triumph for Lummi Nation—a tribe that struggled to find united voice on the topic of tribal lands and treaty rights, and in its finding began to speak powerfully to the values of a much larger community concerned with the belligerent expansion of a powerful, entitled fossil fuel industry at the risk of ecological catastrophe.
It’s also a somber reminder that if there’s any chance at all of ramming through a pier at Xwe’Chi’eXen, PIT and their friends will employ any means to achieve it. Given their friends are now in nearly total control of a federal government with newfound revanchist disdain for treaties, closing that door and welding it shut becomes urgent.