By Steve Guntli
The future of the Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) is in question after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) rejected a permit for the project on May 9.
The USACE rejected the permit on the grounds that the Cherry Point coal terminal would infringe on federally-protected Lummi fishing grounds. The Lummi tribe launched a complaint with the USACE in an effort to block the project in January 2015. Lummi Nation president Tim Ballew announced the decision before the Lummi Indian Tribal Council, where the news was met with cheers and celebration.
The decision is a victory for the Lummi and for opponents to the controversial development. Opponents have claimed the increase in train traffic and environmental impact would far outweigh the financial benefits. An independent environmental impact study had been underway for several years. A first draft had been scheduled for October, but SSA suspended the study early in April until the USACE announced their decision.
The Lummi launched their complaint on the grounds that the GPT would infringe on their usual and accustomed fishing areas, which are protected under the Point Elliott Treaty of 1855.
At this time, it is unclear if SSA Marine, the majority shareholders in the GPT project, has a path forward. The Bellingham company owns 51 percent of the proposed $700 million coal terminal, which would be used to export up to 48 million tons of coal and goods to Asia annually.
In a press release, Bob Watters, president of Pacific International Terminals, a joint venture between SSA and Cloud Peak Energy that sponsored the terminal, expressed shock at the decision.
“It’s an inconceivable decision,” Watters said. “Looking at the set of facts in the administrative summary, it’s quite obvious this is a political decision and not fact based.”
Watters said the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife conducted aerial observations between 2002 and 2014 and only spotted 4 fishing boats within a half-mile of the pier and 11 fishing boats within a mile and a half of the proposed location, adding the terminal would impact less than 1 percent of tribal fishing grounds.
“We are disappointed that the GPT has become a political target rather than being addressed on the facts,” Watters said. “The terminal promises to deliver substantial benefits through economic development, the creation of family wage jobs, and the generation of significant taxes.”
Watters said the company is considering “all action alternatives” moving forward.