Reliable Prosperity

Sandy Robson guest writes of the need for real prosperity at Cherry Point, not a destructive short term coal port that destroys the fishing grounds.

Sandy Robson guest writes of the need for real prosperity at Cherry Point, not a destructive short term coal port that destroys the fishing grounds.


Sandra Robson guest writes this article. She has researched and written about the problems with a coal port at Cherry Point for over a year, with 4 articles in the Whatcom Watch and now this 5th article on NWCitizen.

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Brad Owens and John Huntley are the spokespersons for Northwest Jobs Alliance (NJA), which was created to market the Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) project at Cherry Point, proposed by SSA Marine/Pacific International Terminal (PIT). They recently co-authored an op-ed in the Bellingham Herald headlined, “Economic prosperity, quality of environment equally important.”

While Owens and Huntley tout the supposed economic prosperity of the proposed 48 million ton coal export terminal, Lummi people, who are the original inhabitants of Washington’s northernmost coast, seem to have a different view of prosperity according to their Schelangen, or Lummi way of life.

Cherry Point is home to a significant environmental resource and unique aquatic ecosystem in the Strait of Georgia. The Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve Management Plan, aimed at protecting the health and aquatic environment of Cherry Point, is a 90-year plan that was put into place in 2000 by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.

The plan states the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve’s “marine waters and aquatic lands are a portion of Treaty-protected Usual and Accustomed grounds and stations of local Native American Indians, and are used by the Indians for commercial, ceremonial, and subsistence purposes.”

The National Museum of the American Indian website, a component of the Smithsonian Institute, offers a video about Lummi Nation called, “Our Homeland”, which talks about Schelangen:

In Lummi territory, the rivers, estuaries, and ocean abound with life. This environment is home to more than 200 species of fish, 200 kinds of birds, and many species of mammals. There are vast forests of cedar and other trees, bushes, and small plants. It’s also the home to several species of salmon.”

The Lummi developed a deep knowledge of the environment by careful observation. They were expert in biology, botany, and medicine. And most importantly, they learned how to use the resources without using them up. In the Lummi language, this way of life is called schelangen.”

In the waterways in and around Cherry Point, Lummi fishers harvest salmon, halibut, herring, crab and shellfish. An OPB EarthFix article, “Tribal Fisherman Sees Coal Threat Looming,” lists some concerns Lummi Indian Business Council (LIBC) member and fisherman, Jay Julius, has about the proposed coal terminal. Julius “worries that the increased coal tanker [vessel] traffic would harm the tribe’s ability to exercise its treaty-guaranteed rights to harvest these fish and shellfish. . . One accident inside the Salish Sea and my way of life is gone.” Julius added, “If the terminal is built, it could also destroy underwater archaeological sites and upland burial grounds.”

If GPT is built, 487 Panamax and Capesize vessels are expected to call on the terminal, going in and out of Cherry Point every year. There are already oil tankers calling on Cherry Point for the two oil refineries and all these large vessels will be competing for space in the sensitive waters.

Chain Reaction

The herring population at Cherry Point is dwindling, declining more than 92 percent between the 1970s and 2012. According to “Big Coal meets Cherry Point’s tiny herring,” a article, “Scientists believe herring make up two thirds of the diet of the federally protected Chinook salmon; the Chinook in turn provide two-thirds of the food supply for Puget Sound Orcas.” Puget Sound Orca are a federally protected species by the Endangered Species Act.

In an April 3, 2014 letter to Governor Jay Inslee, the LIBC stated, “…the Lummi Nation has a treaty right to harvest salmon and shellfish in a manner sufficient to support our Schelangen (‘way of life’).” Schelangen is a right guaranteed and protected by the Treaty of Point Elliott with the U.S. government.

The LIBC wrote in its June 6, 2011 letter to the U.S. Department of Interior that, “The Lummi people have fished in the Nooksack River and the waters of northern Puget Sound since time immemorial. Article V of the Treaty of Point Elliott provides that the ‘right of taking fish from usual and accustomed grounds and stations is further secured to said Indians in common with all citizens of the territory.’”

Furthermore, “The Lummi Nation retains a federal reserved Indian water right to instream flows sufficient to support their treaty fishing rights. ...Lummi also retains a federal reserved water right for consumptive uses necessary to fulfill other purposes of its reservation.”

The letter goes on, “At this time, state-permitted water diversions have reduced flows in the Nooksack River and threaten the fish species that make up the Nation’s treaty fishery. In addition, state sanctioned water withdrawals within the Lummi Reservation threaten the Nation’s reserved water rights on the Reservation.”

Currently, SSA Marine/PIT is contracted (through 2042) with the Whatcom County PUD 1 for a capacity of up to 5.33 million gallons of Nooksack River water daily. This water will be used to spray the 2 ½ miles of 60 ft. tall coal piles to prevent the coal from spontaneously combusting, as well as to try to minimize coal dust.

According to the LIBC, in their January 15, 2013 scoping comment submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regarding the Environmental Impact Statement for GPT, “Considering the depressed nature of Nooksack River salmon stocks including the listing of early‐run Chinook salmon pursuant to the Endangered Species Act, tribal treaty rights to a sustainable, harvestable surplus of salmon, and the need for instream flows, additional withdrawals from the Nooksack River for this proposed project should not be allowed.”

The LIBC also said that the proposed GPT, and the inter‐related BNSF Custer Spur Rail Expansion projects are both within the Lummi Nation Usual and Accustomed and traditional areas, and will result in significant, unavoidable, and unacceptable interference with their treaty rights and irreversible and irretrievable damage to their spiritual values.

In January 2014, KUOW Public Radio featured a series called, “Sacred Catch,” which explored the fishing rights of Native Americans in Washington state. Lummi elder Ramona Morris gave some insight as to how salmon is the Lummi Nation’s Sacred Catch: “Salmon is sacred to us in a sense. …We’ve been known as ‘The Salmon People.’ That’s our livelihood. That’s our survival. That helps us survive.”

Related Links

About Sandy Robson

Citizen Journalist • Birch Bay • Member since Feb 27, 2014

Sandy Robson is a professional worker who lives in Whatcom County and is concerned about our environment. She has been a leader in opposing by writing articles about the proposed [...]

Comments by Readers

Walter Haugen

Aug 16, 2014

Great article. However, for those people who like to think long term, it is important to realize the GPT will bring economic prosperity to only a few rich developers and corporations, with a small mix of construction workers - mostly from outside the area. However, it is also important for long-term thinkers to realize that “reliable prosperity” will look different than what most people think of as prosperity. It does not include every conceivable app, a McMansion and two huge pickemup trucks in the driveway.


Barbara Perry

Aug 16, 2014

Thank you Sandra,

Coal and Oil No Longer

Firstly, whoever the PUD person was who snuck in the Nooksack River water contract needs to be known and admonished.  I remember when Georgia Pacific (GP) was trying to renew their cheap water and their lease had run out so a new contract was due.  When government forces were going to continue GP’s cheap water bill that polluted everyone’s water and land, it was a few young Huxley students who spread the word that water rates must go up, and citizens came to a city council meeting to rebel that cheap water rates should not continue. Their protests made the rates go up and GP left the area rather than pay.  Unfortunately they probably went to some other area to pollute and left us with their cancer causing head and heart aches that the city now wants to make a tourist attraction.

But the point is, why aren’t we protesting the overpaid PUD scammer (man no doubt) for sneaking through a cheap water contract to Georgia Pacific Terminal GPT that will pollute the beautiful Nooksack River and Puget Sound? I would love to know his name and pay.

The Salish peoples have many legends describing famine with the destruction of the sea and sea life.  It is unfortunate the more recent psychologically starved settlers do not heed the need to respect sea life or famine will result.

Unfortunately, already there has been too much devastation of the sea and the land that we newcomers did not inherit but stole. We need to teach our people these legends’ lessons.

It is true in the past many tribes and cultures stole in order to expand, but let us not forget that we stole the Native land and now, if we want to protect this beautiful land we better try working and protesting to protect it.

Too bad that the GPT money minds do not respect that all peoples must work together to save our planet and not just rape and destroy it.

Ending on a positive note: let us thank all the peoples who have worked so diligently at stopping the continuing destruction of Cherry Point.  Unfortunately we have much more work to do. Let us look forward to getting rid of the oil plant and the aluminum plant that are also destroying much sea life by searching for non-polluting answers that do exist. That is where the jobs are.  Use your minds, laborers.

Before the settlers, the Salish peoples were thought to be the most wealthy peoples of the world because there was so much food to eat and labor was not intense.  Giving was a trait most respected. And they were not destroying the earth. 

I love to see that many countries are using Solar Power, wind and water power, so that even today, we may appreciate and share the wealth of the world.  There is no reason to pollute with oil and coal that mostly feed corrupt minds and lifestyles.  Now we must change people’s thinking that destructive labor is not necessary to survive.

We need jobs to create alternative energies. 

Too bad we must convince the money minds.


Thelma Follett

Aug 17, 2014

Do you remember when, way back in May- June of 2011, Ken Oplinger (Boo! Hiss!) and Dave Warren got together and created the Northwest Jobs (Unholy)Alliance out of thin air.  For a long time they kept claiming they had members but I could only discern those two.  Of course, it goes without saying that they could count on the ever present, ever helpful Craig Cole.
Thelma Follett


Sandy Robson

Aug 17, 2014

Barbara Perry:
Current PUD Commissioner Jeff McClure lobbied our WA state public lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark in 2010 about changes which coal terminal proponents wanted made to the language in the draft for the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve Plan. I believe that is an inappropriate action on the part of a PUD Commissioner.

McClure is running as an incumbent against Bob Burr for PUD, so McClure’s support of GPT and his willingness to allow PIT to contract with the PUD through 2042 for a capacity of 5.33M gallons of Nooksack River water daily are 2 big reasons why people should vote for Bob Burr.

PUD Commissioner McClure and numerous local elected officials in June 2010, signed a letter supporting GPT, in which essentially they, along with others, were lobbying/advising Washington Public Lands Commissioner, Peter Goldmark, to remove what the signers of that letter perceived to be inherent conflicts in the Draft Cherry Point Environmental Aquatic Reserve Plan. Link to Goldmark letter:

The signers on the June 2010 letter to Commissioner Goldmark were SSA consultant Craig Cole, Jeff McClure (Whatcom County PUD President/Commissioner), David Warren (Northwest Central Labor Council at that time, and co-chair of Northwest Jobs Alliance at that time) Tim Douglas (previously served 13 years as Bellingham Mayor and former member of Puget Sound Water Quality Authority), and Dale Brandland (WA State Senator at that time). Here is a link to the April 2013 Whatcom Watch article which talked about this:

In that letter, listed in Craig Cole’s short bio under his signature on the letter to Goldmark it said:

“Craig Cole is a businessman and former member and Chair of the Whatcom County Council. He Chaired the Whatcom County Natural Heritage Task Force, served on Commissioner Belcher’s Public Lands Advisory Committee, and has been an active supporter of environmental causes. He current serves the state as a university regent.”

Craig Cole did not bother to note in his bio that he was, and still is, working as a paid consultant for SSA/PIT for its proposed GPT.

Advocating for a 48M ton coal terminal which his paying client PIT, is trying to put on top of the Lummi Nation’s sacred waters and lands at Cherry Point, and in our community, pretty much wipes away any of Craig Cole’s past environmental do-gooding he may have done.

In the letter it says a response may be directed to a PO Box address listed there which is the location for Craig Cole’s consulting business, Straight Talk Consulting.

From a September 2013 Whatcom Watch article I wrote about water and GPT:

“In Washington state, water rights are managed by the Department of Ecology (DOE). Water rights can only be transferred if conditions similar to those for obtaining new water rights are met. Those are: the water right being transferred is a valid and legal water right; the water will be beneficially used; there is no impairment to existing water rights, including in-stream flows; it is not detrimental to the public interest; the instantaneous or annual amount used won’t increase; and the water source won’t change.

Do PIT’s water rights transferred to them with the Chevron purchase meet these requirements? Also, does the current contract PIT has with the PUD for supplying GPT with 5.33 million gallons per day of Nooksack River water meet the DOE’s requirements for PIT obtaining the new water rights it would need for the terminal?”


Bob Burr

Oct 02, 2014

Short answers to your last questions, Sandy, are No and No. Of course, these questions were never looked publicly at by the PUD which is an industry advocate, not a public advocate. Jeff McClure pretends that the GPT is a land use decision, not a water use decision. That is patently political BS. Using his standard, the PUD would grant 2 billion gallons of water a year to a company to drown babies if asked for. Check that. It was an overstatement. If a baby drowning company had bought rights from an oil company, he would extend them for thirty years because that “is what we do or all contracts as a matter of routine”.

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