WASHINGTON, May 18, 2016 - An Army Corps of Engineers decision to deny a permit for a $700 million export terminal north of Seattle seems to have angered every stakeholder except the Native American tribe that claimed the project violated its rights under an 1855 treaty.

Last week, the Corps announced that it had rejected a permit request for the Gateway Pacific Terminal, which was projected as the largest coal export facility in the nation and a shipping depot for about 6 million tons of agricultural products a year. The Corps concluded that the project would have had a greater than de minimis impact – a legal term meaning “of minimum importance” – on the treaty rights of the Lummi Nation, specifically pertaining to fishing waters.

In a January 2015 letter to a Corps official in Seattle, Tim Ballew I with the Lummi Indian Business Council said “impacts on the (Lummi) Nation’s treaty rights associated with this project cannot be mitigated.” The tribe claimed the terminal would have violated their access to the fishing waters near the proposed site, and disturbed an ancient burial ground.

However, Bob Watters, the president of Pacific International Terminals (PIT), the company at the helm of the GPT proposal, called the move “inconceivable” and a “political decision and not fact based.” He cited Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife results of aerial observations during fish openings from 2002-2014 that showed only four fishing boats within a half-mile of the proposed pier location and 11 within a mile of the same location.

“On average that’s only 1.15 boats per year,” Watters said. In addition, he said, a traffic study “concluded that vessel traffic associated with the terminal would have a less than 1 percent impact on tribal fishing. If that isn’t less than de minimis, I don’t know what is.”

On Capitol Hill, House Natural Resources Committee Chair Rob Bishop, R-Utah, accused the Obama administration of using the decision to push a “leftist political agenda.” In the Senate, Montana Republican Steve Daines said the decision “chose one tribe’s treaty rights over another, harming good-paying union and tribal jobs.” Montana’s Crow Tribe had an ownership option in the terminal.

Montana’s Farm Bureau’s Lochiel Edwards told Agri-Pulse the news isn’t devastating, but it’s still disappointing. While the proposed terminal’s output would have been almost 90 percent coal, the loss of potential ag infrastructure still hurts.

“A few years ago, the grain business got caught being under-capacity on the West Coast,” Edwards pointed out. Those circumstances have since been reversed with the strength of the U.S. dollar and a weakened international demand for U.S. grain because of it. “Right now, there is plenty of capacity out there,” he added. “You just don’t know what the future’s going to bring, and from the ag point of view … you don’t want to discourage investment in the capacity of our grain pipeline.” PIT says the company is considering “all action alternatives” for the project.


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