Friday, October 12, 2012

GPT: EIS Scoping Comment No. 19

Tribal Concerns

Today's New York Times ran an article on this issue which captures the concerns expressed by the Lummi Nation and other Northwest tribes, who are voicing strong oppositions to the GPT proposal to begin shipping up to 54 million metric tons of coal from Wyoming to Asian markets through a huge, new bulk terminal at Cherry Point, part of the ancestral lands of the Lummi's.

Several factors motivate this opportunistic -and potentially very harmful- venture, not the least of which includes the falling US coal market, as described in this article.

GPT's Application devotes several paragraphs to acknowledging aspects on the subject of tribal concerns, albeit somewhat clinically. 
Chapter 5, Affected Environment / Environmental Consequences is where these comments are located, and paraphrased within the following subsections:

5.1 ENVIRONMENTAL RESOURCES AND PROJECT EFFECTS - describes the existing natural and human environment in and around the proposed project area and describes some potential effects of the proposed Terminal on these resources. 

5.3 Marine Resources - includes information on forage fish, an important prey fish for a variety of larger marine fish and marine mammals. Forage fish are known to spawn on intertidal beaches at Cherry Point; however, only herring are known to spawn near the project area.

The Applicant acknowledges that Cherry Point herring are known to spawn in the project vicinity and have shown a large decline in abundance since 1973. Studies have been conducted to identify the cause(s) of their decline, with 'general agreement' that the decline was probably initiated by a periodic, recurring shift in climate that occurred in 1977, plus other contributing factors like physical stressors, such as temperature and salinity; biological stressors, such as lack of suitable food supply, competition, larval abnormalities, reduction in size at maturity, parasites, disease, and predation; and anthropogenic stressors, including fisheries harvest, habitat modification, vessel traffic, noise, contaminants, and ship ballastPredation by species of birds, fish, marine mammals, and benthic invertebrates is another potential explanation for the decline. 

Then this; A more detailed analysis of the effects of the proposed project on Cherry Point herring will be included as an appendix to the Biological Evaluation.

Does that afterthought sound like 'paralysis by analysis' that is relegated to an after-the-fact footnote? 
Is that a substitute for facing the likelihood that building and operating GPT will lead to further declines and possibly extinction of the herring?

These following subsections don't give much comfort that GPT will do anything to help sustain the herring and other species in that food chain: [read them if you care
5.3.2 Effects of Construction on Marine Resources
5.3.3 Effects of Operation on Marine Resources
5.3.4 Proposed Design Features Intended to Reduce Impacts

5.5 Archaeological, Cultural, and Historic Resources - background research confirmed that the project area lies within lands and waters once occupied by several Puget Sound Tribes, whose descendants are represented by federally recognized Indian Tribes including the Lummi Nation and Nooksack Tribe, meaning a high level of archaeological sensitivity is assigned. [whatever that means]

Then, this legalistic gibberish; Section 106 of the NHPA, as amended, requires federal agencies to take into account the effects of an undertaking on historic properties, defined as cultural resources that are listed in, or eligible for listing in, the NRHP. Site 45WH1 is an archaeological site that has significance both as an archaeological resource, and as a potential Traditional Cultural Property.

Then, under Section 5.10 - ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE Whatcom County Tribal Populations 
Tribal populations specifically located within Whatcom County warrant further consideration given their proximity to the project area and specific cultural and economic relevance of the Cherry Point area to both tribes. Comment letters presented within the 1997 Gateway Pacific Terminal Final EIS (Whatcom County 1997) state that the project area is located within the historic site of the Lummi Nation called Xwe’ Chiexen (Cherry Point), and several registered and unregistered areas of cultural significance exist within the project area. In addition, the Treaty of Point Elliott of 1855 provides the Lummi with primary fishing rights for the waters surrounding Xwe’ Chiexen. The Nooksack are also signatories under this treaty and have stated that they use the project area for economic (salmon) and spiritual/cultural uses (including crabbing, and clam digging).

Tribal Use of Coastal Resources
The Lummi, located directly south of the project area, have always been strongly associated with the ocean and have traditionally relied on seafood as a major component of their diet. The Lummi Nation is reportedly the largest fishing tribe in Puget Sound. However, declines in the regional salmon fishery have dramatically altered the tribal dependence on salmon fishing as an income generating activity since the mid 1980s. According to the Lummi Natural Resources Council, the declining fishery was specifically identified as a factor for this difference.
Yet, additional information would be required to establish the Lummi Nation as an Environmental Justice population based on income. 

Potential environmental justice effects include potential economic, environmental, and social impacts to the Lummi and Nooksack tribal members in particular, stemming directly or indirectly from construction and operation of the project.

Both the Lummi Nation and the Nooksack Tribe have requested more complete studies be commissioned in advance of any project approvals to understand more fully the associated risks and potential impacts to the marine environment and tribal fishing communities.

Mitigation measures in the 1997 Gateway Pacific Terminal Final EIS remain relevant in the absence of new data on the current state of the fishing industry and the Tribes dependence on it. 
Continued tribal consultation with the Lummi and Nooksack, as well as other Tribes with treaty rights near the project area (potentially the Suquamish, Swinomish, and Tulalip Tribes) should be important components of any impact-reduction strategy.

Finally, this; 5.10.3 Proposed Design Features Intended to Reduce Impacts
The current Environmental Justice status of Tribal populations based on income remains to be determined. Additional information on these populations, when available, will require review of potentially significant impacts and impact-reduction strategies with respect to qualifying populations.

Much of the bloviation cited above is meaningless boilerplate claptrap, intended to obfuscate the reality of what will plainly happen if GPT is built.
 It should largely discounted as obligatory lip service to principles that deserve to be treated honestly, completely and timely. Instead, they are temporizing, disingenuous and actually insulting to those with a care for sustainability.
This part of the Application needs to be given at least as much weight as any other part in a fair evaluation, and GPT required to complete all the unfinished studies alluded to in passing.
The MAP Team needs to level this playing field and not allow this latest attack on what remains of Lummi sovereignty to be destroyed!
Is there any question that the Lummi Nation and their tribal allies have a legitimate beef with GPT?
Why would they want any part of the snake oil that SSA-Marine is trying to sell them?
Building GPT would effectively end the Lummi's fishing rights, which already have been seriously diminished -by degrees- for several generations.
Now, with this latest attempt to effectively destroy any vestige of sustaining the 1855 Point Elliot Treaty, what choice do the Lummis have but to challenge GPT with every means at their command.
After all, no mitigation is possible for inflicting irreplaceable harm on their fishing rights, cultural heritage, and traditional sacred lands whichremins their home and economic base.

Among the many reasons for performing the most comprehensive EIS evaluation possible, is to take a firm stand against crass, powerful financial interests like GPT and its backers and preserve what we can of the Lummi way of life.
The Lummi serve us as guardians of nature, which they clearly understand from history.
We need to thank them for that, and support them as we can to restore the herring by avoiding even more harmful effects from the traffic, pollution and other impacts that GPT will certainly bring.

Here is a link to the Lummi strategy and goals, which need to be incorporated as strong concerns: