As it turns out, the 487 additional bulk cargo vessels per year — projected to transit the Salish Sea to the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal coal export facility at Cherry Point — are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to endangering Chinook salmon, Pacific herring and Orca whales. The two thousand additional oil tankers carrying Tar Sands crude, should the Port Metro Vancouver be expanded as proposed, would combine to create a fleet transiting the Salish Sea and Gulf of Alaska that — should any of these vessels collide — could decimate salmon populations from the Columbia River north.
As testified at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Bellingham scoping hearing on October 27, the juvenile salmon from all these rivers congregate in the Gulf to feed and grow before returning home. According to retired senior planner Barry Wenger (video testimony # 88) from the Washington State Department of Ecology, those juvenile salmon number around ten billion. One disastrous collision there could reek havoc up and down the coast for years to come.
While parties to the 1999 settlement agreement with the Gateway Pacific Terminal proponent SSA Marine are rightly concerned about the threats to local salmon and crab fisheries, the potential devastation to fisheries in Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Alaska from the exponential growth in vessel traffic is not to be dismissed. Indeed, the concerns expressed by League of Women Voters, Washington Environmental Council and North Cascades Audubon Society regarding SSAs trustworthiness in honoring its agreements, are well-founded. As noted in an August 1, 2011 press release, SSAs long history of not honoring its agreements is grounds for questioning its commitment to protecting resources under any new agreement.
As made clear by tribal dignitaries speaking at the Seattle scoping hearing on December 13, further risking their treaty guaranteed resources is not an option. Under federal law and executive order, agencies like the Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency are obligated to protect these resources, i.e. fisheries and sacred sites, and bound under trust responsibilities to prevent significant harm. The fact that the existing heavy industry allowed at Cherry Point has already caused near extinction of some species, and threatens documented Lummi Nation burial grounds, should bring this proposal to an abrupt halt. Whether the Corps abides by these federal statutes and executive orders remains to be seen.
Whatever the outcome of the EIS process, the fact the applicant has repeatedly broken agreements and violated laws resulting in penalties by oversight agencies should be grounds for denial. Based on what has come to light so far, it would appear the three strikes rule should be applied. Maybe then we could all get on with developing a proposal to protect the resources that are left, and begin making amends to the tribes that have suffered from the malign neglect of the past. Perhaps SSA could even see fit to donate the site to the Lummi for spiritual and ceremonial purposes. Wouldn’t that be nice?