Corps says it can’t permit Gateway Pacific coal export terminal project

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office in Seattle said May 9 that after careful consideration of all the information available, Seattle District Commander Col. John Buck has determined the potential impacts to the Lummi Nation’s usual and accustomed (U&A) fishing rights from the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal coal export project are greater than de minimis.

Because of that finding, and because the Lummi maintain their objections to this proposal, the project cannot be permitted by the Corps.

In 2015, the Seattle District received a request from the Lummi Nation for the Corps to deny a permit requested for the GPT project proposed by Pacific International Holdings LLC (PIH). The Lummi cited impacts to their usual and accustomed treaty rights and included affidavits about their fishing practices and statements about potential impacts from the construction and operation of the terminal.

The Lummi Nation signed the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliot, which established the Suquamish Port Madison, Tulalip, Swinomish, and Lummi reservations and guaranteed fishing rights in perpetuity at each tribes’ Usual and Accustomed (U&A) fishing areas.

“I have thoroughly reviewed thousands of pages of submittals from the Lummi Nation and Pacific International Holdings,” said Col. Buck. “I have also reviewed my staff’s determination that the Gateway Pacific Terminal would have a greater than de minimis impact on the Lummi Nation’s U&A rights, and I have determined the project is not permittable as currently proposed.”

As part of its evaluation of the permit application for the Gateway Pacific Terminal proposal at Cherry Point near Ferndale, Washington, the Corps had been overseeing development of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement consistent with National Environmental Policy Act requirements until the applicant suspended this work April 1.  As part of standard regulatory procedures, the Corps has continued evaluating the proposal consistent with the requirements of other federal laws and conducting consultations as needed consistent with the requirements of the Endangered Species Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, and tribal treaty trust responsibility. 

Consistent with standard regulatory process, if any one of the Corps’ required substantive evaluations concludes with a finding the proposal cannot be permitted, then the project proponent is notified of such finding and advised the project is not permittable. PIH was notified the GPT Project as currently planned is not permittable, and they requested a decision on the application.

If in the future the Lummi Nation withdraws its objections to the proposal, the proponent could reinitiate processing of the application. A number of other tribes have expressed concern about effects of the proposal on their treaty rights, so if processing of the application resumes, consultation with those tribes would occur as needed to collect information and make decisions with respect to effects of the proposal on their rights.

The Gateway Pacific Terminal is a planned 54 million metric ton, dry bulk, deep water export terminal designed to handle commodities such as coal, grain and potash. GPT would be the only U.S. Pacific Northwest terminal with natural deep water accommodating cost-saving capesize bulk vessels.

Gateway Pacific Terminal is being proposed by Pacific International Terminals LLC, a joint venture between SSA Marine and Powder River Basin coal producer Cloud Peak Energy.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.