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Army Corps Denies Permit For Coal Export Terminal At Cherry Point

Bellamy Pailthorp
Lummi tribal elders hosted a ceremony celebrating their cultural traditions during a fisheries habitat conference on the beach at Cherry Point, near Bellingham, on April 30th, 2015.

The Army Corps of Engineers has denied the permit for a proposed coal export terminal near Bellingham. The controversial facility at Cherry Point would have been the nation’s largest.

Members of the Lummi tribe are celebrating the decision as an historic victory for treaty fishing rights, while the backers of the project say the permit denial was political and not fact-based. 

The denial comes in response to a request from the Lummi tribe that the project be stopped because it would interfere with their traditional fishing grounds at Cherry Point and violate their treaty rights. 

The proposed terminal would ship as much as 54 million tons of coal a year from the US to Asia. The Army Corps of Engineers announced they had reviewed thousands of pages of information and determined the project would block tribal access. Col. John Buck is the Seattle District Commander.

“For example, the structure itself, the trestle and the associated wharf, would encompass 144 acres over water,” Buck said.

He said that interference alone was enough to decide the matter; they did not need to factor in projected increases in tanker traffic or potential for oil spills.

In response, the project developer issued a statement calling the decision “inconceivable” and citing data from the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife about the number of fishing boats counted in the area. Bob Watters is a President with Pacific International Terminals LLC.

“Effectively, what they’re doing is saying that unless the tribes agree, there will be no more building of anything in the waters of western Washington,” Watters said.  

He says the company is reviewing all its options and might appeal the decision in federal court.   

Controversy has been simmering about the project since it was first proposed in 2011. 

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to