Lummi Nation wants the Army Corps of Engineers to block the proposed coal terminal in Bellingham.
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  • The Lummi Nation could block the proposed coal terminal in Bellingham.

A 150-year-old tribal fishing treaty could prove the fatal blow to a proposed coal terminal in Bellingham. The Lummi Nation, which has a reservation in the area, says that it will not compromise with Pacific International Terminals, the company that aims to ship 54 million metric tons of goods—mostly coal—to Asia annually through Lummi fishing waters.

In early January, Lummi leaders sent a letter asking the Army Corps of Engineers to block a permit for the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal. Noise, pollution, and oil spill risks would compromise fishing treaty rights the tribe established in 1855, they said. A recent environmental impact study issued by the Department of Ecology found that the terminal would increase disruption of Lummi fishing activity by up to 76 percent. And there's powerful precedent for such a move. In 1992, the Army Corps of Engineers rejected a permit for a small salmon farm that threatened those same treaty rights.

After the Lummi Nation sent the letter, Skip Sahlin, vice president of project development at Pacific International Terminals, tried to request a meeting with Lummi Nation chairman Tim Ballew last Friday.

But the Lummi Nation, which has long opposed the terminal, is taking a firm stance. "Negotiation between Lummi and Pacific International Terminals is not an option," Ballew said in a statement released today. "Our treaty rights are non-negotiable and not for sale. We wait for the Corps to uphold its constitutional responsibility and deny the permit."

If the Corps doesn't reject the permit, the future of the proposed coal terminal could very well end up in court.