Tag Archives: Glacier Northwest

Judge puts Maury Island gravel project on hold

Environmental organizations were celebrating tonight after a federal judge blocked work on Glacier Northwest’s controversial gravel-mining operation on Maury Island.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez ruled that no more work can be done on a loading dock until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prepares a full-blown environmental impact statement. The Corps also must “consult” with other agencies about harm that the project could cause to threatened and endangered species.

Shortly after Martinez issued his ruling, I received an e-mailed statement from state Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark, who oversees a state lease for the gravel-mining operation.

“Due to the ruling in federal court today, the lease NW Aggregates has with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources is no longer in good standing,” Goldmark said.

“It is imperative that we protect Puget Sound. The judge recognized there are potential impacts from this project on threatened and endangered species, like orca and salmon. The ruling cites many of the same issues that we have raised in recent months.”

The court ruling, combined with Goldmark’s express position, creates a significant hurdle for Glacier Northwest to overcome.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed,” Pete Stoltz, Glacier Northwest’s permit coordinator, told the Associated Press. “We participated in the entire process, provided all the information required.

“We’re hopeful that the process could happen expeditiously,” he said, adding that the company will cooperate fully with federal environmental reviews.

The case was brought by plaintiffs Preserve Our Islands, People for Puget Sound and Washington Environmental Council.

You may wish to read Martinez’s entire order (PDF 96 kb) for yourself, but I’ll try to summarize it here:
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Killer whales leave South Sound before protest begins

Glacier Northwest has begun work on the controversial pier that will eventually support its gravel-mining operation on Maury Island. See updated story by Leslie Brown in the Vashon Beachcomber.

Meanwhile, a protest demonstration got underway this morning near the construction site. Kathy Fletcher of People for Puget Sound reported about 50 protesters as well as some 10 dinghies and kayaks at 8:30 a.m. this morning.

Yesterday, a contingent of 20 to 30 killer whales — apparently including members from all three Puget Sound pods — visited the South Sound area, not far from the Glacier site. I thought maybe they had come south to join the protest, but during the night they turned north and came up through Puget Sound.

If you recall, the orcas were cited among reasons to deny the construction activity in an aquatic reserve frequented by the whales in winter.

As of 11:30 a.m. today, the orcas were in Admiralty Inlet north of the Kitsap Peninsula, according to Howard Garrett of Orca Network, who was among the widely scattered whales when I talked to him by phone.

See Orca Network for reports of whale travels. In case you’re not aware of it, anyone can sign up for e-mail reports of whale sightings, typically compiled at the end of each day.

By the way, People for Puget Sound has scheduled a “Bremerton Moonlight Beachwalk” Thursday in Bremerton and a “Starlight Beachwalk and Bonfire” Friday in Burien. Reservations are recommended for both events.

Controversial Maury Island gravel project has been approved

Washington Department of Natural Resources has approved a 30-year lease to allow a dock in the Maury Island Aquatic Reserve. It was the last approval needed for construction of a gravel mine that has been the subject of intense opposition by environmental groups.

Robert McClure, environmental reporter for the Seattle PI, calls the approval the most controversial of Land Commissioner Doug Sutherland’s eight years in office. Sutherland has taken this action in his final weeks as head of the DNR, having lost in the November election to Peter Goldmark.

Goldmark issued a statement saying he was “deeply disappointed” by the decision.

“The timing of this decision, only one day after the Puget Sound Partnership brought forward their plan to clean up Puget Sound, is very troubling,” Goldmark was quoted as saying in the Seattle Times. “While I understand there is only one lands commissioner at a time, this decision does come after the voters of Washington sent a very clear message.”

Amy Carey, president of Preserve Our Islands, was not pleased with Sutherland’s decision. She told the Times, “It’s disappointing he felt he had to stick to Glacier’s needs and agenda. There’s absolutely no reason that this decision had to come out now other than that Glacier wanted it now. It’s a really pitiful legacy as his tenure ends.”

In a news release, Sutherland said, “This has been an extremely rigorous process, and our aquatics staff have examined every document submitted to us and to the permitting agencies to be sure that we have addressed the issues. I directed staff to add requirements to protect this aquatic ecosystem in the long-term—which they have. This lease agreement accomplishes the goal of environmental protection while allowing existing commercial activities.”

Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound, had this to say in her blog:

One of the black clouds hanging over the Puget Sound Partnership’s celebration the other day was the bleak budgetary outlook. Optimism about the new plan is tempered by the knowledge that money will be hard to come by. Not to sound too naïve, but since it’s expensive to undo the harm that we’ve done to our Sound over the years, why would we proceed to do more? Saying “no” to a bad idea like the Maury Island gravel dock doesn’t restore the Sound to health, but at least it’s a pretty cost-effective way to avoid making things worse.

Maybe I’m also naïve to think that in a year when we lost seven more of our endangered orcas, most likely to starvation, responsible decision-makers would say no to a project that puts one of the whales’ favorite winter fishing grounds at risk. Perhaps the whales had heard what was up in Sutherland’s office on Tuesday, when they decided to spend that very day hanging out in the Vashon area—their first visit of the season.

Conditions of the lease include the following, according to the DNR:
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