Yakama Nation takes public stand against coal exports through region

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The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation took a public stand against Northwest coal exports Tuesday, specifically protesting the proposed Morrow Pacific project in Boardman.

About 75 tribal members arrived at Boardman Marina park from the reservation in central Washington, where they denounced plans to build an export terminal at the nearby Port of Morrow. If approved, the facility would barge 8.8 million tons of coal per year down the Columbia River and overseas to Asia.

Joined by leaders from the Lummi Nation, the tribes argued the project is a violation of their treaty rights and directly threaten several reserved fishing sites along the river. A group of fishermen, including Yakama Nation Chairman JoDe Goudy, fished next to where the terminal is slated to be built as part of the demonstration asserting their rights.

Tribes across the Northwest are opposed to exporting coal through their ancestral homeland, Goudy told the group gathered on a calm, sunny morning. If the Morrow Pacific project is allowed to move forward, it would pose a serious risk to the river, environment and very livelihood of the people, he said.

“Today, we make a stand,” Goudy said. “We cannot allow this to happen. Not at the expense of our natural resources.”

Ambre Energy, the Australia-based developer of Morrow Pacific, continues to pursue a “remove-fill” permit from the Oregon Department of State Lands needed to begin construction on the terminal. A final decision is expected by May 31, following seven deadline extensions dating back to February 2012.

Morrow Pacific would take coal mined from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana and ship it by rail to the terminal in Boardman. From there, it is sent on covered barges to an existing dock at the Port of St. Helens near Clatskanie, and loaded onto ocean-going vessels.

The project is expected to generate 25-30 permanent jobs, 2,000 construction jobs and invest nearly $250 million into the local economy. Ambre will also voluntarily contribute approximately $800,000 per year to Morrow and Columbia county schools once the project is operating at full capacity, according to the Morrow Pacific website.

But Goudy said it would be irresponsible for regulators to chase money at the expense of the land.

“Through this collective effort of creating awareness, it will call to task those who sit in positions of policy to make the right and responsible decisions,” he said.

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has already come out in opposition of coal exports, saying the future will lie in the transition to clean energy sources. Ambre officials have maintained the project goes above and beyond what’s needed to protect the environment, and do business “the Oregon way.”

In a recent letter to the Department of State Lands, Morrow Pacific officials state the terminal was intentionally located in a heavy industrial area at the port to mitigate effects on tribal fishing sites. The area is situated between two existing docks, where biologists reported the site would not support a healthy fishery.

Ambre spokeswoman Liz Fuller said they have a deep respect for the tribes, and are committed to working through the consultation process alongside with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Elizabeth Sanchey, Yakama Nation environmental manager, said there is no word in their language for mitigation, and they will not mitigate when it comes to the things they hold sacred.

“The river runs through our veins,” Sanchey said. “It’s who we are as a people, and it’s our duty to protect it.”

The Lummi Nation, meanwhile, is also fighting against the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal near Bellingham, Washington. Tribal council member Jay Julius said they stand with the Yakama Nation to protect their resources and their treaty rights.

“I respect what you guys are doing,” he said. “It’s very honorable. It gives hope for our future generations.”

Locally, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation have expressed some of the same concerns about protecting fisheries, said spokesman Chuck Sams. But they have not come out in complete support or opposition of the project. CTUIR members did not participate in the Yakama demonstration.

“We’re not against business in any way, as long as that business does not interfere with our treaty rights directly,” Sams said.

George Selam, Yakama Nation general council chairman, said they must always stand in opposition to anything that will put natural resources in jeopardy or danger.

“If we don’t take our stand now, then the federal government and (states) will always feel they have the upper hand to go forward,” Selam said. “Our lands have no price tag. Once they’re gone, they’re gone.”

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