What seemed to be the final act to finally protect Cherry Point would be reversed by a bill introduced late last week by state Senator Doug Ericksen.

SB 5171, quietly described as “An Act Relating to certain uses of state-owned aquatic lands” included this provision tacked on to the end:

The commissioner of public lands shall rescind the January 3, 2017, commissioner’s order: Amended withdrawal and designation order for the Cherry Point aquatic reserve.

That would be a direct hit on the decision by the state Department of Natural Resources to expand the state aquatic reserve at Cherry Point:

Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark announced today he will expand Puget Sound’s Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve north of Bellingham, adding 45 acres previously considered for a large coal export terminal. At the same time, he will reject a proposal from Millennium Bulk Terminals to sublease state-owned aquatic lands on the Columbia River west of Longview.

“These decisions are in the best long-term interest of Puget Sound, the Columbia River and the people of Washington,” said Goldmark. “They are informed by years of study and consideration, and represent the best way to protect and conserve our state’s waterways.”

At Cherry Point, the Lummi Indian Business Council cited its treaty rights last fall when they asked to add the area originally proposed for the terminal to the reserve’s boundaries. DNR then convened a committee of scientists and conducted a public State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review to evaluate the boundary change. The technical review committee unanimously recommended incorporating the additional 45 acres, citing important herring and eelgrass habitat vital to local salmon runs.  

Last year the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, acting upon a request by the Lummi Nation, rejected a proposed coal terminal at Cherry Point. The Army Corps sided with the tribe, agreeing that the coal port would harm the tribe’s treaty-reserved fishing rights. The recent act by the state DNR seemed to be the last act in the long struggle to protect Cherry Point.

In addition to reversing the protections by DNR, Ericksen’s bill would also require the lands commissioner to get legislative approval before authorizing any other expansions. Also in the bill is a provision to significantly lower the costs for easements across state aquatic reserves.