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Lands commissioner Peter Goldmark to review Glacier’s lease

Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark said Monday he plans to review Glacier Northwest’s state-issued lease to aquatic lands off the shores of Maury Island to see if the 30-year document is consistent with efforts to protect and restore Puget Sound.

The newly elected commissioner, who took office as the head of the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in January, said he also wants to review the rate for the lease, currently slated to bring in $1,500 a year to state coffers.

“If a company is going to move millions of dollars of gravel through an access point, that access should bring in more revenue for our citizens than what I could make renting out a spare bedroom in my home,” Goldmark said in a prepared statement.

Noting that his predecessor, Doug Sutherland, signed the lease a day after the Puget Sound Partnership’s much-anticipated action plan for the Sound’s restoration was issued, he added that he’s concerned the potential impact of Glacier’s project hasn’t been measured against the state agency’s precedent-setting blueprint.

“I have concerns about how this dock will impact the long-term sustainability and cleanup of Puget Sound,” he said. “When these leases are signed, Washingtonians expect due diligence, and we must review this deal to make sure it is in lockstep with the Puget Sound Partnership’s action plan.”

The announcement came as significant and welcome news to state lawmakers who represent Vashon as well as Islanders who have waged a decade-long campaign against the mining corporation.

“I think this review will prove that there are grave concerns about whether or not the lease was in the state’s interest,” said Sen. Joe McDermott (D-West Seattle). “I’m pleased we have someone with a clear head and strong priorities reviewing this now.”

State Rep. Sharon Nelson (D-Maury Island) concurred.

“This action is prudent, recognizes that citizens have concerns and provides an opportunity to look at how this lease does or does not fit into the whole Puget Sound agenda,” she said.

A spokesperson for Glacier, however, said Goldmark’s decision to review the lease makes little sense and is unnecessary in light of the considerable scrutiny the project has already received.

“DNR spent over 10 years reviewing this lease application,” said Pete Stoltz, the company’s permit coordinator, adding that Glacier first submitted it when Jennifer Belcher headed the agency. “The project has been out there for a long time. ... After multiple regulatory reviews and the determination that the lease is not a threat to Puget Sound, we think it should stand.”

Sutherland, who was defeated in November in his bid for a third term to helm the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), signed the lease in what some critics complained was an 11th-hour move by the outgoing public official. What’s more, Sutherland indirectly received a significant campaign boost from the firm; Glacier donated $50,000 to a political action committee formed to support him.

Nelson and McDermott along with Rep. Eileen Cody (D-West Seattle) met with Goldmark a couple of weeks ago to express their concerns about Sutherland’s decision to sign the lease in the final weeks of his tenure and his failure to look at it in light of the new action plan to restore the Sound.

Monday, before issuing the release, Goldmark called the lawmakers to let them know what he was up to.

“He seemed receptive, thoughtful and wanting to make sure anything the department was doing was sustainable and in the public’s best interest,” McDermott said.

This isn’t the first 11th-hour move by Sutherland, a Republican, that Goldmark, a Democrat, is reviewing. Earlier this month, Goldmark announced that he wouldn’t sign a lease with Taylor Shellfish that Sutherland negotiated to settle the Mason County-based company’s long-term trespass on state tidelands in Totten Inlet.

The lease was part of a settlement signed in the final hours of Sutherland’s tenure; the settlement set the terms for a lease that was still under an open public comment period under the state’s environmental review process.

Taylor Shellfish had argued that the trespass was an honest mistake wrapped up in a purchase of private tidelands in the area years ago. But Taylor, like Glacier, had made significant contributions to Sutherland’s campaign, and critics complained Sutherland was doling out last-minute favors to his friends.

In Glacier’s case, Sutherland granted the company a lease enabling the corporation to build a 305-foot barge-loading pier across state aquatic lands, protected by way of the state-sanctioned Maury Island Aquatic Reserve. Glacier needs the pier to facilitate its plans to dramatically expand its sand and gravel mining operation at its 325-acre site on eastern Maury Island.

Amy Carey, who heads Preserve Our Islands, a grassroots organization opposed to Glacier, said Goldmark’s decision to take another look at Glacier’s lease means there’s a possibility critical information that she says Sutherland ignored will now be brought into the review process. Several killer whales protected by the federal Endangered Species Act, for instance, have died recently. The state issued the lease, she said, before that information could be factored into the decision-making.

“Who knows what the outcome will be, but I’m grateful and confident at this point ... that they’ll take the good, hard look that hasn’t yet been taken,” she said.

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