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Islanders voice opinions on Glacier project

Islanders sent a strong message to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last Wednesday — Glacier Northwest is no more welcome on Vashon now than it was more than a decade ago, when Islanders and environmental groups began fighting Glacier’s proposed expansion of mining operations on Maury Island.

More than 100 Islanders attended Wednesday’s public meeting, held by the Army Corps to hear what Vashon residents want examined in a court-ordered environmental study of the potential impacts of Glacier’s proposed gravel mining and barging operation.

Twenty community members addressed Army Corps representatives in the packed commons room at Vashon High School. They expressed an array of concerns about Glacier’s proposed project, including its effects on local wildlife, potential contamination of the local aquifer and socioeconomic impacts on the Island.

All speakers, who were given three minutes apiece to say their opinion, were met with enthusiastic applause, and in many cases their words evoked cheers of agreement.

Last year a federal judge halted the Maury Island project, saying the Army Corps failed to complete the proper environmental review before granting Glacier’s permit to build a near-shore barging facility. As a result, the Army Corps has now begun this review.

A draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) will be prepared by fall of this year, and after another public comment period, a final EIS will be ready in the spring of 2011.

The Army Corps plans to decide next summer whether to grant or deny Glacier’s permit, based on the study’s findings.

Father Tryphon, abbot of the All-Merciful Saviour Orthodox Monastery in Dockton, was the meeting’s first commenter. Like many who spoke after him, he brought up the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, saying many warned about the dangers of drilling in the gulf just as the public now warns about the Maury Island project.

“I see in my mind’s eye B.P., and right next to it, Glacier,” he said.

Pat Collier said she worries that degradation of the shoreline along Maury Island could be devastating to the salmon population that feeds there, collapsing the food chain and ultimately driving away orcas.

“I hope the Corps of Engineers will use the best available science and the precautionary principle,” she said.

Julia Lakey brought a jar of gravel and a jar of water to the podium with her. Holding them up for the audience, she questioned which one was more important.

She said she has no assurance that arsenic, cadmium and lead deposited in the soil and sand by Asarco’s Tacoma smelter will not contaminate the local aquifer if the project goes forward.

“We have toxic contamination on this Island, and we have a project that blows it wide open,” she said. “I ask for a restoration of confidence in the regulatory process.”

Rep. Sharon Nelson’s (D-Maury Island) comments to the Army Corps were met with a standing ovation by many. She thanked the community and environmental groups who have worked to keep Glacier at bay for so long, saying that a denial of Glacier’s permit is the only result she will find acceptable.

“The solution is simple, and it has been for 14 years,” she said. “Not now, not ever.”

Edward Clabaugh questioned whether the Corps will carry out a proper investigation. Several other speakers echoed his concerns.

“Based on their record, it will be very difficult to regain any trust in that body,” he said.

Kathy Flynn expressed grief over losing the madrone-covered bluff that Glacier wants to remove as part of mining operations.

“There is nothing worth protecting that is more important than this,” she said. “We’re all bending over backwards to remove bulkheads to help fish, and we’re going to allow this? What kind of insanity is this?”

Another scoping meeting was held on Monday, July 12, in Seattle. Muffy Walker, chief of the Army Corps of Engineers’ Seattle district regulatory branch, said those who commented there shared similar concerns. Only about 20 people turned out for that meeting, she said.

While it’s too early for Walker to say which comments were most helpful to the Corps, she was glad to see such a large turnout on Vashon.

“It’s always helpful to hear from the public,” she said.

Amy Carey, head of Preserve Our Islands, was also pleased to see so many people show for the meeting. As people shared, she also sensed a clear mistrust of the Corps.

“People really were trying to convey to the Army Corp that this community has been working on this issue and sharing comments, sharing information ... every step of the way and we were ignored, which led to the lawsuit, which led to the EIS,” she said after the meeting. “They were asking for a different way of doing it this time that would be transparent and accurate.”

Comment

The public can submit written comments on the scope of the EIS until Aug. 13. Comments or requests for information can be mailed to Mrs. Olivia Romano, Project Manager, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Seattle District Regulatory Branch, 4735 E. Marginal Way South, Seattle, Wash., 98134 or e-mailed to nwaeis@usace.army.mil.

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