Opinion

Goldmark’s move shows much-needed leadership

The fight to protect Maury Island from Glacier Northwest’s efforts to construct a massive barge loading facility in publicly owned tidelands and enormously expand a gravel mine to within 15 feet of the Islands’ sole-source aquifer started more than a decade ago.

It has been a long battle — so long that during that decade, Chinook salmon have been listed as a threatened species; our beloved southern orcas have been listed as endangered; the health of Puget Sound has been publicly declared in jeopardy. Just last year, a new public agency — the Puget Sound Partnership — was formed to begin the arduous process of restoring our imperiled Sound.

In 2000, Maury Island’s importance to the Puget Sound ecosystem was recognized when the state created and established the Maury Island Aquatic Reserve. The designation was rescinded by former Public Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland as soon as he took office, but the significance of this shoreline was so clear that he re-designated the aquatic reserve in 2003.

As the battle to protect Maury continued, the Puget Sound Partnership commenced its work. The agency held a press conference on Dec. 1, 2008, where it issued its plan to protect Puget Sound.

“The alteration of nearshore habitat through the construction of docks and bulkheads provides one striking example of how a localized activity can threaten broad components of the ecosystem,” the partnership’s plan stated, adding that the region needs to protect habitat in Puget Sound that is still functioning.

Such habitat is well-documented along southeast Maury Island, where the old dilapidated Glacier dock had remained after mining operations in the late 1960s and 1970s ceased. That is why the area is an aquatic reserve — its ecological value to the citizens of Washington state.

The day after the partnership’s “Action Agenda” was announced, Sutherland issued a lease to Glacier to construct its barge-loading pier within the aquatic reserve. Even though the aquatic reserve program is noted in the partnership’s Action Agenda as a program which can assist in the protection and restoration of Puget Sound, Sutherland cut a deal with the multinational corporation.

It is apparent that he either did not read the partnership’s blueprint for restoring the Sound or chose to disregard it.

Also, as has been documented in The Beachcomber, a political action committee, funded with $50,000 from Glacier and large contributions from other extractive industrial interests, had attempted to keep Sutherland in office. Questions have arisen as to whether the lease was a “quid pro quo,” and I have to say I will leave that up to The Beachcomber’s readers.

Now we have Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark questioning whether Glacier (now CalPortland) can move forward on its planned pier construstion and still protect the aquatic reserve. The mitigation plan, which Commissioner Goldmark has called into question, states that we will assess the damage from the barge-loading facility after it’s been built. Agency after agency accepted that plan. Commissioner Goldmark, whose duty is to protect our aquatic resources for every citizen in this state, rightfully said he needed more information.

What comes next in this battle will depend upon the answers Goldmark receives from Glacier. Based on the history of the company, which has falsely represented its old dock as “maintained and repaired” and the soil arsenic levels as below clean-up levels, this could be an interesting response.

I am pleased that today we have a commissioner of public lands who has taken leadership in protecting our aquatic lands — owned by each and every citizen of this state.

If we are going to protect and restore the Sound, we must ask tough questions and be willing to confront difficult problems. Goldmark’s willingness to ask those tough questions and confront difficult problems demonstrates why he is a leader we need at this time — not just for the Maury Island Aquatic Reserve but for our entire state.

— State Rep. Sharon Nelson lives on Maury Island.

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