Opinion

Vashon’s tenacity helped to secure POI’s win

By Sharon Nelson, Brenda Moore, Libby McLarty, J.W. Turner and Amy Carey

For The Beachcomber

On Aug. 13, when U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Martinez ruled against Glacier Northwest, Preserve Our Islands and its many environmental allies had the victory they have sought for more than a decade.

For each of us, years of strategy and hard work by the Preserve Our Islands (POI) board and community came to fruition. The science, the legal work and the hours of research and outreach culminated in a decision that not only recognizes the threat to Maury Island from Glacier’s proposed barge-loading facility but the threat to all of Puget Sound.

As presidents of Preserve Our Islands, each of us has been honored by the support of the greater community and by each incarnation of the organization’s board of directors. As an all-volunteer effort, the past decade’s work has been shouldered by the steadfast commitment of the individuals who stepped forward to tirelessly give their time and talents.

Today we would like to reflect on the history of the battle and to thank all of you, as well as our allies across the state, for your perseverance and dedication. And while we recognize that this fight is not over and that there is still hard work to be done before we can finally let our guard down knowing that Glacier is gone for good, we’re also well aware that in this David-versus-Goliath battle, David is winning.

More than a decade ago, our community learned that in hopes of providing fill for the Seattle-Tacoma airport’s third runway, Glacier planned to create on the shores of Maury Island what — when measured by extraction rates — would be the largest sand and gravel mine in the United States. And Glacier intended to build an industrial barging facility within this sensitive area — replacing its dilapidated, unusable dock.

It was a small group of dedicated Islanders led by Sharon Nelson way back in 1997 that began this fight, tirelessly researching arsenic, prop wash, eelgrass, permits and the Island’s hydrogeology.

This first incarnation of Preserve Our Islands established the pathway that the organization has followed in the decade since. That is, to ensure that facts and sound science, rather than corporate propaganda, are used when considering the potential impacts of the proposed Glacier Northwest mega mine on clean air, Maury Island’s sole-source aquifer, endangered species and the Puget Sound nearshore.

With this as our organizational cornerstone we earned our first victory when King County ruled that the proposed project required an Environmental Impact Statement. At the public comment hearing, 2,000 Islanders joined us — one by one telling the county that this barge-loading facility and mine did not belong on a small Island with a fragile nearshore ecosystem.

We won again when King County denied Glacier’s permits for dock construction, and while Glacier appealed and the denial was overturned, we successfully held them off for years during this first round of the legal fighting.

We won when the state Department of Natural Resources first recognized the unique value of the Maury nearshore and created the Maury Island Aquatic Reserve.

And we won when the state Department of Ecology determined that an official investigation into the arsenic contamination will now be required under the state’s toxic law.

At each turn in this battle, Glacier officials fought back more strongly than before. They hired lobbyists and consultants to report exactly what Glacier wanted them to say. They made tens of thousands of dollars in political contributions and threatened the agencies that questioned them with damages lawsuits. Worse yet, they continued providing false documentation on the biology of the site and on the project’s impacts.

With each incorrect assertion, we, along with all of you, corrected the record and made sure the accurate information was presented. When the agencies ignored that science, we filed the legal challenges to ensure that Maury Island and Puget Sound were protected and would not be allowed to continue to deteriorate at the hands of the agencies charged with its protection.

Judge Martinez’s decision has resulted in a win that should make us all proud. It is a win not only for Maury — but for all of Puget Sound.

Glacier’s lawyers have appealed and while their case is weak at best, we know we must march forward to defend this win. However, there is no doubt it is a huge victory — one that without the Island’s support would not have been possible.

Preserve Our Islands is grateful for the faith that our supporters have put in us, and today we stand, as always, poised to move fearlessly ahead — with the community at our side as this new chapter unfolds and we take the next steps to finalize the protection of Maury and the preservation of Puget Sound. We know that together we can and will win this fight.

— Sharon Nelson, Brenda Moore, Libby McLarty and J.W. Turner are the past presidents of Preserve Our Islands, listed in chronological order. Amy Carey is POI’s current president.

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