In one of the largest rallies on Vashon in years, more than 500 sign-toting Islanders gathered on the rocky shores south of Gold Beach Sunday to protest Glacier Northwest’s efforts to dramatically expand its mining operation.
The community rally, organized by the Backbone Campaign and Preserve Our Islands (POI), began at the Gold Beach Community Center at noon. By 12:30, a long line of Islanders, from senior citizens to children to parents holding babies against their chests, were snaking along the shore until the swelling crowd stopped on the beach just short of the old Glacier pier, where a chain-link fence demarcated the work site.
The protesters were accompanied by a flotilla of boats, including 10 kayaks and five sailboats festooned with homemade signs. One kayaker held aloft a sign that read, “Yes we can,” while another boater in a larger craft unfurled a sail that said, “No mine.”
“In a death by a thousand cuts to Puget Sound, this is a dagger to the heart,” King County Councilmember Dow Constantine told the assembled mass, using a bullhorn to reach the crowd. “This will damage what is left of Puget Sound’s ecosystem.”
A few minutes later, Patrick Christie, a University of Wash-ington professor and a POI board member, took the bullhorn. “Glacier claims that only a small, isolated group of people oppose the expansion of the mine,” he said. “Well, I don’t feel very isolated right now. How about you?”
The crowd roared back in agreement, banging on drums, sounding air-horns and blowing noisemakers left over from New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Five King County Sheriff’s deputies stood watch on the other side of the chain-link fence. Further up the hill, on the private road leading to the Glacier site, a cluster of workers wearing orange hard hats surveyed the mass of people on the beach.
Glacier officials could not be reached for comment.
The rally was the latest — and biggest — in a series of community outpourings that have taken place since Glacier got the go-ahead to begin building its 305-foot, barge-loading pier Dec. 5. The controversial construction project will enable Glacier to begin extracting millions of tons of sand and gravel from its 235-acre site on the eastern flank of Maury, an expansion opponents say will make it the largest sand and gravel mine in the country.
Last week, nine protesters — supported by about 50 other Islanders — formed two human chains to block the road that leads to the Glacier site, an effort to keep construction crews at bay and delay the work as long as possible. The protest ended five hours later, after enough workers had parked their cars and walked around the human blockade to resume the project.
The corporation is in a race against time: It hopes to complete its steel pier by Jan. 14, when state restrictions to protect spawning fish go into effect and it has to suspend work until August. Opponents, meanwhile, hope to delay the project long enough to get either the courts or Gov. Christine Gregoire to intervene and possibly halt the project.
Some at the rally Sunday said they felt encouraged by even these slight delays, work stoppages they hope are costing the company precious hours.
“We saw them welding until 10:30 p.m. last night,” said a Gold Beach resident. “But today, we scared them off.”
Sunday’s rally was a colorful affair. The procession to the beach was led by Bill Moyer, director of the Backbone Campaign, carrying a snare drum around his neck and hoisting a pole supporting a huge, open-mouthed fish puppet. The hundreds who followed also held an array of signs, some artistic expressions of their opposition. Black-and-white orcas and multi-colored fish undulated in the air above the crowds. Some protesters waved signs taking aim at outgoing Public Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland, who in the final days of his tenure issued Glacier a 30-year lease to state-owned aquatic lands. Others made simple statements about the state of the Sound: “Go sharks,” a sign by a child said; “Eelgrass,” another proclaimed; “No dock. No rock,” said another.
Television cameras zoomed in on the protesters. A handful of reporters scribbled into notepads.
Several speakers took turns addressing the crowd, urging people to guard against cynicism and a feeling of hopelessness.
“What we do now makes a difference,” said Aleythea Dolstad, 22, one of the nine Islanders who formed a human blockade last week. “It’s up to all of us.”
POI director Amy Carey directed her ire against Sutherland, noting he granted Glacier a lease to the aquatic lands for $1,500 a year after a political action committee formed to support his re-election bid received a $50,000 contribution from Glacier. She also urged Islanders to contact Sutherland’s successor, Peter Goldmark, who begins his term next week, as well as Gregoire, who has remained publicly silent on the issue.
“Ten years into this fight, we are still saying ‘not now, not ever,’” Carey said.
Moyer, too, implored the crowd to hold fast, suggesting the outrage and determination that led to last week’s direct action have hardly run their course.
“Vashon will not stand for the establishment of this industrial-sized gravel mine which will ruin our aquatic reserve,” Moyer said. “We’re going to bring a little ruckus to Vashon Island and Olympia.”
Constantine, in a brief interview, said the best hope in blocking Glacier now rests with Goldmark, a Democrat who ousted Sutherland with a campaign centered around a conservation message.
“(Goldmark) has made it clear that he wants to stop the destruction of the last of our near shore habitats,” Constantine said. “But how much of Sutherland’s damage can be undone remains to be seen.”
But the size and tenor of the rally on a cold and windy Sunday suggests people are still passionate about protecting the Sound, he added.
“Folks here obviously care about the Sound and are willing to put themselves on the line,” he said. “There are no armchair activists here. This makes me proud to represent Vashon.”
As protesters finally made their way back to Gold Beach, the first flakes of a gentle snowstorm began to fall.
<Scenes from Sunday's rally