Islanders protest Glacier at early-morning demonstration

More than 50 people showed up a stone's throw from Glacier Northwest's construction site on Maury Island early Monday morning in a show of opposition to the corporation's industrial-sized pier and the mammoth gravel-mining operation it could facilitate

More than 50 people showed up a stone’s throw from Glacier Northwest’s construction site on Maury Island early Monday morning in a show of opposition to the corporation’s industrial-sized pier and the mammoth gravel-mining operation it could facilitate.

Clad in bulky jackets and wool hats to stave off the early-morning chill, people stood on the beach next to a cyclone fence the corporation erected over the weekend, chanting loudly and sporting hand-made sign. Others paddled in kayaks or dinghies, staying far enough from the actual construction operation to avoid arrest.

“It’s reaching a climax, and we really have to step up the amount of intervention here,” Patrick Christie, a University of Washington professor in marine policy, told the group.

“There isn’t one agency ready to oversee this,” Rep. Sharon Nelson (D-Maury) added. “We need eyes and ears on the ground. … We don’t have anybody except for this Island ready to keep an oversight on what happens here.”

The protest took place three days after Glacier began work on the controversial 305-foot pier, a structure that — if completed — could offload millions of tons of gravel onto barges and transform this once small mining operation into the largest in the country.

On Friday afternoon, days after Glacier received a 30-year lease from the state, King County officials gave Glacier a “notice to proceed” on its building permit. The corporation launched work immediately, and crews worked 12-hour days throughout the weekend, according to Pete Stoltz, the corporation’s permit coordinator.

“It’s very important to us that it gets done on time,” Stoltz said of the steel pier. Noting that crews will not be able to work after Jan. 14, when state restrictions to protect spawning fish go into effect, he added, “It’d be very difficult, very disruptive to stop the project mid-project and remobilize at another time. We’d like to see it get done before Jan. 14.”

Much of the protest focused on the role of Public Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland, the outgoing head of the state Department of Natural Resources who on Tuesday signed Glacier’s 30-year lease. The lease, considered one the last administrative hurdle for Glacier, gave the corporation permission to build a pier over state-owned aquatic lands, protected by way of the Maury Island Aquatic Reserve.

Sutherland, a Republican, lost in his bid for a third term to Democratic challenger Peter Goldmark. During his re-election campaign, Glacier contributed $50,000 to a political action committee formed for the purposes of supporting Sutherland’s bid for another term.

“Doug Sutherland should be very ashamed of himself,” Amy Carey, the head of Preserve Our Islands (POI) told the group.

“Just say no to quid pro quo,” people chanted at one point, following the lead of Bill Moyer, the director of the Backbone Campaign, who shouted into a bullhorn.

“Sutherland sold out,” they chanted a few moments later.

Two security guards stood on the other sign of the cyclone fence, watching the protest silently. A construction barge, brought into place less than 24 hours after word of the lease-signing was made public, was in place next to Glacier’s aging pier, and throughout the morning, the long arm of a crane could be seen at work.

“I’m inspired by this morning,” Christie, a board member for POI, told the group.

It’s imperative that people speak out, he added, because state agencies have so far effectively ignored

“I’ve heard the testimony in favor of the aquatic reserve. I’ve heard the overwhelming opposition to the mine,” he said. “And what’s so frustrating is that the government’s ignored you.”

Instead, he said, they’ve turned to “sham science. It’s science for hire.”