“We feel like we are back in the 1800s,” said a Tribal Council member after self-described “protectors” blocked access and turned away some workers at the plant site Monday. She said the tribe opposes the new plant as a threat to its lands, waters and people.
About 200 opponents sought to shut down access Monday to Puget Sound Energy’s (PSE) construction of a $310 million liquefied-natural-gas (LNG) plant at the Port of Tacoma.
Some workers made their way into the plant Monday morning, but others had been turned away as self-described “protectors” blocked access to a road to the construction site. The actions continued into Monday afternoon, with no injuries or violence reported, said Loretta Cool, spokeswoman for the Tacoma Police Department. Two arrests were made for misdemeanor offenses, including blocking traffic, she said.
“We are keeping it peaceful and prayerful,” said Puyallup tribal member Dakota Chase, who with the other opponents was at the site before dawn to attempt to stop work by chaining themselves together in front of gates to the worksite.
“The Puyallup Tribe opposes the siting of this facility,” said Puyallup Tribal Council member Annette Bryan, who joined in the action. The tribe was not meaningfully consulted about the project, Bryan said, which the tribe opposes as a threat to its lands, waters and people.
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“This is right next to our fish, our waters, our air, and within minutes of where our residents live,” Bryan said. “We were never involved in any meaningful way by the city, the port or the company. We feel like we are back in the 1800s.”
The company says its plant will help provide cleaner-burning fuel for the maritime industry and has been through years of public process.
But Bryan said the project also undermines years of work by the tribe to help clean up the Superfund site of Commencement Bay.
“To have another industrial site here is just unthinkable.”
The protest, followed on social media at #noLNG253, was organized by a coalition of environmental activists and Puyallup tribal members, who succeeded in turning away workers from the 35-acre tract.
“There will be resistance to this getting built, every step of the way,” said Alex Connon, a climate activist with 350 Seattle, which helped to organize the protest. “This is very much the beginning rather than (the) end.”
Earlier protests included a Dec. 11 action, when two people who chained themselves to a construction crane were arrested. Last Thursday, activists perched on top of tripods to temporarily block the front gates to the project.
The plant is scheduled to begin operations in 2019 and will be able to produce some 250,000 gallons of the liquid fuel daily through a process that involves chilling the gas. In liquid form, gas takes up only a small fraction of the space otherwise required and thus can be more easily stored.
PSE officials say the plant will provide a cleaner-burning maritime fuel to TOTE Maritime, which is converting two vessels that carry cargo from Washington to Alaska to operate on liquefied natural gas. The new fuel produces 30 percent less greenhouse-gas emissions and 90 percent less particulate-smoke emissions than the maritime bunker fuel it will replace, according to a PSE project statement.
Up to 8 million gallons of liquefied-fuel natural gas also will be stored at the site, and it could be warmed and put back into transmission lines to serve residential and business utility customers during times of peak demand.
PSE officials have said that the plant can operate safely and that another PSE liquefied-natural-gas facility has operated for more than a decade at Gig Harbor without a serious accident.
Opponents’ concerns include the risks of an explosion. And they argue against the utility’s making new investments in natural gas at a time of increased concerns about climate change and fossil-fuel emissions.
The “proposed LNG plant poses significant and potentially catastrophic threats not just to our fishing rights and resources, but to our homeland, people and neighbors,” wrote Bill Sterud, chairman of the Puyallup Tribal Council in a column published earlier this month in The (Tacoma) News Tribune.
Rather than convert ships’ engines to run on natural gas, opponents have proposed that TOTE reduce emissions through the use of low-sulfur petroleum fuels.
PSE has been planning the Tacoma plant for years.
In 2016, the Tacoma project took a big step forward in 2016 when the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission gave the green light to create a PSE subsidiary that will own and operate the facility in a business separate from its regulated utility operations.
The project is subject to a lengthy permitting process involving numerous government regulators.
PSE is currently at odds with the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency for starting construction without first obtaining an “order of approval” for a new emissions permit.
Steve Van Slyke, the agency’s compliance director, said the liquefied-natural-gas plant would be a moderate emitter of pollutants. Back in the spring, the agency issued a notice of violation for failing to get the permit, and it remains an open enforcement case, according to Van Slyke.
Since then, PSE has submitted an application for the emissions permit, which could be issued in 2018.
“We have to comply with air regulations, and we will,” said Grant Ringel, a PSE spokesman. Ringel also said the project had been vetted through an environmental-impact statement with a public process that ended in 2015, and subsequent public hearings.
Since issuing the notice of violation, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency has not tried to shut down work at site. But PSE would not be able to operate the facility if it fails to get the permit.
“Any work that PSE has done, or continues to do, is at their own risk,” wrote Van Slyke in a Sept. 25 letter to the Puyallup Tribe, which had hoped the agency would issue a stop-work order.
PSE officials have disputed the violation notice.
They contend that initial construction work has involved only site preparation, and that state rules allow that without the permit, according to an April 25 letter from PSE’s Jim Hogan, the project manager, to the agency.