The Washington Department of Natural Resources has granted Glacier Northwest a lease to build a dock to expand its controversial gravel mine on Maury Island in south Puget Sound. Outgoing Public Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland signed a 30-year lease with Glacier Northwest on Tuesday. The approval allows it to build a barge-loading pier on state...

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SEATTLE — The Washington Department of Natural Resources has granted a mining company a new lease to build a dock for an expanded gravel mine on Maury Island in south Puget Sound.

Outgoing Public Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland signed the 30-year lease Tuesday with a subsidiary of Glacier Northwest Inc. The approval allows it to build a barge-loading pier on state aquatic lands in the Maury Island Aquatic Reserve.

Environmental groups have fought the mine expansion over the past decade. They say it will damage critical shoreline habitat and threatens chinook salmon and killer whales in Puget Sound.

Amy Carey, president of Preserve Our Islands, called the decision “extremely disappointing” and said her group will appeal it on Wednesday.

“This is an area that has been identified by the federal government as invaluable to chinook recovery,” she said. “The orcas have historically used this specific area for foraging.”

State Sen. Joe McDermott, D-Seattle, whose district includes Maury Island, said he was “outraged that Commissioner Sutherland would put at risk Puget Sound” and issue the lease.

In a statement, Sutherland said the lease underwent a thorough review, and that he added extra safeguards to ensure long-term environmental protection of the site.

“This lease agreement accomplishes the goal of environmental protection while allowing existing commercial activities,” he said.

Sutherland, a Republican, was defeated in the Nov. 4 election by Democrat Peter Goldmark, who will take office early next year. In a statement, Goldmark said he was “deeply disappointed” by the lease.

“While I understand there is only one lands commissioner at a time, this decision does come after the voters of Washington sent a very clear message,” Goldmark said.

The Department of Natural Resources, however, noted that local, state and federal agencies have issued required permits, and that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved a permit in July.

Environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit in September, arguing that federal agencies didn’t adequately study potential threats to orcas and other endangered species.

On its Web site, Glacier Northwest said that after 10 years of intensive study and review, multiple local, state and federal agencies have issued permits or found that the project “will not harm the environment, endanger species, other fish, or their habitat.”

“As Maury Island goes, so will go Puget Sound,” said Rep. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island. “We have to stop projects like this. I find it sad that this is Doug Sutherland’s legacy.”

Associated Press Writer Curt Woodward contributed to this story.