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Meeting scheduled to consider Lummi Nation’s appeal to Sandy Point property owners’ dredging permit

FERNDALE, Wash. — According to the Sandy Point Dredge Committee’s website, navigating the channel at the south end of the Sandy Point spit by boaters has become difficult and dangerous and often is only possible during high tides due to years of sediment accumulation. Whatcom County Fire District 17’s marine rescue vessel has also been prevented from responding to emergency calls except during high tides as a result.

As a result, since 2014, Sandy Point property owners have been working with Federal and Whatcom County agencies, the US Army Corps of Engineers along with environmental and legal consultants to gather and present information needed to obtain a necessary permit to dredge the entrance to the man-made Sandy Point marine basin and canals.

According to project proponents, the several-year effort resulted in Whatcom County Planning and Development issuing the necessary permit on November 24, 2020.

On December 11, 2020, representatives from Lummi Nation filed an objection to the permit stating significant adverse environmental impacts would likely result and requested an environmental impact statement (EIS) be prepared by the project proponents before a permit is issued.

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As we have repeatedly and consistently stated, maintenance dredging the entrance channel to the canal system that comprises the privately-owned, artificially excavated Sandy Point Marina located on the Lummi Reservation will continue to seriously and substantially adversely impact the quality and quantity of Lummi tidelands. The disruption caused by the entrance channel of the normal southerly flow of sediments along the west side of the Sandy Point Peninsula is starving the Lummi nation’s shellfish beds and forage fish habitat of the fine sands and gravels which make them productive, and has caused erosion of our lands located on the southern end of the Peninsula. This disruption, along with the elimination of habitat at the entrance channel location, is impacting our treaty reserved rights to harvest finfish and shellfish. These impacts will be exacerbated by the “maintenance dredge.”Lummi Nation letter to Whatcom County appealing approval of Sandy Point dredge project (December 11,2020)

Their objection will be heard by the County Hearing Examiner at a June 15th meeting project proponents announced.

According to documents posted on the committee’s website, a marina basin and entrance channel was dredged in 1958 with a channel width of 300 feet and a channel depth of between 10 to 12 feet at mean lower low tides (MLLW). Sediment has since been accumulating on the north side of the entrance forming a small land mass locally referred to as “Cape Horn.” Currently the entrance channel is about 50 feet wide with a depth of about 2 feet at MLLW.

Source: Sandy Point Dredge Committee website: Maintenance Dredging – Coastal Processes Evaluation

The proposed dredge project’s design would create a 50- to 75-foot-wide and 450-foot-long channel with a depth of 10 feet at MLLW.

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Aerial view of proposed dredging project area (May 2018). Source: Sandy Point Dredge Committee

In 2016, Whatcom County Fire District 17 (WCFD17) was dispatched to a report of a tribal fishing vessel that had exploded near Sandy Point and there were victims in the water, according to WCFD17 Fire Chief Jim Petrie. “Our firefighters watched helplessly from the beach while burn victims in the water had to wait for private vessels to rescue them,” Petrie told Whatcom News. From that experience came the motivation for a fire/rescue vessel, he said.

fishing vessel fire off west beach 2 - photo dinah mcabee
Fishing vessel fire off West Beach (Sandy Point) (August 11, 2016). Photo: Dinah McAbee

Since a boat donated by Phillips 66 Ferndale Refinery went into service in 2018 it has been dispatched to 16 emergency calls, nearly half of which could not be responded to due to low tide conditions at the mouth of the canal.  There have been 3 emergency calls this year they were unable to respond to due to low tides, Petrie said.

  • April 1 – An unoccupied vessel adrift in Bellingham Bay
  • April 14 – Overturned kayaker in the waters off Lummi Island
  • May 5 – Large brush fire on the beach at Point Whitehorn
WCFD17 Marine Rescue 56 douses a brush fire in a remote area of Lummi Island (summer 2020). Photo courtesy WCFD17
WCFD17 Marine Rescue 56 douses a brush fire in a remote area of Lummi Island (summer 2020). Photo courtesy of WCFD17

The Hearing Examiner is expected to publish a written ruling within 10 working days after the meeting.

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