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Originally published Wednesday, February 27, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Guest columnists

Maury Island stewardship now falls to the Legislature

For more than a decade, environmental organizations and citizens from throughout the state have been battling a proposal to expand a small...

Special to The Times

For more than a decade, environmental organizations and citizens from throughout the state have been battling a proposal to expand a small gravel mine on fragile Maury Island and to construct an industrial barging facility on the island's sensitive shorelines.

During the past decade, citizens aligned with such groups as People for Puget Sound, the League of Women Voters, Washington Audubon and the locally-based Preserve Our Islands have watched and protested as the mining conglomerate's cadre of lobbyists and attorneys has successfully convinced the state to change rules to accommodate this massive proposal.

A recent examination of the original land deeds shows that Glacier Northwest may not even own a significant portion of the gravel it proposes to mine — the citizens of Washington may be the legal owners of these resources. Article 16 of our state constitution clearly states that the Legislature holds such lands in trust for the people of this state. The revenues from sale of lands and resources from the lands are used to fund our schools.

Let's examine the story told by the land deeds. When the state of Washington sold part of the Maury Island site in the early 1900s, it retained the rights to all minerals "of every name, kind or description," which includes gravel. Even though the land has changed hands several times since the initial sale, to this day the state still reserves the site's mineral rights.

Glacier's owner, the multinational conglomerate Taiheiyo Cement, has been arguing for years that because this site appeared on mineral resource designation maps compiled by King County, it has the right to expand its mining operation from 10,000 tons per year to 2 million tons or more. Since the deeds were uncovered, Glacier Northwest has been forced to adopt an outrageous new position — that "mineral resources" do not include sand and gravel.

As a result of this new information, Senate Bill 6777 (co-sponsored by Sens. Joe McDermott, D-West Seattle, and Lisa Brown, D-Spokane) was introduced, mandating a review of the mineral ownership. The Senate approved the legislation on Feb. 19.

Citizens, the League of Women Voters and the environmental community are now asking members of the House of Representatives to support the bill, to exercise the state's fiduciary responsibility, and to halt construction of the barge loading facility until this mineral-ownership issue can be resolved. Resolving the ownership issue is simply good government, and the bill passed by the Senate should move forward.

Taiheiyo Cement and Glacier Northwest have again unleashed their team of lobbyists in Olympia, with the intention of putting their corporate interests before the interests and well-being of the citizens of Washington.

The decision to create a massive industrial port on a sensitive Puget Sound shoreline was based on maximizing corporate profit. These deeds place the issue of the stewardship of Maury Island squarely in the hands of the Legislature.

Sen. Joe McDermott, D-West Seattle, represents the 34th Legislative District, which includes Maury Island.

Rep. Dave Upthegrove, D-Des Moines, represents the 33rd Legislative District and is chairman of the House Ecology and Parks Committee.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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