Can this tiny longhouse stop a giant natural gas tank?
Protesters erected a miniature longhouse — just five feet tall and 12 feet long — in front of Puget Sound Energy's front doors and blocked the entrance to the company's headquarters in Bellevue for about three hours Monday morning.
The protesters oppose a liquid natural gas plant, including a 150-foot-tall gas storage tank, being built at the mouth of the Puyallup River. The round, 8 million gallon tank, already rising high above the Tacoma tide flats, is much narrower but about as tall as the Tacoma Dome.
“Puget Sound Energy has put a monstrosity of a structure on the Puyallups’ estuary, right on their estuary, not just their land, but on their estuary,” protester Paul Cheoketen Wagner of Redmond said.
“For them to put that there and threaten the water and threaten those salmon, that’s illegal by the supreme law of the land: United States treaties,” said Wagner, a member of the Saanich tribe.
"No LNG in the 253! No LNG in the Salish Sea!" the two dozen protesters chanted, led by Wagner banging a traditional drum.
“We’ve had people in the lobby of our office. I get it,” said Steve Van Slyke with the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency when informed of the protest. “There’s intense interest from all sides of the issue.”
The clean air agency told Puget Sound Energy last year that the company lacked the permits required before construction of a polluting facility can begin.
“Nothing is being built there without permits,” PSE spokesperson Grant Ringel said Monday.
“We disagree. That’s why it’s still an open enforcement case,” Van Slyke said.
The Puyallup Tribe last year asked the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency to halt construction.
The agency declined, though it did say any construction Puget Sound Energy does without a permit is at the company's own risk.
Puget Sound Energy has maintained that the portions of the $310 million natural gas processing and storage facility that will not themselves emit pollutants into the air do not need construction permits from the clean air agency.
The agency is preparing to look comprehensively at the project’s climate implications, including the fracking used to get natural gas out of the ground and how the gas is used, whether in ships, businesses or homes.
Van Syke said he expects to have a timeline next week for how long that study will take. He said the agency will not make a decision on a permit for the plant until the public has had a chance to weigh in on what the study finds.
Ringel said the project would benefit the environment by replacing the heavy bunker fuel used by many ships with cleaner-burning natural gas.
A Port of Tacoma web page for the project said most of the gas stored at the facility would be used on land, not at sea.
Climate activists said their tiny longhouse was just like Puget Sound Energy's megaproject.
The protesters applied for a City of Bellevue building permit on Friday. They erected their mini-longhouse without waiting to hear whether regulators would approve it.
"There’s definitely problems with the project, yet they’re building full-speed ahead. I mean, they have the top, the roof, on the 8 million gallon tank,” said activist Stacy Oaks with 350 Seattle.