U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen provided a brief statement Wednesday, Feb. 16 on the negotiation stalemate between Whatcom County and Lummi Nation over a new lease to insure continued operation of the Lummi Island Ferry.
I emailed Larsen for a comment after county officials said they had appealed to him and Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell for their assistance in helping to resolve the matter.
“Whoever told the Lummi Nation that cutting off the lifeline of the 900 residents of Lummi Island is a good idea, is giving them terrible advice,” Larsen replied. ” I hope that the County and the Tribe will return to the table to negotiate a productive solution to this issue that addresses the needs of the local community.”
In a followup email, I have asked Larsen whether he is in a position to discuss this situation with federal agencies such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Department of Interior, which oversees the bureau. I’ll relay his response as it becomes available.
Larsen spokeswoman Emily Halnon has relayed this response:
“Rick has reached out to the Bureau of Indian Affairs a number of times to clarify how the federal government can be involved in this process. There is not a regulatory or oversight role at the federal level other than the BIA approving the final lease on the tidelands-which does not include the lease for the actual land.”
I have also asked the tribe for a response to Larsen’s comment.
Tip Johnson, a former Bellingham City Council member and prominent civic activist, has examined documents from county archives going back more than 100 years that appear to document the existence of a county right-of-way for ferry access to the island, granted by the Department of the Interior.
Up to this point, county attorneys have said they didn’t think that the right-of-way argument was a trump card they could play in ferry negotiations.
But if the ferry issue moves from the negotiating table to the courtroom in a couple of months, it would not be surprising to see attorneys for the county and/or the islanders introducing these documents into evidence.