The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community sent the Army Corps of Engineers on Thursday a 60-day notice of intent to sue over what it says is the corps’ failure to uphold the federal Endangered Species Act, according to a news release from the tribe.
The tribe said the corps has granted construction permits to dike districts in the Skagit River delta over the past five years without requiring that estuary habitat be restored as mitigation for harm such construction causes endangered chinook salmon.
According to the release, the failure to require restoration is a violation of the 2010 Skagit Delta Tidegates and Fish Initiative Implementation Agreement.
This breach — and the failure of the corps to reinitiate consultation with NOAA Fisheries to protect chinook salmon — violate the Endangered Species Act, according to the release.
“We are gravely concerned about the current state of the Skagit River estuary, which is critical for Chinook recovery in the Puget Sound,” Swinomish Chairman Steve Edwards said in the release. “Swinomish are the People of the Salmon, and these fish are integral to the Tribe’s sustenance, culture, identity and economy, yet we no longer have enough to feed our families.
“We are very frustrated that the Army Corps and NOAA Fisheries have completely failed to ensure that the fundamental premise of the TFI program was met — that estuary habitat is restored prior to issuing construction permits for tidegate replacements or repairs.”
According to the notice of intent to sue prepared by lawyers for the nonprofit Earthjustice, the Skagit Delta Tidegates and Fish Initiative Implementation Agreement requires the corps to reinitiate consultation with NOAA Fisheries when two consecutive reports produced under the agreement show no new habitat credits.
The notice says that it has been more than four years since any new estuary habitat restoration projects have been completed and in that time span no habitat credits have been generated.
The tribe said in its release that over the past five years at least 660 acres of estuary habitat should have been restored but was not.
“The Army Corps and NOAA Fisheries must right this wrong, must hold the districts accountable, and must comply with the law to recover ESA-listed Skagit Chinook and steelhead,” said Swinomish Senator Tandy Wilbur, the tribe’s acting fisheries manager.
The notice of intent to sue says that “If affirmative actions are not forthcoming, and if the above violations of law are not remedied within 60 days of receipt of this letter, we intend to bring appropriate legal action in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington.”