“Affordable fares and full ferry service” are unlikely under a negotiated lease between the County and the Lummi Nation. Indeed, as you say, “the current lease negotiations are being conducted in a manner that serves only the interests of Whatcom County government and Lummi Nation.” That’s because they are the only ones negotiating! And because the County is hampered by legal complexities beyond their financial means. It is infeasible to settle these issues in court. Whatcom County cannot afford to litigate against the executive branch of the US government.
I think it is time for Islanders to commence their own negotiations. This should eventually include the Lummi Nation, but my initial efforts to feel them out on a new, mutually beneficial approach has gone without reply. That means Lummi Islanders will need to get their attention first. It also means they are well aware of their advantage and its weaknesses.
County contacts have been much more receptive, indicating they, too, understand their weaknesses. Unfortunately, the County doesn’t have any inherent advantages – and they understand this, too.
I have finished reading roughly seven archive boxes of relevant documents provided in response to a disclosure request.
Do island folks understand that a road through the reservation to access Lummi Island has been approved by the Department of the interior three times? That the County has bought right-of-ways twice, and the State approved them twice? That the Secretary of the Interior approved the first lease and that the second lease was stipulated by consent decree in federal court? That only the evolution of federal policy and administrative oversight has created the opportunity for the Lummi Nation to capitalize on the bottleneck through the tidelands?
Ironically, history is the essential weakness of the Lummi Nation’s posture. The ferry has operated here for a century, but people have ferried to and from Lummi Island at this location for millenia. That’s because there is no feasible alternative. That is islanders’ key strength.
I’m a bit of an outsider but would like to propose a completely new approach to the right island people in the right island context.