Saturday, October 27, 2012

Coal Port Scoping, Bellingham Style

I didn’t have time to linger over the newspaper this morning, what with the prospect of Bellingham’s biggest socio-political event in years taking place over at Squalicum High School.  But a full-page ad in the Herald, shouting “We’re Speaking Out!”, did catch my attention.  Sponsored by the Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports (Slogan:  “Build Terminals Here/Build Jobs Here”), the ad featured an attractive young couple and a little girl..

“Now, who’s that couple?” asked an out of town friend who was staying with us.  I don’t know who they are, and if they came to the High School this morning to “speak out,” I didn’t spot them in the sea of red t-shirts and the forest of “No Coal Export” signs. 

From what I’ve heard – and I may have missed it – the young couple did not “speak out.”

I did see one young man who looked a little bit like the fellow in the ad.  He was wearing a “Build Terminals Here/Build Jobs Here” pin, but wasn’t accompanied by a wife or child.  Probably a different guy.   

When somebody asked if he was from Bellingham, he said “No, actually I’m from Bothell.” 

This raised a question in my mind about what the word “Here” might mean to that young man.  Was he at Squalicum High School in order to advocate the construction of a terminal in Bothell?  Or perhaps Whatcom County is akin to a church mission project for Bothellites, who want to give us a hand out of our current employment situation by providing advice on “good jobs.”

Speaking of advice, I do think that SSA’s public process consultants need to learn from Disney.  What was the point of making hundreds of Whatcom County citizens line up in the cold and rain in order to compete for the opportunity to speak out about the coal terminal?  I had suggested to the County, only half in jest, that they could have given out bracelets in advance.  After all, concert impresarios know what they’re doing when it comes to crowd control.

At the very least, we all could have been provided with flu shots while we waited.  But then, I suppose that, as a captive audience, we should be grateful that we were not subjected to ads for the coal terminal.

Fortunately for the organizers, Whatcom County folks are hardy,  good natured, apparently not prone to claustrophobia, and very tractable.  We waited, we stood where we were told, we shuffled where and when we were supposed to shuffle, and eventually we all got inside the high school.  

Two rooms, the gym and the auditorium, accommodated speakers.  I was in the gym, and the first two speakers expressed the Lummi Nation’s opposition to the terminal. I’m sure that Paul Anderson won’t mind if I borrow one of his lovely photos to illustrate the moment when Lummi Chairman Cliff Cultee was addressing government agency representatives:

Photo by Paul Anderson
The speakers were warmly and respectfully received by the crowd.  To a large extent, the crowd wore red for “no coal” and green for “build a terminal here.”  This will make for a most festive holiday family photo, no question.

I didn’t hear a single pro-terminal speaker throughout the time that I listened to testimony, although I have since heard that there was one.  In the auditorium, I hear that things were about the same – one pro-coal speaker, and dozens of passionate, informed, thoughtful citizens who asked the agencies to respect the fact that the future of our community is in their hands.

To me, today’s event showed that this is a community that merits the utmost respect.  I hope that the agencies agree.


P.S.  Kudos to County Council member Carl Weimer, who came out to hear the community's concerns.  I hear that City Council member Seth Fleetwood was also at the scoping session, listening to community comments.  Thanks, Carl and Seth!