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!


  1. Did you say: "Alliance for Northwest Job Export" that sounds about right.

  2. Wait a minute children.

    You shouldn't complain about someone from Bothell coming to speak. After all, the "anti" people are calling for a much broader scoping to include much of the northwest and beyond. If the scoping is be that broad why should anyone complain if people from other areas choose to participate?

    1. Your predictable condescension missed the mark here, Jack (and I would never refer to you as "my child, Jack"). If a Bothell resident's platform is "Build the terminal here/build jobs here," one can reasonably inquire what benefit goes to Bothell.

      Environmental impacts of the project will be local, regional (from here to the Powder River Basin) and global. The "impactshed" of the project should be the basis of the environmental review, so of course people from outside Whatcom County should be involved. They will be bearing the burdens of the project, too.

      As I understand it, Bothell is within the "jobshed" for the project, a point not always made clear by supporters who create the impression that Whatcom County residents will get all the jobs. So there is no reason that Bothell residents shouldn't come here to promote the jobs that they will get. As long as there is no misrepresentation about how the benefits and the burdens of this project will be distributed.

    2. There were several people that spoke during the comment session that were from out of town including one from out of state. One out of towner drove two hours from the Georgetown Neighborhood in Seattle because she can not make the Seattle meeting and wanted to have her voice heard as the rail line passes through her neighborhood. Another woman was from Bow and is conerned about trains idling on the siding very near her home. Another was from Montana and has concerns about how rail lines in Montana have interfered with cattle ranching as rail spurs to coal mines have expanded - its a big deal as the range cattle depend on easy access to water.

      A local argument for jobs ought to consider the impact these local jobs will have on people that get all the impact and none of the jobs.

      At the session I attended the speakers were 48-1 opposed or at least very concerned about project imapcts.

  3. My husband and I were volunteering at the event yesterday,and we talked to so many wonderful people. Our favorite moment of the day was when a woman told us that she came to the hearing as a coal terminal supporter, but was leaving as a "Power Past Coal" supporter. She picked up a yard sign, thanked us for what we were doing, and explained that before the event, she didn't realize the range and seriousness of the negative impacts this project would cause.