There’s a scoping session for the proposed Gateway Pacific coal terminal on Saturday at Squalicum High School, at 3773 East McLeod Road in Bellingham. The doors open at 11:00.
Let me say, up front, that I'm feeling sorry for everybody.
I’m sorry for the organizers, who apparently viewed this as just another scoping session for just another private project. They scheduled a venue for a single day – actually, half of one day (four hours, 11:00-3:00), as if there weren’t going to be thousands of people, literally, who want the chance to make their case.
Maybe this would have made sense if the purpose of the scoping session were solely to allow the public to submit scoping comments.
Well, frankly, that’s the purpose of the internet.
At its root, the issue is this: this is no typical private project. It’s not a project that will only have direct effects on a few people. Most important, it’s not an issue about which only a few people will be in a position to offer comments, mostly technical in nature, about its environmental impacts.
The public wants to be heard, to hear each other, to be seen to exist, and this is the chance. There won’t be another chance until the agencies are on the verge of making their decisions.
It’s not irrational for the public to want to be seen and heard – not when you have engaged citizens on both sides. And that’s what the agencies apparently failed to take into account.
And so, I feel sorry for the folks who will be opening the doors at 11:00 a.m. If I’m not mistaken, there will be a whole bunch of people waiting to get in. Let’s hope that they haven’t been waiting in the rain – or snow (it’s not winter yet, is it?).
I feel sorry for the folks who are standing in line if it rains. I hope that they (we) all get to be heard. If not, I feel sorry for them. Us.
And finally, I feel sorry for these folks, who are the ONLY citizens in Whatcom County who are banned from this event.
Why have these nice people been banned?
Because, as members of the Whatcom County Council, they’re the people who have the greatest need to be informed.
No, it doesn’t make sense. It all goes back to the County’s stance on “Appearance of Fairness.” The County's interpretation has ensured that our County decision makers are isolated from citizens and (officially, at least) kept in the dark on the most important issue to hit this County – well, ever.
For those who haven’t been following this saga, the County has decreed that County Council members aren’t supposed to read or hear anything about the Gateway Pacific coal terminal. In one particularly ludicrous statement, the Council was informed that it shouldn’t even read anything about the coal industry.
The Appearance of Fairness law limits the Council’s knowledge of the project to the “record” for the permits to be approved. So why doesn’t Whatcom County take the bold step of declaring: “All information that’s in the public record will also be placed into the record of the permits. Council, inform yourselves.”
What would be the worst that could happen? The project applicant could tie itself up in knots, trying to show that allowing County Council members to review public documents somehow violates its rights. (Even if it won, which it wouldn’t, what would happen? The whole County Council would be disqualified? Not the way the law works. If everybody is in a position to be disqualified, the law says that everybody gets to vote under the "rule of necessity" in RCW 42.36.090. )As it is, the Council is required to be willfully ignorant until it reviews the Gateway Pacific Terminal project permits, when it will have 21 days – that’s three whole weeks – to read the record of the past several years, absorb the technical reports and citizen input, and make a decision.
Ridiculous. Nonsensical. It’s enough to make you feel sorry for them.
Or for us, for being represented by the most ignorant people in Whatcom County.