Sunday, November 16, 2008

Time for Big Changes at the Port of Bellingham!

"Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right thing."
- Warren Bennis

It is no use saying, 'We are doing our best.' You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary. - Winston Churchill

'To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.' -- Abraham Lincoln

"If we are to solve the problems that plague us, our thinking must evolve beyond the level we were using when we created those problems in the first place." -Albert Einstein


Readers need to understand this blog is targeted directly at the Port of Bellingham, and specifically at what I consider to be an error and miscalculation of major proportions that the Port appears ready to make -if they have not already done so.
All citizens need to take note of what is happening and speak up!
Below, I've listed some steps that may be necessary to change the culture and public conduct of the Port of Bellingham, an important entity in helping to create new jobs and economic prosperity in our region.
I sincerely hope this writing will be taken in the spirit it is being written; that failure to proceed prudently on the Waterfront Redevelopment Project should NOT be an option!

On October 28, 2008, Port of Bellingham Commissioner Scott Walker posted this statement on the Port's glitzy & glitchy website:
Commission Asks City to Recommit to Waterfront Partnership by Dec. 16

Port Commissioner Scott Walker's Speech to City Waterfront Workshop October 28, 2008
Thank you City of Bellingham for inviting us to take part in this series of waterfront planning discussions. It is great to see this room filled with members of city boards and commissions who volunteer their time to help our community. We really appreciate all that you do in your community service.

We're here tonight to discuss the street grid and other issues related to the waterfront redevelopment.

There are differences between the street plans, but they are things that can be worked out.

Both are walkable;

Both have bike paths and trails
Both create more than 30 acres of new parks
Both set the stage for new jobs and opportunities for our community.
An exchange of ideas can be positive.

The technical questions about the grid pattern will be answered by staff during the question & answer period.

I'm here to talk about where I believe the Port Commission stands on this redevelopment.

It's instructive to remember how we got to this point.

The Waterfront Futures Group developed a clear vision for this property to be redeveloped as a mixed use project.

In 2004 the Port and City Council unanimously approved the first of a series of interlocal agreements for a lasting and comprehensive redevelopment partnership.

This was after a year of due diligence, and before the Port committed to buy this property.

And I'll tell you, without the commitment by the city, I would not likely have agreed to purchase the property.

Over the years, key partners have stepped up to help bring us where we are today:

• Senator Patty Murray, $14 million
• Ecology committed $45 million to the cost of cleanup.
• Rep. Kelli Linville, the LIFT bill, $20 million of state money, tax increment financing
• DNR, piling removal and harbor line adjustments
• WWU $2 million planning
• Burlington Northern - commitment to relocate the tracks

Over this time the Port and its redevelopment partners have already spent or committed to spend nearly $100 million. The Port's share alone is $32 million.

And we don't want to forget that our most important partner are the taxpayers. This entire project was started to benefit our stakeholders, the tax payers of Whatcom County.
Tonight the conversation is about the angle of a road grid and whether the development begins on one block or on another that is just two blocks away.

But the over-riding issue is whether the city is committed to move forward with the other partners and honor the agreements that are in place.

Further, does the city have the economic resources to live up to the commitments it has made?

We need to know where we are going with this before the new Legislature and the new federal Congress meets.

Our partners are growing concerned.

Delay is expensive to the taxpayers, and our partners have other obligations that command their attention.

In our dealings with the DOE, we are often asked if we still have a partnership.

We are uniquely positioned to be at the head of the lists of each our partners for the assistance we need to move forward.

But we are going to lose that position if we can't provide a unified front in a positive plan moving forward. Some other community is going to get these resources.

For example, we are weeks away from developing our final proposal to NOAA and other communities are competing with us for NOAA.

There will be a federal economic stimulus bill in just a few months and it requires a unified plan that is supported by all of the project partners.

We need to tell our federal delegation what economic stimulus project is most essential for our community.

How long can Western wait?

Will our state and federal delegations move on to other projects?

Will these delays jeopardize NOAA's interest in Bellingham?

The Port is going to deliver a master plan to the City Council by early December as well as a proposed schedule of infrastructure investments.

The longer this project is delayed, the more it costs the taxpayer and if this descends into an argument between the project partnership and the city, then the taxpayer pays twice.

We cannot go back and revisit every decision.

Are we going to move forward and are we going to move forward together?

Only the city of Bellingham and the Port of Bellingham are uniquely focused on this project. Our other partners have competing projects in other communities.

The Port of Bellingham is willing to be quite flexible with final details. But we need to know whether we can move forward without further delays.

We are asking that -- no later than December 16th -- the City Council and the Mayor formally reconfirm their commitment to the original agreement of 2004.

At the same time, we are asking that the city provide us and our other partners specific assurances that the city will be able to meet the financial and other commitments it has made.

This timing is essential so that our community can present a united front and a shared vision to the Legislature and Congress when they convene in January.

I encourage you to have a good dialogue tonight, and we look forward to hearing the results of this process.

But the street angles will not matter if we delay this project to the point that we cannot meet our commitments to our partners.

Well, December 16 is still a month away, yet the Port, in its wisdom, has decided to issue an ultimatum to the world that it is suspending its commitment to the entire Waterfront Redevelopment Project, as envisioned by years of painstaking and carefully considered public process!
And, demanding that the City of Bellingham reconfirm its 2004 commitment to this joint undertaking, despite the fact the City has never wavered in its commitment to exactly that goal!
It sounds as if the Port has already decided what it will do, and the December 16 'deadline' is just another red herring, doesn't it?

What the heck is going on?

Is anyone else as tired of the Port's constant posturing, bullying and lack of public accountability as I am?

If the answer is yes, or maybe, I invite you to help make some changes that are long overdue!

What, you may ask, has suddenly awakened me from my state of subdued complicity in tolerating what has become increasingly unacceptable in the Port's mode of operation?
That would have to be the stupid, arbitrary and unilateral decision by the 'Port' to declare the Waterfront Redevelopment project as a waste of time.
Are you kidding me?

Something of that magnitude, upon which the future viability of our City and region might depend, ought not to be the sole decision of four people -only 3 of which are elected- to so arrogantly write off an endeavor which has already consumed millions of public dollars, thousands of hours of time from public employees and citizens, major financial support from State & Federal agencies, and the worthwhile vision of our entire community?

Say again, Port, what your justification entails?
A fit of pique in not getting all the myriad concessions you wanted so badly from the City of Bellingham and its taxpayers?
An imperial fiat that you failed to have the citizens who elected/appointed you even hear, understand, and express their support for before the edict was proclaimed?
A temporary loss of sanity?
A group-think decision made using hard feelings instead of cool reason supported by facts.
A lack of imagination in how to achieve something much more ambitious than the Port is actually capable of dealing with?
A personal vendetta against a Mayor who dares question the Port's questionable assertions?
A political death wish?
All of the above?

This time, our illustrious Port has gone too far with its imperial, provincial, unimaginative and obstinate style, so well-developed over decades of relative obscurity from normal public oversight and scrutiny.

Here are a few things we as citizens can decide to do:

• Start by informing the Port that a true partnership can exist only when the parties treat each other with mutual trust and respect; and that we expect the Port to abide by rules of conduct that are prudent and acceptable in such important matters as the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds for the future betterment of our waterfront, including the creation of thousands of jobs, businesses and opportunities for the public to fully access and enjoy its connection to Bellingham Bay.

• Again, request the Port and City immediately sit down together, with or with facilitation, to discuss and mutually agree to a reasonable course of action to return to progressing the intended steps to realize the broad objectives that have been so painstakingly developed by citizens of this community over the last several years. Some concerned citizens have already joined in such an effort, but this can greatly benefit from larger numbers getting involved - and soon!

• Recruit and support viable candidates to run for the two Port Commission seats that are up for election next year [2009];
From District 1: Scott Walker
Scott was raised in Montana and served as a Marine in Vietnam. He moved to Whatcom County in 1985 and has three children. Scott has served on the Port Commission since 1991. An ARCO employee for 28 years, Scott retired in 2002. He serves on other local boards, and chose the Port Commission as a way to take responsibility in the community where he lives.

From District 2; Doug Smith
Doug was born and raised in Whatcom County. After "retiring" from Anvil Corporation in 1990, Doug began Com-Steel, L.L.C., a design-construct steel building firm he and his partners currently own and operate. He joined the Port Commission because he felt it was a good way to work directly with the community to promote economic viability and increase access to the Port's publicly owned facilities. Doug has been a Port Commissioner since 1994.

Citizens should know that the Port of Bellingham is governed by three nonpartisan commissioners who come from the 3 different districts in Whatcom County and are elected in countywide elections. They supposedly oversee policy decisions at the Port, but the Port's Executive Director, Jim Darling -the real puppeteer behind the curtain- oversees all day-to-day operations of the entire Port. Very competent Division directors and managers who oversee individual Port operations, all report to Mr Darling and are expected to carry out his bidding. In total, about 85 people are employed at the Port of Bellingham, one of 75 such Port Authorities in this State that are primarily charged with economic development responsibilities to create benefits for the people of Washington using the taxing authority with which it is entrusted.

Voters don't decide issues, they decide who will decide issues. - George Will

• Support a public initiative to increase the number of Port Commissioners from three to five, with the additional seats being elected as At-Large representatives, with no more than two Commissioners coming from any one District. This ought to provide better representation of, as well as accountability to citizens, plus involve some badly needed new blood.

• Make clear to the Port of Bellingham that citizens of Whatcom County expect greatly improved cooperation and collaboration with other municipalities than currently exists; that the idea of separate entities dedicated to enhance certain desirable objectives -like economic development- was the intent of Washington's founders, not another layer of feudal bureaucracy that pursues its own selfish interests at the expense of the greater public good. No more Lilliputian responses to Gulliver problems!

• Register a public outcry at the autocratic, self-serving management style of the Port's current Executive Director, the consistent lack of credible feedback to public questions, and the entrenched culture of command and control and non-transparency in its operations. It boggles the mind that better leadership can't be provided at the Port than what Mr Darling has demonstrated, despite his excellent technical and management credentials. It is in the role of true leadership in dealing with ambitious and visionary projects that we need the most improvement.

A few concluding comments:

Port Mission Statement

The Port of Bellingham’s mission is to fulfill the essential transportation and economic development needs of the region while providing leadership in maintaining Greater Whatcom’s overall economic vitality through the development of comprehensive facilities, programs, and services.

In so doing, the Port pledges to work cooperatively with other entities — within the framework of community standards — and to be a responsible trustee of our publicly owned assets.

Sounds good. Is this being done?

Redevelopment Partners
The successful redevelopment of Bellingham's waterfront can only be done with authentic and lasting partnerships. To date those partnerships have been strong and reflect the commitment of the many stakeholders with an interest in a successful outcome.

These partnerships include:
Strong and ongoing financial support from the State of Washington for significant portions of cleanup costs, demolition costs and early development actions.
Federal support for early development actions and transportation improvements.
Regulatory agencies such as the State Departments of Ecology, Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife, and the federal Corps of Engineers, and many others;
Local industry and labor such as the ILWU, real estate community and business leaders;
Lummi Nation and Nooksack Tribe;
Development partnerships with Western Washington University and the Bellingham-Whatcom Housing Authority;
And involvement by all of the area's educational institutions.

Why no mention of the City of Bellingham?
Doesn't the Port consider the City a partner?
Is this intentional or just another Freudian slip?

• The third Port Commissioner, Jim Jorgenson, is the relative newcomer and seems to have a more balanced perspective toward the Port's responsibilities than the other two, who have served since 1991 and 1992 respectively - too long a time in my view.

Jim Jorgensen has lived in Whatcom County for more than 40 years. In 1994, he retired after 30 years of teaching science at Blaine High School. Jim has owned and operated Jim's Salmon Charter in Blaine for nearly 40 years. He is married with two adult children. Jim began serving on the Port Commission in 2004. He chose this community role because he wanted to be involved with the diverse operations of the Port and in communicating the Port's role with the community. 


U.S. public ports provide the vital link for getting goods to the nation's consumers and in transporting U.S.-made products overseas for export.
In the U.S., 126 public seaport agencies have jurisdiction over 185 public ports (some agencies control multiple ports). These ports are located along the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf and Great Lakes coasts, as well as in Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Established by enactments of state government, public port authorities develop, manage and promote the flow of waterborne commerce and act as catalysts for economic growth. These agencies include port authorities, special-purpose navigation districts, multi-state authorities and departments of state, county and municipal governments.
Public ports develop and maintain terminal facilities for intermodal transfer of cargo between ships, barges, trucks and railroads, and for ferry and cruise ship passenger loading and unloading.
In addition to maritime functions, port authority activities may also include airports, bridges, tunnels, commuter rail systems, inland river or shallow-draft barge terminals, industrial parks, Foreign Trade Zones, world trade centers, terminal or short-line railroads, shipyards, dredging, marinas, and various public recreational facilities.
Public ports also play a critical role in our national security, peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts around the world. In particular, ports support the mobilization, deployment and resupply of U.S. military forces.
Ports on the coasts and inland waterways provide a total of about 3,200 berths for deep-draft ships.

Deep-draft ports, which accommodate oceangoing vessels, move 99 percent of U.S. overseas trade by volume and 61 percent by value, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The U.S. Department of Transportation projects that, compared to 2001, total freight moved through U.S. ports will increase by more than 50 percent by 2020 and the volume of international container traffic will more than double.

Public ports generate significant local and regional economic growth, including creation of jobs. Total direct and indirect annual impact of the U.S. port industry includes:

4.9 million jobs, accounting for $44 billion in personal income (Martin Associates, Lancaster PA, 2002);
Nearly $2.9 trillion in international trade for an all-encompassing range of goods and services, with 1.4 billion tons, valued at $1.3 trillion, in waterborne imports and exports alone (U.S. Census Bureau, 2006);
More than 1 billion tons of domestic goods valued at over $312 billion moved via water in the U.S. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 2001);
Nearly $21.4 billion in U.S. Customs duty revenues in fiscal 2006, representing 70 percent of all Customs duties collected (U.S. Customs & Border Protection, 2006).

Seaport security
Navigation maintenance and new construction
Freight congestion/intermodal road/rail access
Marine facility expansion and modernization
Coastal environmental protection
Ability to secure funding and financing
Competitiveness and diversified revenue sources
Land acquisition and site development

In the last 60 years, U.S. ports have invested more than $33 billion in capital projects to enhance their facilities. In the foreseeable future, ports are projected to spend an estimated $2.1 billion more annually. In addition to the economic impacts already mentioned, public ports serve as coastal environ-mental stewards and are incubators for industrial, manufacturing, commercial and retail businesses.

The fast-growing cruise industry is dependent upon public ports. The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) estimates that cruise passenger embarkations at U.S. ports totaled 8.6 million in 2005, an increase of 21 percent over 2003. U.S. ports continue to lead the world in cruise embarkations, handling approximately 75 percent of all global cruise passengers.

The total economic impact of the cruise lines, passengers, and their U.S. suppliers in 2005 reached $32.4 billion, according to a study commissioned by CLIA and conducted by Business Research and Economic Advisors (BREA).

The U.S. cruise industry's impact now extends well beyond its traditional South Florida base, with cruises departing or calling on 43 ports in North America. There is also a positive economic impact in all 50 states since over 75 percent of cruise industry expenditures are made with U.S. businesses, including airlines, travel agents, food and beverage suppliers, and ship maintenance and refurbishers.

The U.S. Coast Guard in 2003 projected that port facilities would need $5.4 billion to pay for security requirements over the next 10 years. Since 9/11/01, America's seaports have invested hundreds of millions of dollars of their own money into facility security enhancements while the federal government has provided ports approximately $876 million for security funding. For FY'07, Congress appropriated an additional $210 million for the Department of Homeland Security's Port Security Grant fund, although $9 million is for administrating the program.

Since 1789, the federal government has authorized navigation channel improvement projects. The General Survey Act of 1824 established the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' role as the agency responsible for the navigation system. Since then, ports have worked in partnership with the Corps of Engineers to maintain waterside access to port facilities.
Regular maintenance dredging is required by more than 90 percent of the nation's 50 busiest ports.
More than 300 million cubic yards of dredged material are removed from navigation channels each year. Another 100 million cubic yards are dredged from berths and private terminals. The total, 400 million cubic yards of dredged material, would form a four-lane highway, 20 feet deep, stretching from New York to Los Angeles.

Ports handle a variety of cargoes, including bulk, or loose, cargo; breakbulk cargo in packages such as bundles, crates, barrels and pallets; liquid bulk cargo like petroleum; dry bulk such as grain; and general cargo in steel boxes called containers, which are measured in 20-foot equivalent units, or TEUs. Leading commodities shipped for domestic and foreign trade through U.S. ports include:
Crude petroleum and petroleum products, including oil and gasoline;
Chemicals and related products, such as fertilizer;
Bituminous, metallurgical and steam coal;
Food and farm products, including wheat and wheat flour, corn, soybeans, rice, and cotton;
Forest products, such as lumber and wood chips;
Iron and steel;
Soil, sand, gravel, rock and stone;
Automobiles, auto parts and machinery; and,
Clothing, shoes, electronics and toys.
Learn more about ports from the American Association of Port Authorities.
Frequently Asked Questions

How many ports are in Washington State?

There are 75 ports in the state, located in 33 of the 39 counties. Currently, 69 ports are members of the Washington Public Ports Association, along with 108 associate members. Visit our port map to see where the many ports are located.

Can you have a port without water?
In a word, yes! For instance, many airports are port districts. The primary purpose of a port district in Washington State is economic development - and you don't need a navigable waterway to do that. The Legislature has given ports broad authority to promote economic development - they can build and operate airports, marine terminals, marinas, railroads, and industrial parks, and in some cases, promote tourism.

Where do Washington's ports rank nationally?
Washington has the world's largest locally controlled port system. Though we only comprise two percent of the world's population, we handle seven percent of the country's exports and six percent of imports. The Ports of Seattle and Tacoma comprise the nation's second largest "load center", behind the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

What are the state's leading exports and imports?
Washington's leading exports are a terrific example of the state's changing economy: forest products, airplanes and aircraft parts continue to comprise a large percentage of exports from the state. But now, they're joined by high-tech products, computers, computer parts, and software.

Imports also vary. Washington is a major importer of forest products, high-tech equipment, and aircraft engines; but cars and auto parts are now key imports as well.

How do ports use my taxes?
Ports use tax revenues to invest in infrastructure designed to grow the economy - ports serve as economic engines for their communities. Examples of port investments include marine terminals, airport facilities, improved rail infrastructure, industrial parks, and marinas. Ports then lease facilities or charge a fee for their use, using the new facilities to generate jobs and economic development.
"A ship in port is safe, but that's not what ships are built for." - Grace Murray Hopper

Freedom or Free Dumb?

"I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education."

-Thomas Jefferson, Author of the declaration of Independence and 3rd President of the United States.


As Americans we pride ourselves on the freedoms our Constitution guarantees us, and that is good.
But, are we using those 'freedoms' as best we can?

For example, did our founders intend to encourage the practice of 'freedoms' like these?

• Freedom to remain uneducated, untrained and unskilled

• Freedom to remain indolent, ignorant and uninvolved in civic affairs

• Freedom to exploit divisive ideological games in the pursuit of power

• Freedom not to vote, run for office or not expect the best from those who do

• Freedom to expect good things will somehow be provided to us because we deserve them without working for them

• Freedom to ignore changes in the world's political, climactic and economic conditions

• Freedom to even try to comprehend the consequences which will result from consistently practicing the above 'freedoms'

I'm sorry I have come to feel this way, and apologize to those who do not deserve to be so categorized.

But, to a large extent these observations contain a ring of truth which we are 'free' to ignore at our peril!

If you don't agree with this conclusion, then by all means try to disprove me.

There is no 'free' lunch and there never has been, but this has been largely masked in our land of relative plenty.

I have been so very fortunate to have been born and raised during the last 70 years, which history may prove were our halcyon days as a Country.
Too young to serve in WWII, privileged with a hard working family with good values, educated in a range of subjects at a time of demand for such learning, employed by several well-managed companies who provided excellent products and services, surrounded by a loving family and friends, sustained by a faith that encouraged an ecumenical, humane approach to life, and blessed with good physical and mental health, I fully recognize that mine has been a life of fantastic opportunity, enjoyment and achievement.
For these things I am truly most grateful.

But looking outside myself, I must conclude the promise of such a life seems now more difficult to obtain for a great many people.
Difficult, but certainly not impossible.
There are still great opportunities in this world, but these are no longer available to those who whose main effort is wishful thinking!

That is why I am concerned about which of our 'freedoms' we choose to emphasize.
I hope that amidst the myriad distractions, that more people -particularly the young- will begin to get back to those same basics that have brought this great land to its enviable status in our era.

That the shining hope which America represents is based upon exercising our freedom to emphasize those principles which lead to enlightenment, achievement that is beneficial to all, awareness of what true sustainability entails, and a dedication to long-term peaceful prosperity.

In the words of Winston Churchill [and more recently, Ben Affleck] , I have also come to the conclusion that we really have no choice but to drastically change from a defeatist attitude based upon fear, anger, greed and ignorance to some standard that is much better suited to us as a country and a people!

"It is the Fear and the Tyranny Up With Which We Dare No Longer Put"