Thursday, November 3, 2011

Coal: What Does Lake Whatcom, Waterfront Redevelopement & The Olympic Pipe Line Have to Do With It?

This lengthy title precedes a more lengthy blog, with lots of moving parts and a call for action.

Even if the reader does not agree with the position taken, perhaps you will appreciate the importance of the challenge we are now facing as a direct result of the Coal Terminal -and its accompanying extra trains, large seagoing vessels, unanticipated costs -without funding, and everyday inconveniences coming to pass.


Mysteriously, an old and forgotten Chinese fortune -from a cookie- appeared as I was cleaning out old stuff.

For some reason, I picked it up, read it and saved it for future reference.

It said: "Before the beginning of great brilliance, there must be great chaos."

Wow, that seems to fit the world we're living in, doesn't it? And why not expect great brilliance later?

Today's headlines also featured at least two lead stories containing the word 'chaos'. One pertained to the 'Occupy' movement, which now seems to be more about what people don't like, rather than what they are for; I hope that changes. The other referred to the situation in Greece, where fiscal austerity seems very necessary for that country to save itself -and maybe Europe- from a fate worse than debt. [Yes, that pun was intended]

Point is that major chaos does exist, must be dealt with skillfully and effectively, and is up to people to force their chosen leaders to help them do something about it!

Is there ever any other way? Think about it.

That intro brings me to the meat of today's subject, which I'm just gonna put out there; the proposed GPT Coal terminal has galvanized chaos in our community; what are we going to do about it?

Pout? Fulminate? Complain? Point fingers [you pick which one]? Jawbone each other? Blame our corrupted Constitution? Blame corporations? Blame organized labor? Blame the ancient & vested 'right' of railroads to ship whatever they want to anywhere without asking permission? Blame Warren Buffet, Bill Gates for being unable to curb their appetite for big profits? Blame our elected members of Congress for daring to support such a project? Blame the State government for not nixing this idea out of hand? Blame Whatcom County for having a do-nothing Executive & Council that continues to lean hard right? Blame those idiotic planners of the past for suggesting Cherry Point be a terminal site? Blame each other? Blame China? Blame big Coal? Blame history that actually sought to make Bellingham a leading west coast rail terminus? Blame God for making the waters off Cherry Point deep enough for the largest vessels afloat? Blame WTO, NAFTA and other world trade agreements for greasing the skids for -gasp- world trade? Blame the current economic situation on creating an atmosphere conducive to grabbing any new job opportunity that comes along? Blame the Obama administration for whatever comes to mind that displeases some of us? Blame the previous administration for running up the national debt from unfunded wars & rebates to the rich, then sticking to us to pay for? Blame the Founders for being business friendly? Blame the Courts for interpreting the Constitution such that corporations have now achieved actual person-hood? Blame all the big money that appears around virtually every political contest or proposed change? Blame George Washington for not living long enough to continue being our President? Hell, blame everybody else but ourselves!

Get serious, people!

We have met the enemy, and it is us!

So, how do we go about corralling this churning chunk of local chaos and turning it into energy for positive change -or in the case of GPT- no change?

Let's see; we could buy the property and turn it into a park! You know, like the City did when it splurged and went into unfunded debt on the overly densely zoned area euphemistically known as Chuckanut Ridge.

Maybe that property could be traded back to its former owners -once or twice removed- in exchange for the Cherry Point property currently owned by the same people?

And, if that weren't enough, we could sweeten the pot by agreeing to rezone their other property known as Governor Point, provide them sewer & water and waive all impact fees so they can build an exclusive marina & living spot for the very wealthy.

That ought to jump-start our local economy and create more jobs than GPT, don't you think?

What say you, wealthy owners? A deal? Where do we sign?

Experts say that just by acknowledging it, one solves half the problem. If that's true, maybe a little Resolution -but preferably an Ordinance- along the lines suggested further below, will get us to the halfway point. Of course, our erstwhile Mayor and -as he is quick to point out- the lazy and irresolute Council would have to raise the tempo of our local chaos by getting off their collective keisters and doing something to demonstrate the dire mood of the populace on this issue!

Surely, that would be no problem, would it?

Don't kid yourself, Bellinghamsters, our fearless leaders aren't fearless when it comes to this sort of thing at all!

Ask me how I know.

OK, glad you asked: here's an instant replay of a little scenario that took place over 10 years ago, regarding what everyone said they thought was important, but had done very little walking of that talk. Yes, I'm talking about the Lake Whatcom Reservoir, our public water supply that needed more than talk. Fortunately, the City Council did take action to establish the Watershed Acquisition & Preservation Ordinance, but only after a vigorous public initiative demanded it, and over the objection of the Mayor and 2 or 3 Council members that were too lazy or timid to act!

Read about it here.

That, folks, was a struggle, but one that resulted in action that was badly needed and has been pretty effective.

Something like that will be needed again, but maybe without the luxury of an actual public initiative?

Tell me, why the City Council can't -or won't- represent citizens' interests and agree to pass a simple Resolution -not even a law- that clearly states Bellingham doesn't want the GPT, all those coal trains and the enormous tangible and intangible expense this proposal will burden us with?

Could it be that without a public initiative, they just don't pay attention? Does that mean they disagree with the widely held opinion that GPT is a really bad idea? Or, just lazy, risk adverse or simply clueless?

Maybe, you, -gentle reader- will agree to tell the City Council what you would like for them to do?

And, if they resist, tell them again and again until they get the message.

Tell them individually and forcefully. Tell them publicly and privately. Tell them you mean it!

If that doesn't work, then remember that during the next election; which unfortunately, may be too late to influence the decisions that others will undoubtedly make - whether Bellingham speaks up or not.

• Tell Terry Bornemann, the longtime henchman of organized labor, that you want him to think for himself, but this time to represent your wishes, not only those of his good buddies!

• Tell Gene Knutson, longtime union laborer, populist, sound-byte quipster and sometimes unreliable idol of lazy folks, that you want him to do something that gets him off his ass, and might make him unpopular to some in his audience!

• Tell Stan Snapp to get serious about something besides Lake Whatcom and the Budget while he's still in office!

• Tell Barry Buchanan, come on, what do you really have to lose? Make a lasting statement on an important issue before you go!

• Tell Seth Fleetwood, hey, your South Hill, Edgemoor & Fairhaven constituents need you to speak up on this issue, and with unaccustomed force - that they hope you do have!

• Tell Michael Lilliquist, wrap your carefully coiffed intellect around this issue all you want, but also follow the will of most all the citizens of Bellingham, and hurry up about it!

•Tell Jack Weiss to do what he knows is the right thing and resist this GPT scourge with every ounce of his considerable energy & wit!

And while you're at it, tell our current Mayor, and our new Mayor-to-be, to lead the parade only with the full backing of citizens -we've got your back- and get the hell out of the way if the trombones goose you, or the Majorettes want to strut their stuff, which they can always do better!

And, for god sakes, don't use the predictable advice the City Attorney will surely offer to cover your ass, because what will be proposed may seem slightly outside the bounds of what some may call 'legality'!

Remind this person that she really works for you, comfortably or not.

And, bullshit to any goal-line defense by 'Legal Man', that fictitious Super Hero who loves to stall, stymie and sink any action that doesn't fit pre-ordained protocol!

Hell, we fought a revolution over that crap!

Now, we need to do it again, if we are to regain our rights over a ridiculously stupid project designed to enrich a very few while impoverishing the rest of us.

I have never -at least rarely- been more serious about something in my entire life!

So, without further preamble, here's a few basic points that could be the gist of a Resolution our Council needs to pass, say, by the day after elections? That would be Wednesday, November 9, so next Monday would be a good time to publicly discuss and pass this subject Resolution and post-date its effective date by 2 days. Oops! My bad, today's the deadline for packet agenda items, but there's always the requirement for a mere 24 hours notice if the Council Pres is up to it.

Title and premise could include something like the following:

Bellingham's concern relates to direct impacts likely from tripling of train traffic through its entire shoreline which will create what amounts to an almost constant nuisance and safety hazard that will affect almost 40% of Whatcom County's population and over 60% of its jobs.

Then, the customary litany of whereases [feel free to add your own, see below for comparison to Lake Whatcom]:

• nuisance & noise expected to be tripled from current levels to a projected average of one train every 48 minutes

• safety hazards at all road & trail crossings and water channels [from ships]

• expensive costs of grade crossings & grade separations

• depreciation of public & private property values along Railroad Right-of-way, also affecting current jobs, and future jobs related to waterfront redevelopment and long planned for improved public access

• endangerment of surrounding marine waters, coastlines, aquatic life and inherent exceptional scenic beauty and jobs dependent on same. [tourists, fishers, watercraft, etc]

• arbitrarily wasting the thousands of hours this community has spent in envisioning a higher and better use for over 200 acres of prime waterfront property, plus the accrued expense to date, as well as depriving the City & Port of a viable means of recouping their substantial investment and achieving their anticipated goal of a vibrant mixed use area of universal appeal and value.

You get the idea, see how easy this is?


Now, we get to add what we want to happen, or in this case, what we don't want to happen.

Like, maybe a prohibition against trains over a certain frequency, length, weight, timing.

And, the precondition of paying for grade-separated crossings at all existing and planned traffic or trail crossings; sound walls & barriers, track & switching gear relocation and improvements.

And, secured insurance against damage from accidents, injuries, spills, excessive air particulates, etc

And, schedule assurance that AMTRAK trains will have priority access over freight between Portland, OR and Vancouver, BC, and all stops in between.

And, BNSF will assign an individual to be personally responsible for handling community concerns and resolving them on a timely, fair basis, without additional costs to the community, local businesses and property owners.

SSA, BNSF & partners will agree to share its profits from additional trains -full or empty- with Whatcom County and the City of Bellingham at a rate to be determined.

While these examples are meant to illustrate what could be demanded, a more inclusive approach could also be sought by asking the project owners & sponsors to agree to submit a proposal covering & committing to all the benefits, mitigations, infrastructure costs, dispute resolution mechanisms, insurable items, payments/penalties, job opportunities they offer our community.

Once in writing -and only then- can we have a real basis for negotiation, much like what we demanded before allowing the Olympic Pipe Line to be re-installed through City property and restarted under more stringent regulatory and management rules.

Note: That process took 18 months, and required active support from all levels of government agencies, citizens and the entire range of elected officials.

Something like that will also likely be necessary to bring the railroads under more reasonable control; this is not the 1800's, when the government opened the box that turned out to become Pandora's!


{Early excerpts from the draft Watershed Acquisition Ordinance from the year 2000, which became effective on 1/1/2001]

WHEREAS, protection of the Lake Whatcom Reservoir, the drinking water source for the City of Bellingham and others, is of the utmost public health importance to the citizens of Bellingham and others who obtain water from the lake; and

WHEREAS, a proven and effective method of protecting municipal water supplies, such as the Lake Whatcom Reservoir, is to acquire, for public ownership, lands within the watershed and protect them from development; and

WHEREAS, the City, County, and Water District 10 Joint Resolution No. 92-68, signed in 1992, recognized the importance of protecting Lake Whatcom and its watershed as a Reservoir and the major drinking water source for the County; and

WHEREAS, the City's Comprehensive Plan requires that before-the-fact prevention take precedence over after-the-fact mitigation or treatment; and

WHEREAS, a Citizens' Task Force of the Lake Whatcom Reservoir Management Program is currently developing criteria to prioritize land for protection, determining options for preserving & enhancing high priority lands, and mechanisms for integrating these options with identified priority areas; and

WHEREAS, preserving and enhancing the quality of our drinking water supply has been identified as the top priority for the City Council for the past three years; and

WHEREAS, recognizing that a truly comprehensive program of education, land use regulation and enforcement, monitoring, and review as well as land acquisition is essential to preserving water quality in the Lake Whatcom Reservoir; and the City Council will continue its active support and encouragement of the Lake Whatcom Reservoir Management Program with Whatcom County and Water District #10. Therefore ........



We can do something to help at least condition and cope with the GPT proposal!

In fact, we are the only ones who can - but only if we will.

Our leaders desperately need us to tell them what to do; actually, we'll probably need to command them to do it! That is because most of our elected leaders are a lot like us, they wait until they have to do something to actually do it.

Unless, of course, they want to do something - with or without our advance approval.

This is a time when we need to give our leaders advance approval to stand up for what is essential to keep Bellingham a livable, welcoming and viable community.

Long past are the days when a few robber barons -or wannabes- could take over an area and strip it of its resources, beauty and livability!

Yet, something like that could be in the offing if the current crop of robber barons get their way.

It's time, folks!

It's getting close to past the time for us to get involved, other than jawboning.

We've got to do more than talk; we've got to speak up and take the names of those willing to actively help, and those better suited to laziness and bitching!

A really good way to get started is to pick on those we allow to call themselves elected officials; the City Council & Mayor of Bellingham, the County Council & Executive of Whatcom County, the State Representatives & Senator, the Federal members of Congress.

Get their attention! All of them, and take names of what they propose and what they oppose.

Then, we will have identified not only our enemies, but our allies!

At that point, we'll know who's got our back and who's acting behind our back -to our mutual detriment.

Choose sides wisely, then work to achieve your objective!

The world won't revolve around our little problem, but if we don't find a way to fight it, it may have us revolving around it!