Saturday, June 30, 2012

Coal: Latest Developments

The past 10 days has seen some dramatic developments, but no big surprises regarding GPT.
These 7 links [below] highlight the main happenings, mainly regarding the No-Coal Initiative and the City's predictable response.
Some of these links have important sub links which reveal substantial relevant information, including comments from readers.

The bright spots were the remarkable degree of public awareness achieved by the Initiative's efforts at attracting supporters, plus the City's impending consideration of a Resolution that expresses concerns at the significant liabilities that may be imposed on the City and its taxpayers related to expensive mitigations for infrastructure improvements to insure public safety and reasonable access across the BNSF Railway right-of-way through the City which could seriously impact access to/from the waterfront.

The EIS effort is expected to begin shortly, meaning perhaps the main opportunity for citizens and government agencies to express their concerns is imminent.

1 Abundant coal supplies may affect economics of proposed export terminals like GPT

2 City files lawsuit to block anti-coal initiative from ballot

3 Copy of City's Complaint and Request for Injunction

4 Herald story on City's Complaint Filing

5 City Council Agenda Item Resolution for July 2 Meeting

6 Initiative Backers Response to City's Request for Declaratory Judgement

7 Short Time Magazine Article Praising US Rail Freight Virtues

Stay tuned for further developments.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Coal: The City's Citizens Need To Be Heard!

The Herald carried this story of the City Council's lightening fast decision to challenge a citizen's petition that sought to prevent excessive coal train shipments passing through Bellingham - the City of [heretofore] subdued excitement.
Think the Council might have already made up its collective mind on this?

I believe the Council owes City citizens a Resolution or strongly worded letter that affirms the many legitimate concerns that have been expressed by so many.
After all, Seattle, Tacoma and Spokane have issued such unequivocal statements, why not Bellingham?
What say you, Council?
Whatever you decide to do, do it quickly!

Giving better perspective to this latest development is this Gristle in today's Cascadia Weekly.
Last week's Weekly carried 'Gains in Trains', worth a read.

Insight contributes this related story of another coal terminal proposal on the Columbia River.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Coal: "Cold Ironing" & Other Stuff

It's been a while since I've updated what's going on with the proposed GPT disaster waiting to happen.
A morning visit to a local Doc reminded me what a bad idea this is and that we need to keep talking about it.

One issue everyone can understand is the major impact on water & land-route congestion in the local area, and the airborne pollution that would result if GPT is ever built.

Remember those behemoth ships that would carry our cheap coal to China?
They burn 'Bunker C' fuel; the absolute dregs of petroleum refining, a fuel that rivals coal in its polluting ability.
That's bad enough while the ships are at sea, but they also prefer to keep burning it while in port to generate power for operational purposes.
Many ports have decided not to allow ships to pollute the air while berthed and instead provide alternate power from local power sources that are considered far less objectionable.
Often ship owners resist buying shore power because of increased costs and the need to retrofit the ships to allow its use.
That is a problem that can be -and should be- mitigated upfront by requiring any ships being loaded to use power from land-based sources, a practice called 'Cold-Ironing'.
You can read about it from Wikipedia here.
Let's make sure the EIS addresses this issue!

I'm glad to see the GPT and its proposed retinue of 1.5 mile coal trains and Capesize Bulk Carriers remain a topic of intense conversation and concern.

In the past few weeks there have been a dozen or so Herald articles or blogs addressing this issue:
1 - Coal glut? 
2 - Charlie Sheldon's comments 
3 - New report challenges coal traffic predictions 
4 - County Council struggles with CH2MHill contract for EIS 
5 - BNSF boss lobbies WA Governor 
6 - Democrats pass Resolutions opposing GPT 
7 - Assn of WA Business Head wants EIS expedited 
8 - Former County Planning Chief proposes changes to CH2MHill EIS contract 
9 - Whatcom Docs question lack of Health focus in EIS contract 
10 - CH2MHill to play key role in EIS 
11 - Goldman Sachs upgrades Peabody Coal 
12 - City Council to discuss GPT impacts
Additionally, the Bellingham City Council and Mayor have expressed some additional concerns with troubling omissions to the permit filed with Whatcom County.

Two recent articles on Get Whatcom Planning provide insightful focus and informed perspectives here and here.

Reflecting the above discussions, a local blogger -who deems himself 'conservative'- has posted this writing which purports to give up on defending GPT.
You decide if Wally really means it.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Re-entry Impressions

After having been away from a homebound routine for three weeks and instead traveling in mostly wide open spaces, I experienced the difference rather quickly upon my return to home. 
It wasn't very pleasant.
Hard to imagine how much a daily routine filled with Internet, TV, mail, phone calls and household and yard work chores tends to dull one's senses and lightness of spirit. 
The difference is most noticeable upon re-entering an atmosphere of artificial urgency, routine banality and unwanted noise.
Although I noticed these changes almost immediately, I haven't bothered to take much notice until now - a few days after returning home.
Clutter from unnecessary mail, packaging material, uncut grass, unranked leaves, all registered rather quickly. 
But, most annoying were the stories and reports that competed for my attention, whether written, heard or seen. 
The TV has turned out to be a major disappointment, even as seemingly necessary as it has become. 
Offensive ads appear at frequent intervals, even on PBS channels. 
Many are designed to appeal to 'upscale' tastes that emphasize luxury and conspicuous consumption. 
Others talk about medical products that would have shocked my mother years ago, then quickly whisper all the things that some liability lawyer advised as cautions before using them only with your Doctors permission. Huh? 
Then, there's the constant banter from political parties, candidates, handlers, talking heads, pundits and who knows who behind the various PACs and cleverly acronymned think tanks and organizations designed to mislead for their cleverly disguised causes.
The Internet isn't much better either as more publications experiment with making money from viewers like me who willingly expose themselves to stuff written by unknown persons for sometimes hidden purposes. 
Wandering in the web can often result in unwanted surprises like folks knowing more about you and your buying habits than you might like. 
Ever gotten an e-mail out of the blue from folks you never knew -or wanted to? 
Ever innocently opened one to discover you've released malware into your computer? 
The mail brought more trash, some of it posing as upscale ads. 
My Volkswagen dealer wants me to test drive a Jaguar! 
That mailer looked expensive itself, but merely upgraded the quality in my recycle bin.
My alma mater continues to send slick glossy brochures replete with upscale real estate ads, testimonials from the rich and famous, plus solicitations for contributions to a constant building program. 
That approach doesn't work too well with me either.

Local and regional campaigns are ever present in my mailbox and voicemail, all asking for $upport. 
Why, a person could go broke even by responding at all, especially since that verifies your current existence and address, which gets shared with other lists.

But wait! This just in! National Geographic has sent me a color brochure announcing a 24-day trip by private jet for only $75,000 per person [double occupancy]! Of course, I must find extra shekels to get my wife and me to and from here to London. 
Oh well, maybe not this time....
Even answering the phone is another adventure that is getting very old; too many unwanted 800 and computer generated calls, from people or machines with funny accents 
I thought of getting rid of phone land lines in favor of mobile phones, but found that folks making that choice come to regret it shortly thereafter. 
Seems the calls are merely redirected to cell phones that follow you everywhere AND get charged to your account! 
Heck with that.
All of the above complaints seem to be coming more frequently these days, but at least none are fatal. 
Maybe it helps to vent every once in a while, but I'll probably get over it, at least until the next time I get away for a while.
Come to think of it, getting away is a habit I might cultivate now that I'm considered a senior. 
Not just physically, but in developing better habits concerning the daily media and other petty annoyances.
Wish me luck.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Oregon: A Vacation For The Birds

It wasn't that long ago that I first learned that the word, BIRD, is a verb - not just a noun.
That education came from Joan, comma, my wife.

As luck would have it, two more in-depth experiences with experienced BIRDERS has reinforced my understanding of BIRD as a verb.

Two BIRDING opportunities offered by the Elderhostel outings group, ROAD SCHOLARS, attracted us to Oregon, where the Portland Audubon Society and the Malheur Field Station provided expert guides to many species of BIRDS.

Both multi-day events were in eastern Oregon, one centered in Bend and the other at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns.

Touring by van allowed access to areas most likely to have large populations of BIRDS, both native and transient;
Bend produced about 96 BIRD species and Malheur about 135, with some overlap.
The guides in both cases were excellent in both finding and identifying the BIRDS despite sometimes less than ideal weather conditions.

But, the most fun was meeting and spending time with other participants, who were uniformly nice, like-minded people who care about preserving our wildlife and environment.

For those interested, here's the list of BIRDS we saw at Malheur [M] and Burns [B]

Swans, Geese & Ducks:
Snow [or Ross's] Goose - M
Canada Goose - B & M [+babies]
Trumpeter Swan - B
Gadwall - B & M
American Wigeon - M
Mallard - B & M
Blue-winged Teal - M
Cinnamon Teal - B & M [+babies]
Northern Shoveler - B & M
Northern Pintail - M
Canvasback - M
Redhead - M
Ring-necked Duck - M
Lesser Scaup - M
Bufflehead - B
Barrow's Goldeneye - B
Ruddy Duck - M

Gallinaceous Birds:
Chukar - M
Ring-necked Pheasant - M
California Quail - B & M

Pied-billed Grebe - M [+babies]
Horned Grebe - M
Eared Grebe - M
Western Grebe - M
Clark's Grebe - M [+babies]

American White Pelican - M

Double-crested Cormorant - M

Bitterns, Herons & Egrets:
American Bittern - M
Great Blue Heron - M
Great Egret - M
Black-crowned Night Heron - M

Ibises & Spoonbills:
White-faced Ibis - M

New World Vultures:
Turkey Vulture - B & M

Osprey, Kites, Hawks & Eagles:
Osprey - B
Bald Eagle - B & M
Northern Harrier - M
Swainson's Hawk - B & M
Red-tailed Hawk - B & M [+babies]
Ferruginous Hawk - B & M [+babies]
Golden Eagle - B & M [+babies]

Falcons & Caracaras:
American Kestrel - B & M
Prairie Falcon - B & M [+babies]

Virginia Rail - M
Sora - M [+babies]
American Coot - B & M [+babies]

Sandhill Crane - M [+babies]

Kildeer - B & M

Stilts & Avocets:
Black-necked Stilt - B & M
American Avocet - M [+babies]

Sandpipers & Phalaropes:
Willet - M
Long-billed Curlew - M
Baird's Sandpiper - B
Dunlin - B
Common Snipe - M
Wilson's Phalarope - M
Red-necked Phalarope - B

Skuas, Jaegers, Gulls & Terns:
Franklin's Gull - M
Bonaparte's Gull - B
Ring-billed Gull - B & M
California Gull - M
Caspian Tern - M
Forster's Tern - M
Black Tern - M

Pigeons & Doves:
Rock Pigeon - B & M
Eurasian Collared Dove - M
Mourning Dove - B & M

Great Horned Owl - M [+babies]
Burrowing Owl - M [+babies]
Long-eared Owl - M
Short-eared Owl - M

Common Nighthawk - M

Vaux's Swift - B
White-throated Swift - B

Black-chinned Hummingbird - M
Calliope Hummingbird - B

Belted Kingfisher - B

Lewis's Woodpecker - B
Hairy Woodpecker - B
White-headed Woodpecker - B
Northern Flicker - B & M 

Olive-sided Flycatcher - M
Western Wood-Pewee - B & M
Willow Flycatcher - M
Hammond's Flycatcher - B
Dusky Flycatcher - M
Say's Phoebe - B & M
Ash-throated Flycatcher - B
Western Kingbird - B & M
Eastern Kingbird - M

Loggerhead Shrike - B & M

Cassin's Vireo - M

Crows, Jays & Magpies:
Steller's Jay - B & M
Western Scrub-Jay - B
Pinyon Jay - B
Clark's Nutcracker - B & M
Black-billed Magpie - B & M
American Crow - B & M
Common Raven - B & M

Horned Lark - B & M

Tree Swallow - B & M
Violet-green Swallow - B & M
Northern Rough-winged Swallow - B & M
Bank Swallow - B & M
Cliff Swallow - B & M
Barn Swallow - B & M

Titmice & Chickadees:
Black-capped Chickadee - M
Mountain Chickadee - B & M

Nuthatches & Creepers:
Red-breasted Nuthatch - B & M
White-breasted Nuthatch - B & M
Pygmy Nuthatch - B & M
Brown Creeper - B & M

Rock Wren - B & M
Canyon Wren - B & M
House Wren - B
Marsh Wren - M

American Dipper - B

Mountain Bluebird - B
Hermit Thrush - M
American Robin - B & M

Mimic Thrushes:
Sage Thrasher - M

European Starling - B & M

Cedar Waxwing - M

Wood Warblers:
Yellow Warbler - B & M
Yellow-rumped Warbler - B & M
MacGillivray's Warbler - B
Common Yellowthroat - M
Wilson's Warbler - B & M
Yellow-breasted Chat - M

Western Tanager - B & M

Sparrows & Towhees:
Green-tailed Sparrow - B
Chipping Sparrow - B
Spotted Towhee - M
Vesper Sparrow - M
Sage Sparrow - B & M
Song Sparrow - B & M
Dark-eyed Junco - B & M
House Sparrow - B & M

Cardinals, Grosbeaks & Allies:
Black-headed Grosbeak - B & M
Lazuli Bunting - M

Blackbirds & Orioles:
Bobolink - M
Red-winged Blackbird - B & M
Western Meadowlark - B & M
Yellow-headed Blackbird - B & M
Brewer's Blackbird - B & M
Brown-headed Cowbird - M
Bullock's Oriole - B & M

Cassin's Finch - B & M
House Finch - B & M
Red Crossbill - B
Pine Siskin - B & M
Lesser Goldfinch - B
American Goldfinch - M
Several species of mammals were also observed in the wild, including;
Nuttall's Cottontail
Black-tailed Jackrabbit
Least Chipmunk
Yellow-bellied Marmot
Belding's Ground Squirrel
Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel
Brown Squirrel
Western Gray Squirrel
Deer Mouse
Long-tailed Weasel
Mule Deer
Pronghorn Antelope
Wild Donkeys

Monday, June 4, 2012

Lookout for Galbraith

The May 26 issue of the Bellingham Herald carried this story on the announcement that over 3100 acres of mostly timberland on Galbraith Mountain is for sale.
That should be no surprise, because that particular property has been for sale a long time, by various owners.
The question remains, for what purpose does this property exist, and for what price?

The current owners would no doubt like to see the property up zoned to maximize potential profits, but under the present circumstances that does not seem likely.
Instead, the major areas designated Commercial Forestry and Rural Forestry seem fit mainly for those purposes, with two main caveats; due care must be taken for any timber harvesting that impacts the Lake Whatcom watershed and/or other local streams, and road building to access the 67 potential home sites currently permissible under County zoning rules.

It would be good to just buy up the residential development rights for any new homes, since these could be removed forever as a threat to watersheds and a burden to access roads and utilities services.

More problematic is what happens to the timbered areas, much of which are still years away from harvesting. When that time comes, expect some controversy over logging operations so close to urban areas.

The idea of using this property for recreation and open space is a good one, providing funding can be found from County, City or other sources. Good luck with that, since the County has just assumed responsibility for 8700 acres of former DNR forestlands, and the City has squandered $3.5 million more than it had to purchase the entire Chuckanut Ridge property, much of which would have come free if some reasonable level of development had been allowed per legal zoning.

The WHIMPs and other local organizations greatly enjoy hiking and biking on Galbraith Mountain, since it is close by and affords nice views of our surroundings. But, to expect these private groups to maintain the area in perpetuity makes no sense, because of time and expense. It is doubtful that the owners can be relied upon to underwrite safe public use for very long; after all they obtained it from Trillium in exchange for debt. The owners own it for one reason; to make money - or at least not to lose any.

So, what to do? Your guess is as good as mine!
But, for starters, make sure the areas inside the Lake Whatcom watershed remain undeveloped.
Then, think about what makes sense, like conceiving of a parks plan that emphasizes World-Class mountain biking, hiking and viewing great scenery.
And, it could link up with the DNR property, too.

All of those things will draw people to Bellingham plus provide enjoyment for area residents.
Maybe Western Washington University has an idea or two about how to develop and maintain an Urban Forest?
Anacortes already has one around Whisper Lake and Mount Erie that could be a model.
Future sustainable harvesting of timber could help finance such an endeavor.

Then, there are other possibilities like siting the new County Jail facilities, water storage tanks, microwave towers, windmills for power generation, observation decks, and the like.
Just a few thoughts to put out there.

All this for only $16 million?
Wonder how that compares to the values the County got for 8700 acres. Oh, I forgot, the County ALREADY owned it and just took it back for the equivalent of $35 per acre. Such a deal!
The City has spent more than that for the 1500 or so acres it has acquired to protect Lake Whatcom from further harmful development, but much of that property was developable, and therefore much more valuable to owners.

The question remains, what is a reasonable true value for the 3100-plus acres of mostly forest lands on Galbraith Mtn, of which maybe 40% is actually in the Lake Whatcom watershed?
Once the residential component is subtracted, the remaining CF zoned lands are taxable at a very low rate - reflecting the time needed for timber to become mature enough to harvest.
Realistically, the current owners ought to be prepared to await that time, so that any compelling urgency to sell is reduced - or artificial. But, that's just my guess.

Maybe there's a young mountain bike aficionado out there who's just became a Facebook multi-millionaire? Know anyone like that to recruit? We could rename the property in their honor.