Small City Mayors Supportive Role with Gateway Pacific Terminal
by Sandra Robson
Sandy Robson lives in Whatcom County after moving from California about four years ago. She was drawn to this area because of the beautiful natural surroundings and lots of water and trees. She is passionate about protecting and preserving the environment we all enjoy and need. She is actively engaged in educating herself and others about all things Gateway Pacific Terminal.
The small city mayors held a roundtable discussion about the state of their small cities on February 16 sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Bellingham/Whatcom County. The mayors attending that day were Scott Korthuis of Lynden, Bob Bromley of Sumas, Jim Ackerman of Nooksack, Harry Robinson of Blaine, and John Perry of Everson. Ferndale Mayor Gary Jensen was noticeably absent, and City Council member Mel Hansen was there to pinch-hit for him.
Perhaps the best quote of the mayors’ roundtable forum came from Ferndale City Council member, Mel Hansen, when speaking for Mayor Jensen, he responded to the subject of the mayors’ premature, formidable support for the Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT), brought up by audience members. Hansen said, “The fact is, whether (a mayor) is for or against it (GPT) is immaterial.”
Council member Hansen’s statement clearly illustrates that he and our elected officials, particularly the small city mayors, do not understand the implications that come from their lusty, congealed endorsement of the proposed GPT. If Hansen’s statement was true, then why did Ferndale’s Mayor Jensen and City Council give their fervent support to GPT at all, which included passing a City Council resolution in support of GPT, let alone before the necessary environmental review is completed? To all appearances the answer is because SSA/PIT, the company wanting to build and run the terminal, asked them to.
SSA had their consultant, local Bellinghamster Craig Cole, infiltrate our local City Councils, our Small City Caucus, local Chambers of Commerce, our Port Commission, our Whatcom County PUD Commission, and numerous other organizations — some as early as 2010 and some in 2011 — and he spoon-fed them anything SSA thought they would need to hear in order to endorse GPT as early as possible. In doing this, SSA was trying to create an outwardly mounting wave of support for this project which they hoped would be sufficient to overcome the immense wave of opposition they knew would be coming once people heard that SSA, BNSF, and Peabody Coal planned to transport, store, and ship 48M metric tons of coal. SSA did a masterful job of keeping that information to themselves for a long time, as that did not become public knowledge until 2011.
The fact that our local small (thinking) city mayors all pledged their support to SSA and GPT early on after being asked to do so by SSA is extremely irresponsible on their part. The catalyst for taking this blind leap was the mid-January 2011 Small City Caucus meeting when SSA and Craig Cole came to speak about the proposed GPT project. Whatever SSA and Cole said at that meeting must have been the right strength Kool-Aid necessary to cause the mayors of Lynden, Everson, Nooksack, and Sumas to write individual letters of support for GPT in February 2011. In those letters, they never even stipulated that their support hinged on the mandated environmental review necessary for a project such as GPT. The only time that the word environmental even appeared in any of those letters was when Lynden Mayor Korthuis mentioned that SSA has won environmental excellence awards. This unequivocal support for GPT was not only before the EIS is completed, but also one year before SSA/PIT’s permit application and Project Information Document (PID) with official information about the project were submitted in March 2012.
Some mayors, like Ferndale Mayor Jensen (the apparent poster-boy for GPT), and former Blaine Mayor Onyon, lobbied their city councils for their support and initiated City Council resolutions before any of them had the full details about this project. Sounds reminiscent of what Jesus was referring to when he said,“Let them alone; they are blind leaders of the blind. And if a man leads a blind man, both will fall in a pit.” The mayors had better hope it’s not a coal pit.
Ferndale City Council passed a resolution in support of GPT in April 2011, signed by Mayor Jensen. Blaine’s City Council resolution in support of GPT, initiated by Mayor Onyon, and proposed during the February 14, 2011, City Council meeting, was subsequently tabled that same evening because Council Members Paul Greenough Harry Robinson, and Alan Black felt they did not have enough information.
Then at the February 28 Blaine City Council meeting, the GPT support resolution, after an exhausting endeavor by the Council to follow tabling protocol, was brought from the table, and eventually was withdrawn. Also that night, an alternative resolution was proposed by Council Member Alan Black, which in essence supported the protection of the excellent environment and quality of life which Blaine citizens enjoy, and further stated that the proposed GPT has the potential to degrade Blaine’s environment, so the City Council would offer their endorsement only when it can be clearly demonstrated that it will not contribute to Blaine’s environmental degradation, as Blaine’s citizens deserve a future of untainted environmental quality. Black also wrote that the Blaine community, through its City Council, was being asked to endorse GPT when the City Council doesn’t have adequate information on how the project will affect their environment. Why don’t our small city mayors, along with the Ferndale City Council members who approved a GPT support resolution, have the foresight and sound judgment that Alan Black did?
While the Blaine City Council did not end up approving Council Member Black’s resolution that night, so far, they have not passed a resolution supporting GPT. On April 2011 SSA consultant, Craig Cole, came with labor organization leaders and Ken Oplinger, President of Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce and Industry and co-chair of Northwest Jobs Alliance, to speak to the Blaine City Council about GPT. It is my understanding that the Blaine City Council still has not had anyone come speak there to inform them about the potential adverse impacts GPT would have.
As a matter of fact, email records show that Mayor Jensen and former Blaine Mayor Onyon, were “all in” back as early as June 2010 when they had signed a letter supporting GPT, in which essentially they, along with others, were lobbying/advising Washington Public Lands Commissioner, Peter Goldmark, to remove what the signers of that letter perceived to be inherent conflicts in the Draft Cherry Point Environmental Aquatic Reserve Plan. This letter to Commissioner Goldmark can be found online at http://media.bellinghamherald.com/static/downloads/Cherry-Point-GTH-communications-06-2010-to-present1.pdf
In case you’re taking names, the other signers on the June 2010 letter to Commissioner Goldmark were SSA consultant Craig Cole, Jeff McClure (Whatcom County PUD President/Commissioner), David Warren (Northwest Central Labor Council at the time, and co-chair of Northwest Jobs Alliance) Tim Douglas (previously served 13 years as Bellingham Mayor and former member of Puget Sound Water Quality Authority), and Dale Brandland (WA State Senator at that time). So, Mayor Jensen and Mayor Onyon were already supporting GPT in June 2010 when the only information available then about this project was coming solely from SSA, via Craig Cole, both of whom are tremendously motivated to leave out the gory details.
The small city mayors also have allowed themselves, and in Ferndale’s case the city itself and its city logo, to be used by SSA in advertisements for GPT in various media including GPT’s website and its astroturf/front groups the Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports and the Northwest Jobs Alliance websites.
Fun fact … when referencing the Small City Caucus for this article and trying to search through Google using the search term “Whatcom County Small City Caucus” the top two search results that currently come up are:
1. “Whatcom County Small City Caucus Endorses GPT” herding viewers to Northwest Jobs Alliance website
2. “Small City Caucus Endorses Gateway Pacific Terminal” directing viewer to Gateway Pacific Terminal’s website
SSA has managed to shrewdly use our local elected officials and leaders to help drive their advertising for promoting the GPT. Should we potentially be getting paid royalties for these ads since we pay the mayors’ salaries?
This compact of mayors from the Small City Caucus; Sumas, Nooksack, Everson, Lynden, Ferndale, and Blaine (Harry Robinson) all signed a letter declaring support for GPT on November 29, 2012, which Lynden Mayor Korthuis actually delivered verbally to the public and the three EIS agencies for the GPT project, at the Ferndale EIS public scoping hearing on November 29, 2012. Mayor Korthuis was the lucky recipient of speaker slot #4 thanks to SSA’s PR firm paying day workers to stand in line early that morning so they could hold a spot for him, and for 60 or so other GPT proponents including numerous elected officials, labor leaders, and even Lauri Hennessey, VP of Edelman, one of SSA’s hired PR firms, although she identified herself as representing the Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports—not as Edelman’s VP. The orchestrators of this line strategy made sure to mix in some longtime Ferndale residents for added flavor. Mayor Jensen was awarded the highly coveted speaker slot #1 for his Hi-Vis, bulletproof support of SSA and the GPT.
Because the small city mayors proclaimed their convinced support of GPT so hastily it has caused many of their citizens, and the public in general, to be grossly uninformed about this huge complex project. Even though it’s been reported that the number (124,000) of EIS public scoping comments is unprecedented, there would have likely been many more people submitting comments had they been made aware of the real facts about this project, and had not simply placed their trust in their Mayors, City Councils, Chambers of Commerce, and industry leaders who hastily rubber-stamped this project, thereby influencing the public who looks to them for guidance on issues like GPT.
The small city mayors have allowed SSA, its consultant Craig Cole, front groups like the Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports and the Northwest Jobs Alliance (created by SSA’s PR firms), and Ken Oplinger, to manipulate and use them in order to try and push this project through before people really got a chance to know what this project actually entailed. These mayors have been derelict by not ensuring that their citizens are fully informed about all the ramifications and potential significant adverse impacts of this project, including the vital EIS process. Instead, they have relied on SSA as their information source and seemingly chose not to vet that information before jumping on board the coal train. So far, it must not be evident to the small city mayors that SSA has everything to gain … while the communities near the proposed project site and along the railways and waterways used to transport 48M tons of coal have everything to lose. Hopefully when they do realize the implications of their actions there will be a train stop for them to use before it’s too late.