The Gristle

Et tu, Bluto?
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ET TU, BLUTO?: With the petty malice of a ruffian, Port Commissioner Scott Walker sent out a letter to supporters last week, attempting to drive a shank under the ribs of fellow Commissioner Mike Mc­Auley. Walker is getting pretty practiced in the role of a scoundrel, employing sly tactics similar to those he used when he plunged a bloody knife through the lungs of Port of Bellingham Executive Director Charlie Sheldon in 2010.

In a letter to supporters, Walker sketched his petty grievances with McAuley, encouraging them to vote for McAuley’s opponent. In particular, Walker took umbrage at McAuley advocating for a more thorough cleanup of Whatcom Waterway and pursuing a more circumspect approach to economic development that champions blue-collar jobs.

“Everything that I just said is a proven fact,” Walker breezily characterized his fabrications and distortions. “That’s all I can do: tell the truth.”

McAuley, in his typical style, responded at great length, fisking each of Walker’s spurious claims.

“McAuley voted to stop final negotiations for an environmental permit to allow cleanup of the Whatcom Waterway,” Walker complained. “He wanted to start over! This would have doomed this project for many years.”

“Not even close to true,” McAuley replied of a plan that predates his time on the commission. His concern is primarily that the failure to more thoroughly dredge the channel forever forecloses on marine uses of Whatcom Waterway. “The port fanatically bundles projects together, which means if anything needs to change it cannot without throwing the entire project out,” he noted.

Bellingham City Council continues to suffer under this particular form of extortion, finding themselves burdened to move the waterfront master plan one inch under threat the entire plan could unwind.

“I won’t speculate on why staff didn’t include basic, necessary infrastructure in the plan given that that is the port’s role, but the plan was established under the watchful eyes of Walker,” McAuley commented.

“McAuley voted against the partnership with Western Washington University to create a waterfront campus,” Walker complained.

“I voted against giving six acres of land to Western Crossing, which is not Western Washington University,” McAuley clarified. “There is an incredibly important distinction between WWU and Western Crossing which Walker conveniently fails to describe. Western Crossing is a development entity with a handful of university and port board members representing the port, Walker is a board member.”

Walker installed himself on the board, then used his vote on the commission to approve their memorandum of agreement in June, a matter upon which he clearly should have recused himself.

“I didn’t support the land grant in the center of the former Georgia-Pacific property because, as of the time of that vote, WWU didn’t have a plan for using that property,” McAuley explained.

Others have observed that the university is allowed to squat on six acres of the waterfront with little more commitment than a handshake. Walker’s position on a shell corporation ensures he’ll continue to puppeteer waterfront outcomes long after he has has been driven off the commission.

In chutzpah of a cosmic scale, Walker complains that “McAuley politicized the commission decision to replace executive director Charlie Sheldon. He was an active player in prolonging a controversy that was notable only in the fact that public officials took action against a failed director.”

Of course Walker is the one who politicized his dissatisfaction with a port director the agency had spent thousands of dollars to obtain, taking to the airwaves of KGMI in the fall of 2009 to air his complaints loudly and publicly. Months later, he engineered a moment when a majority of port staff were absent to walk Sheldon off a pier.

“I don’t understand the ‘politicized’ terminology,” McAuley commented, “but if Walker means I reached out to the community and asked for their support, then I guess I politicized his work on removing Sheldon.

“The day Sheldon was officially ousted the commission chambers were packed to standing room only, with more outside,” he said. “And, this wasn’t just a crowd of bleeding hearts, it was the most wide representation of people from the left and right, from the environmental community and the chamber of commerce, and so on.”

“McAuley and Sheldon engineered the public subsidy of commercial fishermen who no longer pay even break even for their moorage, taking money from people with less to subsidize those with more, many who are wealthy,” Walker complained.

Now we get to the heart of Walker’s dissatisfaction with McAuley and Sheldon—a reordering of priorities that might reconnect the port authority with its roots in the fishing community, employers with heavy multipliers for marine trades, including shipbuilding and vessel refitting.

Walker notes that thousands of dollars have been contributed to McAuley’s reelection by the fishing community and alludes it is payback for the “taxpayer charity” of reduced moorage rates. And it is true the fishing community strongly supports McAuley, the first commissioner in decades who hasn’t gouged the life out of their industry in order to finance marina operations for wealthy yacht owners.

“The current port plan for the waterfront envisions well over $100 million in taxpayer investments,” fisherman Doug Karlberg commented. “Much of this investment is envisioned to build a yacht harbor for large yachts and waterfront view condominiums. To folks in the county that need jobs, and college graduates with loans to be paid, how do yacht marinas of luxury view condominiums solve their very real needs of more family wage paying jobs?

“Each of these yachts cost about $500,000,” he said, “which means that 99-plus percent of the taxpayers cannot afford one.”

The port’s plan for the waterfront is a shameful inversion of social justice. A new commission could fix this. Good riddance to the old commission.

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