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The Gristle

A stocking full of coal

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A STOCKING FULL OF COAL: Police arrested Occupy Bellingham protesters who blocked railroad tracks near downtown Monday. In a daring and potentially dangerous protest, some chained themselves together with bicycle locks as police moved in to remove and arrest them. The demonstration was part of a wider effort to disrupt West Coast port operations, with protestors blocking tracks in cities like Longview and Seattle to call attention to a range of financial and social reforms. Bellingham’s rally added additional seasonings: Activists also protested the movement of coal through the city to service the West Coast’s largest coal export facility proposed at Cherry Point.

Action is stirring against the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal, a design with capacity to ship as much as 48 million tons of coal per year from Montana to Asian markets. Nascent efforts are bubbling as citizens prepare a referendum on GPT for the November ballot. In parallel action, Bellingham-based RE Sources filed a lawsuit this week, charging the project proponents with violations of the federal Clean Water Act in connection with grading and tree-clearing at the terminal site last summer.

Most surprising, the City of Edmonds last month approved a resolution actively opposing the GPT project. Edmonds City Council unanimously agreed—based on concerns about potential impacts to air, traffic, commerce and quality of life resulting from an increase of up to 18 trains a day through that city—to urge the governor and the state Legislature to draft a comprehensive policy opposing coal export terminals in Washington State.

Edmonds City Council expressed urgency in their decision, noting the governor is poised to propose state policy regarding coal export early next year.

The silence of the City of Bellingham on the issue has become deafening.

In October, a campaigning mayor sent out a mailer declaring that, “A vote for Dan Pike is another vote against the coal port.”

How, exactly? Having made the offer, what’s the procedure?

City administration has offered no official action since early summer, when the mayor requested the state Dept. of Ecology take a joint role with Whatcom County in the project’s environmental review (SEPA). The manner of the request, less so its content, drew angry protests from the county.

For their part, Bellingham policymakers have issued no official comment on the proposal since May, when council outlined the impacts of the project that would have to be mitigated in order to win the city’s support for GPT. That’s a far distance from actually opposing the terminal.

Despite staking bold positions on the issue of coal export, the departing mayor has not delivered administrative recommendations to policymakers on COB’s response to the coal pier. Recommendations might’ve included a draft resolution, similar to Edmonds, stating the city’s opposition to the proposed pier, outlining principles the council will use to craft policy decisions about freight mobility as the project moves into scoping and perhaps beyond, into permitting. As a former project manager for the state Dept. of Transportation on issues of freight mobility, Dan Pike has knowledge to share with council.

The City of Edmonds is clearly aware the clock is ticking on powerful decisions in Olympia regarding the scope of issues that must be addressed by GPT, the railroad, and project advocates, yet Bellingham City Council has yet to form its own public action plan, or enlist a task force or commission to craft proposals they might support.

Such a plan might detail the strategic relationships city leaders must forge with other municipalities around the state, like Edmonds. And rather than leave the matter wholly to citizens and signature gatherers, council and legal staff could also begin to channel direct democracy in the form of their own ballot referendum.

Has the city budgeted for the legal and technical expertise Bellingham will need to challenge the coal pier in the (likely) event the project’s scope will prove insufficient? We don’t see the request in the budget.

Frankly, it’s going to take teamwork and pressure just to herd City Council and the incoming administration into a coherent early, united stand on coal.

A plurality of council members are strong supporters of the union and union imperatives, imperatives that favor the Gateway Pacific Terminal. Indeed, notable council members in the fall of 2010 thought (unwisely) to introduce a measure in support of GPT at the urging of their AFL-CIO supporters.

Council may also be reluctant to expose the City of Bellingham to potential litigation should COB adopt an aggressive (and unsupportable) position on the coal pier. Federal and state transportation and commerce imperatives trump municipal actions, as voters in Alaska learned earlier this fall when the state sued to overturn a municipal initiative to halt gold and copper mining near one of the world’s premier salmon fisheries.

Residents of a Bristol Bay borough voted to ban large-scale resource extraction, including mining, that would “destroy or degrade” salmon habitat. But the state, in its lawsuit against the borough, claims the initiative is trumped by Alaska law and the state’s authority to govern the management and development of mineral resources. The state is asking a judge to keep the borough from enforcing the measure.

Bellingham could find itself in similar straights unless response is sophisticated and coordinated.

In the chill of winter, the city needs to light the coal furnace.

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Events
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12:00pm|Yeager's Toyland

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Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|4145 Meridian St.

The Lights of Christmas

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Irving Berlin's White Christmas

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The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

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The Happy Elf

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Old Fashioned Holiday Weekend

8:00am|Downtown Mount Vernon

Sinterklaas Breakfast

8:00am|Lynden Community Center

Old Fashioned Holiday Weekend

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9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Girls on the Run Fall 5K

9:00am| Skagit Valley College

Skagit Valley Jingle Bell Run

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Fairhaven Frosty

10:00am| Fairhaven Park

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Sleighbells Ring

10:00am|Bellewood Acres

Holiday Book Sale

10:00am|Ferndale Library

Glass Art Open House

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20th annual Skagit Eagle Festival

10:00am|Howard Miller Steelhead Park

Skagit Journey

10:00am|Sharpe Park

Green Eileen Pop-Up Sale

11:00am|Ragfinery

Holiday Open House

11:00am| La Conner Quilt & Textile Museum

Holiday Gifts for the Kitchen

11:00am|Lynden Library

Faihaven Holiday Events

12:00pm|Fairhaven Village Inn

Celebrate the Season

12:00pm|Port of Anacortes Event Center

NSEA Work Party

12:00pm| Little Squalicum Park

Tea and Music

1:00pm|Deming Library

Traditional Jazz

2:00pm|VFW Hall

Holiday Lights Obstacle Dash

2:30pm|H Street Plaza

Memory Into Memoir

3:00pm|Village Books

Bellingham Chamber Chorale

3:00pm|First Congregational Church

Seeds and Pianos

4:00pm|Village Books

Community Tree Lighting

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Western Winds, Western Brass

4:30pm|Bellingham Public Library

Objectification Opening

5:00pm|Smith & Vallee Gallery

Bellingham Bay Lighted Boat Parade

5:30pm|Bellingham Bay

Light up the holidays

5:30pm|Depot Market Square

26th annual Lighted Parade

6:00pm|Downtown Lynden

Boat Parade Viewing Fundraiser

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The Coats

7:00pm|Bellingham High School

Edward Albee Reading Series

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Pearl Django

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Motherlode

7:30pm|Fairhaven College Auditorium

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9:30pm|Cafe Rumba

MBT Mamma Mia Northwest Ballet
Tomorrow
Santa in Town

12:00pm|Yeager's Toyland

Peter and the Starcatcher

7:30pm

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|4145 Meridian St.

The Lights of Christmas

5:00pm|Warm Beach Camp

A Christmas Story

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Irving Berlin's White Christmas

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

The Happy Elf

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

20th annual Pacific Arts Market

10:00am|Sunset Square

Holiday Port Festival

12:00pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Olde Fashioned Christmas

5:00pm|Pioneer Park

Santa Train

5:00pm|Miniature Fun Center

Glad Tidings Christmas Concerts

7:00pm|First United Methodist Church

Pippi Longstocking

7:00pm| BAAY Theatre

Carols of the World

7:30pm|Anacortes United Methodist

The Nutcracker

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Old Fashioned Holiday Weekend

8:00am|Downtown Mount Vernon

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8:00am|Downtown Mount Vernon

Holiday Book Sale

10:00am|Ferndale Library

Sleighbells Ring

10:00am|Bellewood Acres

20th annual Skagit Eagle Festival

10:00am|Howard Miller Steelhead Park

Celebrate the Season

12:00pm|Port of Anacortes Event Center

Community Breakfast

8:00am|Rome Grange

Silver Tea

2:00pm|Everson Library

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Robrert Lashley Reading

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Christmas Parade

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A Shayna Maidel Auditions

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Monday
Santa in Town

12:00pm|Yeager's Toyland

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|4145 Meridian St.

Carols of the World

7:30pm|Anacortes United Methodist

A Shayna Maidel Auditions

7:00pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Snowshoeing Basics

6:00pm|REI

Northwest Owls

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Poetrynight

8:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Guffawingham

9:30pm|Green Frog

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