Whatcom County Council member Satpal Sidhu, representing the 2nd council district.

Smear Campaign

It seems that an outrageous smear campaign has been launched against a Whatcom County Councilmember, Satpal Sidhu, by a previous Councilmember, Mrs. Kathy Kershner, who ran against Mr. Sidhu in 2015. In her cover letter, Mrs. Kershner asks, “What responsibility does Sidhu bear for TreOil’s pollution of our waterways?” From our analysis, the answer is none. On May 18, 2017 and again on May 25, 2017, NW Citizen received emails from Mrs. Kershner that included documents suggesting that Mr. Sidhu is personally responsible for the pollution and environmental damage that occurred at the former TreOil Industries tall-oil processing plant in Ferndale over the last 30 years.

Editor John Servais and I interviewed Mr. Sidhu on May 21st in order to listen to his side of the story. Mr. Sidhu was more than willing to share his story and his past history with us to help us understand the truth.

According to Mr. Sidhu, he was hired by TreOil Industries in 1988 as the project manager for the design and construction of the tall oil processing facility. After more than two years of construction, he was asked to stay on as the VP of Operations to bring the facility up to production. Mr. Sidhu informed us that as a part of his duties, he was in charge of applying for all processing permits, including the NPDES permit in question, which was given a provisional approval by the DOE in 1991. In the first quarter of 1992, Mr. Sidhu left TreOil for other opportunities.

Later, in August 1992, the DOE visited TreOil for inspection and noted that no one was on the property, as stated in their inspection report. Because of that, DOE wrote a formal letter to TreOil and addressed it to Mr. Sidhu, as his name was on the original application paperwork. The DOE did not know that Mr. Sidhu had since left the company.

We asked Mr. Sidhu about the unpaid vendor bills and the legal action that followed. Mr. Sidhu informed us that he was not an employee of TreOil at the time of the lawsuits, and that he was named in the court action only because he was the former VP of Operations. This is a common practice by attorneys, and Mr. Sidhu did not dispute their claims. Mr. Sidhu told us that as far as he knows, the cases were settled by the owner.

As a former loan officer and branch manager for mortgage companies, I conducted in-depth research into the corporate documents to determine if Mr. Sidhu had any ownership interest in the Campbell Land Corporation, a corporation owned by Mr. Gill, the owner of TreOil Industries. I did not find any evidence that indicated that Mr. Sidhu had an ownership interest in TreOil. During the interview Mr. Sidhu indicated that he had no such ownership interest at any time in TreOil Industries.

Mrs. Kershner’s suggestion that Mr. Sidhu is guilty of some sort of unethical behavior with regard to Mr. Gill’s application for borrowing $5 million dollars while using the TreOil property as collateral falls flat on its face, because Mr. Sidhu was never a co-investor or co-owner of TreOil. He was only an employee, from 1988 to early 1992. His name does not appear on any of the Deeds of Trust recorded with the Whatcom County Auditor’s office. In other words, this accusation is an example of guilt being assigned to Mr. Sidhu, not because of any evidence of wrongdoing but by his association with a separate person, whom Mrs. Kershner appears to consider an offender.

Mrs. Kershner also asks why Mr. Sidhu, who advocates a clean environment, “would be party to the TreOil operation in the first place?” The answer is simple, the sap from pine trees extracted during the pulping process is an organic oil, which can be processed into valuable products. Otherwise, this valuable resource will end up as boiler fuel in a pulp mill. Mr. Sidhu informed us that tall-oil processing plants are in operation all over the United States, and these products are used as raw materials for numerous pharmaceutical and beauty
products. You can read more about this product on page 2 of the USDA website link.

Finally, Mrs. Kershner states, “…a larger investigation into Sidhu’s other business dealings has been initiated and confirmation of his citizenship and eligibility to hold public office…” Mr. Sidhu expressed his dismay at such demeaning line of questioning. He became a U.S. citizen in 1998.

Smear campaigns go far beyond ordinary negative campaigning. Smears involve an insidious, methodical approach calculated to destroy the reputation of a political incumbent or challenger through the manipulation of data or public records in a fashion specifically intended to mislead voters into assuming that a political intrigue has occurred or is about to.

Hence, I urge the members of our community to carefully examine all of the partisan information being circulated about candidates or incumbents during this election cycle.

Before I close, please understand that NW Citizen has since received several documents from Mrs. Kershner regarding Councilmember Sidhu. Subsequent documents provided by Mrs. Kershner seem like the product of internet scavenging and data dump by a highly paid political research firm. Thus, NW citizen plans to publish a series of articles examining these allegations, in order to share our findings with the community at large.

I also extended an invitation to Mrs. Kershner to meet with me personally for an interview. We shared a few emails, but regrettably, she has not responded to my invitation to have coffee and talk.

Attached Files

About Elisabeth Britt

Writer • Member since Mar 23, 2009

Before becoming a citizen journalist, Elisabeth Britt worked in Olympia as a legislative aide. Locally, she served on the WRIA 1 Planning Unit, the Coordinated Water System Plan and as a [...]

Comments by Readers

Michael Chiavario

May 29, 2017

Excellent article. Exposing Kershner’s fake news and racist statement should be material for front page article’s in Bellingham’s local newspapers.

Eric Hirst

May 30, 2017
Elisabeth, Thanks so much for taking the time and making the effort to carefully investigate these awful accusations against Satpal Sidhu. I am not surprised to find that these claims

Elisabeth,

Thanks so much for taking the time and making the effort to carefully investigate these awful accusations against Satpal Sidhu. I am not surprised to find that these claims from his political opponent are completely unsupported.

On a personal level, I have gotten to know Satpal over the past couple of years, mostly to talk about local water issues. Satpal and I often disagree on problem definitions and solutions, but we always enjoy interesting and respectful conversations. I think Satpal is a decent, very well intentioned public servant, and I am glad that he serves the public interest on the Whatcom County Council.

Tim Paxton

May 30, 2017
Aside from the usual  Whatcom County smear, the despicable attack does reveal that this site apparently is still leaching, leaking, flooding toxic waste into the flloundering herring beds. 

Aside from the usual  Whatcom County smear, the despicable attack does reveal that this site apparently is still leaching, leaking, flooding toxic waste into the flloundering herring beds.  Many barrells of toxins leaching into ditches and possible injection wells left abandoned?

Keven Ranker and Doug Erickson can work together turn this nasty lemon into lemonade and insist that DOE actually do its job and clean up the mess now.    Its been almost 20 years of leaching.  Erickson can put his environmental credentials from WWU to work on this on going toxic leak crisis!

At least something good can come of this. 

Nice reporting, as usual.

Sam Crawford

May 30, 2017
If this is ‘smear’, it’s the best-documented smear I’ve ever seen. Clearly the industrial-scale activities leading to the environmental degredation occurred on Mr Sidhu’s watch (have you

If this is ‘smear’, it’s the best-documented smear I’ve ever seen. Clearly the industrial-scale activities leading to the environmental degredation occurred on Mr Sidhu’s watch (have you seen the pictures from that time, and the statements of EPA that no remedies were taken from their earlier site visit when Sidhu was running the show - apparently for years?). “VP of Operations” is not a title that is without the burden of responsibility and accountability.

Ok, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. Will be interested to see Mr. Sidhu’s actual documentation - in this forum, I presume - of his efforts to remedy this. For me, it’s not about what Kershner or Britt or Sidhu says. Right now it’s about what the very plain documents from that time show us.

Elisabeth Britt

May 31, 2017
Hello Sam, Believe it or not, I spent several hours reviewing the documents listed on the DOE TreOil Cleanup site before writing this article. Let me share an excerpt from

Hello Sam,

Believe it or not, I spent several hours reviewing the documents listed on the DOE TreOil Cleanup site before writing this article. Let me share an excerpt from one of the documents I reviewed that I believe identifies for the record, who owned TreOil; and, who Whatcom County and the Washington Department of Ecology ultimately determined is/was responsible for the cleanup of former TreOil site. I hope that you and other NW Citizen readers find it as interesting as I did.

The excerpt begins at the bottom of page 2 of the DOE Water Compliance Inspection Report (HWTR) dated July 11, 2006. 0n the Department of Ecology Cleanup website. The entry was compiled by Doug Knutson, one of several DOE inspectors who visited the site. 

Removal of Boneyard:

A large amount of disused industrial/commercial equipment/debris, such as vehicles, tanks, piping, boilers, refrigeration equipment, trailers, sandblast grit, and refractory concrete dust/chunks has been accumulated on the site. Some of the equipment was brought onsite recently by TG Energy for use in the planned biodiesel production operation. Some of the equipment, particularly boilers, in-place piping, and the fractional tower, is associated with the Tall Oil Plant formerly operated by TreOil. Other materials, such as the accumulation of yellow grease and black grease is associated, according to Mr. Caleb, with the recently aborted plan by another company (Whole Energy) to start a biodiesel plant on site. Some material is associated with the incinerator manufacturing business conducted by Enerwaste. Additional structures and material on site, such as the temporary sandblast structure, and equipment shed appear to be associated with business ventures that Mr. Caleb was not familiar with. Other material, including abandoned vehicles, working vehicles, and a container full of equipment appear to be associated with employees of Enerwaste (Tom Dutcher/David Sullivan). In addition, a vehicle and trailer onsite appear to be associated with an acquaintance of principles or employees of either Enerwaste or Whole Energy. Mr. Sullivan was also cited by Mr. Caleb as working  for TG Energy, although it is not clear whether in the capacity of an employee or contractor. In addition to the Tall Oil, incinerator manufacture and abortive grease-to-fuel operation, a sandblast operation was conducted under a temporary structure, and a large number of bags of bagged sandblast grit has been accumulated. TG Energy asked the inspectors whether the site would have to have all materials removed prior to start-up of production. There appear to be three types of cleanup issues associated with this property, each which should be addressed separately.

Page 3.

The first involves the removal of abandoned equipment and non-hazardous materials onsite. My understanding from the discussions was that Whatcom County may authorize start-up of operations prior to completion of cleanup operations, provided that the removal of abandoned equipment and materials on-site proceeds in a reasonably expeditious manner, and in accordance with a schedule acceptable to the County. Much of the abandoned material on-site must be removed, not only to provide room to conduct the biodiesel operation, but also to comply with provisions of a Whatcom County Ordinance which only allows accumulation of disused equipment if it is associated with the operation of the industrial facility conducted at the site. Mr. Caleb made known his wish that the regulatory agencies issue compliance orders with compliance timelines so that he could use this as a justification to expedite removal of the extraneous materials and equipment by the other parties involved. Mr. Mak Kaufman noted in his separate report that covered the stormwater aspects of the site: “From the perspective of Ecology’s National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) construction and industrial stormwater general permit regulations and the Water Pollution Control Act (RCW 90.48) regulations there is nothing that would prohibit TG Energy from producing biodiesel onsite while any potential required clean-up actions are taking place.”

And, finally, an “ Oily water in sumps at building containing two boilers. Sump at the corners of the north end of this building contained an oily liquid. One of the inspectors recalled an enforcement action by the Department of Ecology which had occurred at the site a number of years ago. A penalty of $4,000 dollars was levied in 1991 against TreOil, but was not paid. It is unclear whether the oily sumps are connected to the drain-field located toward the trailers. It is unclear what the relationship is, if any, of the septic field, the commercial drainage field mentioned during the inspection, and the permitted injection well mentioned during the inspection. 

So, a penalty of $4,000 dollars was levied in 1991 against TreOil. Which, DOE states was not paid. That said, TG Energy’s representative, Mr. Caleb, is quoted as stating that TG Energy was willing to conduct cleanup of the site, after receiving compliance orders. 

As always, I’m looking forward to reading your response.

Sam Crawford

May 31, 2017
My response? The same as before. The documents are irrefutable: this happened on Satpal Sidhu’s watch, he was VP of Operations. There is photographic evidence from that time,

My response? The same as before. The documents are irrefutable: this happened on Satpal Sidhu’s watch, he was VP of Operations. There is photographic evidence from that time, and it doesn’t look much different than the recent images in the Herald of ongoing pollution (but apparently you didn’t include the ‘92 photographs in your link, or maybe you did and I missed them).  Will he be providing any documents or other evidence of his attempts to clean up the mess that was created back then? Even a memo notifying the “owners” that he was concerned about the pollution being caused by his operation? Anything? Did he indicate any remorse at all about this when you talked to him?

Elisabeth Britt

May 31, 2017
The documents are irrefutable? And, all this took place  on Satpal’s watch? Never mind the results of subsequent investigations and publications.  You can honestly make a statement

The documents are irrefutable? And, all this took place  on Satpal’s watch? Never mind the results of subsequent investigations and publications. 

You can honestly make a statement like this without even blinking?  

Oh, by all means - enlighten me.  priviledged enlightened one!

 

Sam Crawford

Jun 01, 2017
This article is not about the history of the Treoil site, it’s about Satpal Sidhu’s involvement, right? The (apparent) facts: —Sidhu was VP of Operations 1988

This article is not about the history of the Treoil site, it’s about Satpal Sidhu’s involvement, right?

The (apparent) facts:

—Sidhu was VP of Operations 1988 to at least March 1992 (when he wrote letter stating they’d be in ‘production’ by June)

—EPA inspectors do a site inspection in November 1991 (referred-to later, but I haven’t seen any written documentation of that inspection). 

—In  August 1992 an inspection is done by EPA inspectors Elardo/Knutson with explicit photographic documentation.  (It would help the readers here if you added the photographs taken at that time to see the extent of the mess.) In that report, it clearly states: the gates are locked, the site is not operating, no cleanup efforts - at least in a portion of the site - have been made since the 11/91 inspection.

These are simple clear facts. Nothing complicated, nothing obfuscated by talking about subsequent operators of the site.

If one really wanted to make the facts match a scenario where Sidhu was not responsible, perhaps it could be asserted that the huge mess was made between April and August of 1992 when Sidhu claims (no evidence offered) that he wasn’t in charge. But the 8/92 reference to the 11/91 contamination, the fact the facility was not operating in 1992, (at least by August), the simultaneous financial crisis (bills and fines not paid, apparently no one working there), and the sheer industrial-scale of the contamination in the 8/92 pictures certainly wouldn’t support a case exonerating Sidhu.

Sidhu should explain why and how he allowed this to happen, and what his efforts were at the time and since to remedy the situation shown in the August 1992 photographs and report.

Or maybe not. Maybe he’s getting a pass on this one by the self-described environmentalists that support him, and will continue to support him?

Elisabeth Britt

Jun 01, 2017
Good morning, Sam. I have a very busy morning scheduled, but I wanted to let you know that I will respond in detail to your comment before the end of

Good morning, Sam.

I have a very busy morning scheduled, but I wanted to let you know that I will respond in detail to your comment before the end of the day. 

Before I respond, I would like to ask , have you ever worked in a chemical plant or refinery?  

Thank you, 

Elisabeth

Sam Crawford

Jun 01, 2017
No response needed. Again, what we say or think here is irrelevant to what happened. The ball is still in anyone’s court, especially Mr. Sidhu’s, to provide additional

No response needed. Again, what we say or think here is irrelevant to what happened. The ball is still in anyone’s court, especially Mr. Sidhu’s, to provide additional documentation from 1991-1992 indicating why he wasn’t responsible for this as VP of Operations, and/or any effort on his part to remedy this environmental disaster.

By the way, does anyone have the current numbers of what the EPA, state or local government has spent this year on the cleanup? It might’ve been stated in the Herald, I don’t recall.

Tim Paxton

Jun 01, 2017
Seems like Sam and Kathy perhaps had some help with the “research” or source? Maybe they can provide thatsource  information for the edification of the observers?    If

Seems like Sam and Kathy perhaps had some help with the “research” or source? Maybe they can provide thatsource  information for the edification of the observers?    If it was paid for, how much was spent?   I wonder how long they held onto this information, launching a last minute smear campaign is unseemly, even for our local Republicans.

 

Sam Crawford

Jun 01, 2017
Tim I’m reading the same stuff you are, in real time. I’ve never discussed this with Kershner, and I don’t think I’ve seen or talked to

Tim I’m reading the same stuff you are, in real time. I’ve never discussed this with Kershner, and I don’t think I’ve seen or talked to her in a year. You can find the August 13, 1992 pictures of the Treoil site just by googling “Satpal Sidhu Treoil”. This “research” you refer to ain’t rocket science.

Also not sure what’s “last minute” about Kershner’s effort to publicize this. Sidhu has 2 years before he’s up for election - I know because the election cycle is for the office position I used to hold. Meanwhile, the author states that Kershner has made the information available to NW Citizen as she’s developed it.

I first found out about this issue when Wendy Harris posted in social media about Sidhu’s involvement with the Treoil mess when the Herald first had an article about it, I think in the early months of this year. Of course, I don’t see all of Harris’ posts, but I got the impression she only mentioned it one time, and since has been silent on the matter.

I’ll bet Kershner wishes this nasty Treoil business had been revealed and known in her 2015 council race against Sidhu. Checking the new council district map, it appears she won’t be able to challenge him in 2017 unless he were to run At Large, they now live in different districts.

David McCluskey

Jun 01, 2017
I’m confused?  I thought you liberals were pro-environment and anti-oil?  Seems that  if a fellow liberal is involved though,  there is no need to

I’m confused?  I thought you liberals were pro-environment and anti-oil?  Seems that  if a fellow liberal is involved though,  there is no need to investigate and anyone who thinks otherwise is obviously involved in a smear campaign.   I just don’t get you people.

 If you are true to what you stand for,  you should be all for getting to the bottom of why Mr. Sidhu polluted our Mother Earth.  If he was a conservative, I’m sure you would take a different stand.  This is why we  become more and more divided.

 

Elisabeth Britt

Jun 01, 2017
So, we have a hazardous clean-up site. Doesn’t matter if it’s TreOil, Georgia Pacific or the Port of Bellingham Marina. Here’s what we do know. (And, I

So, we have a hazardous clean-up site. Doesn’t matter if it’s TreOil, Georgia Pacific or the Port of Bellingham Marina.

Here’s what we do know. (And, I am certain this is going to be very boring material, if you are a commenter who is blaming a single individual for contamination at a particular site). So, if all you want to do is make disparaging remarks and hurl insults, do yourself a favor and move on. This comment will bore you to tears.

In 1989, the state of Washington adopted the Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA) in order to avoid the confusion and delays associated with the EPA Superfund program. The MTCA requires potentially liable persons to assume responsibility for cleaning up contaminated sites. For the purposes of this discussion, Ecology doesn’t normally conduct a cleanup, when a potentially liable person can be identified. When a potentially liable person is identified, DOE supervises the clean-up and requires the liable parties to pay for the clean-up.

Ecology is not directly involved in the clean-up of a site. The level of Ecology’s involvement in a particular clean-up can take place in a number of different ways.

First, a Voluntary Clean-up Program allows a property owner to clean-up their site, without Ecology oversight.

Second, we have what is commonly known as  a Consent Decree, which is a legal agreement filed in court that spells out in detail the terms under which the clean-up will take place by the potentially liable person(s). DOE also allows landowners, whose contribution to contamination on the site is determined minimal, to settle their liability by paying for some of the clean-up costs, rather than actually conducting the clean-up work themselves. 

Third,  we have a Purchaser Consent Decree. In this situation, the applicant must demonstrate that they will contribute substantial resources towards the clean-up agreement, after purchasing the property. 

Fourth, we have Agreed Orders. An agreed order is not filed in court nor is it considered a settlement. But it is an administratively binding order by Ecology with the potentially liable person(s). An Agreed Order must spell out the activities that must occur for Ecology not to pursue legal action. Agreed Orders are also subject to public review.

Still with me? It’s obvious that there are a number of options for potentially liable parties  choose from once it is determined that they are required to clean up a contaminated site. The range of options include informal agreements such as the aforementioned consent decree and agreed orders; and, a more flexible option that allows potentially liable parties to seek technical assistance through a voluntary clean-up program. These tools allow Ecology to take an active role in clean-up activities by providing assistance to potentially liable persons and assuring the property owner that the site can be cleaned up quickly, without having to go through a lengthy formal process.

I shouldn’t even have to mention that I could write an entire article on this topic. Nevertheless, (and this is important) if a responsible party fails to comply with an enforcement order, Ecology can clean-up the site and eventually recover the costs of the clean-up from the responsibly liable parties. Additionally, local governments can apply for grants to assist neighborhoods and citizens affected by contaminated sites to facilitate public review of the cleanup. See Chapter 173-321 WAC for additional information. 

So, by all means, continue your search for a scape-goat, knowing full well that at some point, DOE will create an action plan, which includes design, construction, operation and monitoring of clean up actions.

And, when all is said and done, Ecology, not a local lynch mob, will determine who the financially liable parties are.

Michael Riordan

Jun 06, 2017
I don’t know much about Whatcom County politics, but I do recognize sloppy reasoning when I see it. The “arguments” being put forth by Kathy Kershner and Sam

I don’t know much about Whatcom County politics, but I do recognize sloppy reasoning when I see it. The “arguments” being put forth by Kathy Kershner and Sam Crawford are based on innuendo and guilt by association, not any solid evidence. Satpal Sidhu may have been responsible for the environmental damage revealed in the August 1992 DoE report (although proving that requires more evidence than Ms. Kersher presented), but he is clearly not responsible for anything else that happened after that, as he had left TreOil Indutries before that. Mr. Crawford’s statement that the environmental damages revealed in recent photographs are the same as those in 1992 is patently ridiculous. A comparative glance at both sets of photos is enough to prove that. And for him to suggest that nothing else untoward happened on the site for a quarter century, despite biodiesel refineries and other operations going on there, is just plain NUTS.

These kinds of smears are being concocted by small minds to feed other small minds, which I also notice happening on Facebook. Wannabe politicians like Ms. Kershner and Mr. Crawford are poisoning the waters of political discourse in Whatcom County by this smear campaign against Mr. Sidhu. They’d better be careful, for they might have to drink the same waters themselves one day. 

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