Response to Bellingham Herald editorial

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Thu, Jan 25, 2007, 6:18 pm  //  John Servais

Today's Bellingham Herald editorial invites an answer. The editorial is good in that it reflects on past bad practices, like allowing GP to dump mercury into Bellingham Bay, and the editorial goes on to wonder what we might be doing today that will cause problems in the future. (Editorial online will disappear about Feb 1)

For starters, ruining our water supply by not caring for the Lake Whatcom watershed is a current practice that will cause problems for our kids in the future. And the Herald is the leader in distorting the facts of this issue and not reporting of the activists trying to save it.

Another current stupid practice is ruining our neighborhoods by our city planning and permit process with a double-speak definition of "infilling", twisting the definition to mean building big, ugly and anywhere. The Herald applauds these efforts and quotes city officials' forked-tongue justifications while ignoring the pleas and concerns of neighborhood activists.

The absolute chaos being created by our city and county road-building programs will cause much expense to correct in the future. Road planning is on almost an ad hoc basis - building what serves some commercial interest or friend of some high government official. Along with city parking confusion, we are creating a horrible patchwork of dead ends and unusable routes between different parts of our city and county that our kids will have to undo in 20 years - and they will wonder what motivated us.

We practice what is called "wetlands mitigation" which means if you destroy - fill in and build on - one wetland, you can mitigate it by "building" a wetland somewhere else. How absurd. The future will wonder about these muddy places that do not serve the ecosystem and lament we knowingly destroyed functioning wet areas. Where have all the birds gone? They died for lack of homes. Our city planners encourage this and the Herald does not fully report on all aspects of this.

Another is what I call the Taj Mahal syndrome - the obsession of local leaders to built expensive buildings to fill non-existent needs. Twenty years later we struggle to use these buildings or keep them up. The Ice Arena was one that is almost forgotten now. The Port's International Free Trade building - the KAP building is another that never had a full commercial tenant in 15 years. This year it is the monolithic central library that will be put before us in the coming months. If built, expect it to have the word 'Douglas' somewhere in its name as a legacy for one of those obsessed with its creation.

I won't even go near the confused waterfront planning. Several agencies are tripping all over each other while behind the scenes several local big developers are quietly greasing the gears to allow themselves big slices of our community waterfront. The whole process - from the Port accepting a $200 million liability to the city council blindly signing on to indebt future citizens to its cleanup - has been cheered on by the Herald. Thirty years from now, the Herald will wonder why no one in the community asked for answers to hard questions before we blindly spent tens of millions of public monies on wasted projects. For now, the Herald merely cheer-leads the process.

The editorial dealt with mercury in our Bellingham Bay. I remind the Herald that mercury was well known as a killer back in the 1950s when Minamata exposed for the world to see just how terrible it was. The GP chlorine plant came on line in 1964 - 65? - and in 1969 was exposed in Bellingham's Northwest Passage underground newspaper as deadly and environmentally disastrous. The Herald refused to report a single word that was negative. Local leaders in government and business tried to squash the Passage. The police literally bopped the kids selling the papers and confiscated the papers. GP refused to answer any questions. This writer was chased off the public street by the police when I was trying to photograph some GP pollution - after GP called the police. The Herald did not discover mercury to be bad for 30 years - until after the chlorine plant closed.

Our county should conduct a comprehensive health survey. Our state and local health agencies have avoided this - because they know we have a serious cancer problem and possibly some serious problems with children's health. The Herald has been very silent on this issue. GP toxins have been quietly allowed to be dumped in small pockets all over our county and we are paying the price in our health - but we don't even know of it. I am posting this on the basis of anecdotal bits of information - which is all we have to go on when public records are kept secret. The Herald could use the pages of its newspaper to pry this information from state and local health agencies.

The above are some of the reasons I worked for years to help create a new weekly newspaper - culminating in the Whatcom Independent. Before that, I worked with the old Every Other Weekly to develop a business plan for it to go weekly - and Tim used a modified version of my plan to do just that with the Bellingham Weekly - now morphed into the Cascadia Weekly. I also worked on the Northwest Passage back in 1970-71. I encouraged and helped the three women who started the Whatcom Watch in 1992 and later put that paper on the Internet in an effort to help reporting of local environmental disasters in the making. All three papers - Indy, Watch and Weekly - are worth your reading in order to learn what we should be paying attention to today so as to avoid having more disasters to fix in the future. I am no longer actively involved with any of the papers, (and never was with the Bham Weekly) but do own some shares of the Indy.

The Herald could look to its own editorial room for where the problem of current ignoring of serious problems is centered. The Herald is loathe to report on any issue that is too critical of its advertisers - industrial, commercial and government. The Herald is also driven to keep reporting costs low by putting inexpensive fluff stories in the paper to satisfy advertisers. I will be the first to applaud better Herald reporting when it happens. An informed citizenry is the needed keystone to allow a community to stop current bad practices.

Related Links:

-> Bellingham Herald editorial
-> Minamata
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