Bad Idea, Wrong Place, and Wrong Time

Bob Ferris of Re-Sources in Bellingham provides this perspective on our community.

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Some cities celebrate giant balls of string or humongous potatoes as part and parcel of their beings. In Bellingham we celebrate sustainability in its many forms. That is expressed in myriad manners from the number of bike commuters to our focus on local businesses and from our record level of green power subscriptions to our standing-room-only crowds at the Appliance Derby.

Can we defensibly put a price tag on this intangible asset? Certainly we can. The measure consists of the value of our houses directly related to our quality of life. It is also expressed in the pay reductions talented people are willing to take to live where they are happier and more comfortable. While some may attribute our lower than average wages to our general economic condition they make a mistake in doing so because it really represents what many of us are willing to give up to live in this community with people we call neighbors. These and others are the tangible real dollar premiums we are willing to pay to be a Bellinghamster.

Local doctors will also tell you that there are some hidden bonuses to all this too. The fact that health care quality and doctors per patient numbers are on the high side in Whatcom County has a lot to do with reputation and quality of life. And study after study indicates that amenities that lead to smiles rather than frowns also attract big brains and high tech industries to a community.

If the city or county for that matter had a collective balance sheet, this factor would be included in the “goodwill” line item. And here is where the proponents of the Cherry Point coal terminal have made a miscalculation by ignoring the importance of this entry on many of our mental spread sheets. Like a forgotten mortgage payment on an income statement, proponents failed to account for the collective community impact of shifting from a leadership position in sustainability to becoming the premier exporter of greenhouse gases in North America.

“Ah ha,” project boosters might be thinking at this point: It is just about money. If a payment or amenity were somehow arranged for the 20,000 to 50,000 folks most impacted by this in Whatcom County and the needed overpasses in Bellingham were paid for to make at-grade crossings safe and not inhibiting. Perhaps a new park or whiz bang public building and fifty million dollars for the overpasses might do the trick? The simple answer is: No.

While it is possible to defensibly construct a spread sheet value for goodwill and deal with it financially, it is inherently a mental metric tied directly to emotions and personal values. To many involved in this equation no amount of mitigation could ameliorate this loss of face. And no amount of *New Coke* or *Qwickster*-style spin or packaging could for this significant segment of the population make the unpalatable, unworkable, and untenable anything than what it is: A bad idea for this community at this point in time.

About Guest writer

Writers • Member since Jun 15, 2008

Comments by Readers

Larry Horowitz

Oct 31, 2011

Thank you, Bob, for reminding us that there are many highly-valued intangibles associated with a ‘place’ that are often overlooked in an economic sense.  As noted economist and author Herman Daly wrote in ‘For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future’:

“The real economic base of a community…. consists of all those things that make it an attractive place to live, work, or to do business.  That means the economic base includes the quality of the natural environment, the richness of the local culture, the security and stability of the community, the quality of the public services and the public works infrastructure, and the quality of the workforce.  None of these things are provided by the commercial economy or produced for export.”

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Clayton Petree

Nov 01, 2011

We currently produce 150,000 tons of garbage per year (see table 4.10-41 of County DEIS for the 10-year review).  That garbage is loaded on trains and trucks and shipped to Eastern Washington and Oregon for disposal.  What is Re-Sources stance on this and would you support a local solution?

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Bob Ferris

Nov 01, 2011

@Jack.  As RE Sources started nearly 30 years ago as a recycling operation our general position then as it is now is: Reduce,Reuse,and Recycle.  This theme runs throughout our operations, programs, and educational outreach.  150,000 tons is a lot and that can likely be reduced in many, many ways from eliminating unnecessary packaging and buying fresh, local produce to buying more durable items and less disposable junk.  Of course we would support a full or partial local solution if met economic, environmental, and social criteria and proved an equal or better solution than the current one.  The devil is certainly in the details and there is a lot of good and bad options to sort through.  But any solution must start and end with reduction.

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Clayton Petree

Nov 01, 2011

LOL Bob,
Jack and I aren’t even close to the same person.  Jack is a grumpy old conservative.  I’m… well, not.
I encourage you to give our garbage situation a lot of thought.  The 3R’s are nice, but of all the communities, I think we do that pretty well.  And we still have a lot of garbage we ship through and to other communities to take care of for us.  “garbage trains” spewing their particulate in other communities so we don’t have to deal with our waste doesn’t sound all that different from coal trains to me.

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Larry Horowitz

Nov 01, 2011

Clayton,

What exactly is your ‘garbage solution’?  (Note that I’m not implying your solution is garbage.)

BTW, I don’t believe there is any comparison between 48,000,000 tons of coal of 150,000 tons of garbage.  Well, you could compare the two, but one is only 3/10 of 1% of the other.  I don’t see how you can say that 48 million doesn’t sound all that different to you than 150 thousand.  Size matters.

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Clayton Petree

Nov 01, 2011

My solution is that we take care of it locally.  I’m not really interested in dumping it in the bay again like we used to, or burying it next to the Nooksack.  But I think that our community, as a whole, could come up with a great way to take care of our own waste.  One example are the plastic to oil processors.  There’s a company in OR doing that and another one further east.  It’s not going to be a “one idea solves all” kind of thing.

BTW, when I compared it to coal trains, I didn’t mean volume - I meant that we are imposing our garbage trains on all the places between here and there.

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Tip Johnson

Nov 01, 2011

We had a local solution, two of them, counting both ReComp and Olivine.  The EPA shut them down.  Incineration was a federal pet of the eighties and nineties, but didn’t pan out.  The emissions were excessive and the ash very toxic.  Now we have identified daily covered, double lined for collection and detection, landfills in arid zones as the best solution.  I gotta say, the Recomp incinerator and co-generation turbine are still around. If we can complete the dismantling of the EPA, we could start burning garbage and medical waste again and run that 2 MW generator.  It could be part of the “green” power program, because it’s local, even if it kills everything within it’s downwind plume cone.  Great idea!

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Bob Ferris

Nov 02, 2011

Sorry Clayton was just in a conversation with Jack and thought this was a continuation.

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Bob Ferris

Nov 02, 2011

I think this is all something worth discussing in a systematic fashion.  I have done some analyses of net benefit from plastic-to-oil devices and I am very, very dubious.  The most desirable approach in all of this is not to create to as much of the 150,000 tons as possible.  Bottled water is still popular and who knows how many disposable coffee cups are used a day.  My family has trimmed our refuse can use to once a month pickup but many have not nor are they even considering such a move.  And while waste conversion might clearly be an option, the side impacts of those operations are absolutely tied to feed-stock and technology.

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