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Craig Cole Threatens Libel Suit

Craig Cole, the local face for plans to build the Gateway Pacific Terminal coal port at Cherry Point, sent a letter on February 5 to the Whatcom Watch threatening a libel lawsuit unless the monthly newspaper prints a correction or retraction of a story that appeared in the January issue. What article could provoke such a reaction? Sandra Robson wrote an article titled What Would Corporations Do? Native American Rights and the Gateway Pacific Terminal. The article does not mention Mr. Cole.

News of this lawsuit has been circulating for a couple weeks now, confidentially, among local political insiders. It is time the public knew. I have tried several means to actually read the four page letter - but have been denied. However, the facts have been corroborated from several sources having first hand knowledge of the situation.

The January Whatcom Watch article pointed to an effort by local extreme-right groups to attack the Lummi Nation and marginalize their efforts to prevent the coal port from being built. Cole objected to being connected to these efforts. Which he wasn’t. The article suggested that large corporations often secretly engage local extremist groups to do their dirty work for them and this must be where Cole has taken exception, as he is the local contact for the coal port.

Whatcom Watch Editor Richard Jehn was willing to talk about the issue once I confronted him with knowledge of it, but has strongly requested that no reporting be done on the issue. The board of directors for the Watch have apparently consulted a Seattle attorney who has delayed giving them advice. I was told last week that by Friday the attorney would advise, but it was delayed until Monday, and now has been delayed again until later this week.

In a baffling turn of events, Cole has apparently asked Tim Johnson of the Cascadia Weekly to arbitrate the issue and convince the Watch to print a retraction - a retraction that Cole would write. As of this date, the Bellingham Herald has not reported on this developing situation.

We have seen the effects of big money on politics and corporate media, and now those long arms are reaching into our local media – using lawsuits to intimidate or bully local citizen journalists away from vigorously reporting what is happening. Indeed, it has been working! The folks at the Whatcom Watch are stuck in a defensive crouch over this threat. The Watch has no money and Mr. Cole has some of the largest corporations in the country behind him. It seems unlikely Cole would send such a letter without the backing and encouragement of his corporate clients.

If large corporations are trying to silence local reporting, citizens should know. My thinking is that Ms Robson and the Whatcom Watch were getting close to the truth of what is going on and this is a classic corporate effort to silence them.

About John Servais

Writer • Fairhaven, Washington USA • Member since Feb 26, 2008

John started Northwest Citizen in 1995 to inform fellow citizens of serious local political issues that the Bellingham Herald was ignoring. With the help of donors from the beginning, he has [...]

Comments by Readers

Tip Johnson

Feb 19, 2014

I think we all know the extent of nascent anti-indian sentiment that exists in Whatcom County.  We will see how it works under the new Herald Facebook commenting interface, but many will remember that under their earlier anonymous troll posting paradigm, every article about tribal issues or achievements was routinely lambasted with some of the most awful stuff imaginable, stuff so bad it had to be moderated out in volumes never seen with other issues.

Whether it be the millions of gallons of water GPT will have to apply daily to prevent the cole pile from igniting, or the threat they present to the struggling Cherry Point herring population, or the Lummi burial grounds they already started and presumably want to finish bulldozing, I can think of no one with more incentive to stir these sentiments up.

This doesn’t mean they did.  It just means it’s not unlikely that they might have had a hand in it.  As John points out, Craig Coal perhaps “doth protest too much, methinks.”

John, I am sending over two documents of notes that were channeled through an intermediary to me from an attendee at the CERA/CERF conference at Lakeway Inn last year.  There is information on the presenters and notes on what they had to say.  It’s not exhaustive and I’ll let you decide what to do with it, but a main presenter brings up coal and there are plenty of folks to background for possible affiliation with GPT.

It would be nice to see the letter and know if Craig outright denies his and/or his master’s involvement.  I have a feeling we can rely on time, more than GPT, to tell the truth, as usual.

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Ellen Murphy

Feb 19, 2014

I understand anyone thinking Whatcom Watch has been “sitting on it” or “crouching down,” as relevant to appearances, but those aren’t what’s been happening. We are eager to respond, eager to share information. There pure and simply have been delays in our ability to do those things. I trust we will act soon and that citizen journalism will be the better for it.

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John Servais

Feb 19, 2014

Actually, it is fine for the Watch to answer in due time, but not appropriate for it to deny public information to others and to request - almost demand - that others not write about this issue.  The Watch has no entitlement to be the only one to report on itself.  And indeed, the editors and board of the Watch were keeping this issue a secret. When I learned about it and asked to see the threatening letter, not only did the Watch refuse to share it with me but had provided it to others on the condition they not share it with anyone else.  And they specifically refused to allow anyone to share it with me - for days.  It is very sad and strange for the Watch to deny an open public press when they supposedly exist to promote an open press. 

You miss the point.  There is no suggestion in the article that the Watch should have responded earlier.  The point is the misplaced efforts of the Watch to prevent others from reporting on this.  And, I might say, the lack of reporting of this by others who had this information, including Seattle media who deemed it not relevant beyond our local area.  I am amazed that NWCitizen is breaking this story when so many other media had the information for so long.  Your comment now exposes the attitude that the Watch considers this a private affair and that it is inappropriate for me to criticize - and perhaps to even report.  Sorry, Ellen, not the way it works. The Watch was not “eager to share information.”

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Barbara Perry

Feb 25, 2014

Thank you John for reporting about this suit. I would like to know Watch’s reasoning.

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Sandy Robson

Mar 07, 2014

—Point of interest—
SSA/PIT’s advertisement insert entitled, “Gateway Pacific Terminal Report to the Community Volume 3” was placed in our local newspapers in September 2013. The advertisement consisted of what were identified as frequently asked questions about GPT with correlating responses.

On page 3 of SSA/PIT’s advertisement this question was asked and answered: “Doesn’t everyone support job creation on private property within the designated Cherry Point heavy industrial area?”

The answer below followed directly underneath that question:

“Survey research indicates most people do. But not everyone.”

“In July, a political organization endorsing a slate of candidates for the Whatcom County Council passed a resolution stating:”
‘We propose and support the rejection of all industrial, commercial, and residential uses of the remaining natural lands and waters on or adjacent to Cherry Point.’

“The resolution also seeks to ban the use of water ‘except for the use of potable water for consumption by the people,’ apparently ruling out even agricultural uses.”

The resolution name is not cited in the GPT advertisement, although some readers may have recognized it. If readers of SSA/PIT’s advertisement were not familiar with the resolution and wanted to know more specifics about it, they could simply go to Google search and plug in those exact words in the first quoted line which are, “We propose and support the rejection of all industrial, commercial, and residential uses of the remaining natural lands and waters on or adjacent to Cherry Point,” and the very top search result they will find (as of writing this comment today)  is this: “RESOLUTION TO HONOR THE LUMMI NATION’S SACRED LANDS AND WATERS OF CHERRY POINT.”

While the advertisement does not cite what specific group is meant by, “a political organization endorsing a slate of candidates for the Whatcom County Council,” some people reading the advertisement may have known that resolution had been passed by the Whatcom County Democrats to support the Lummi Nation as it relates to protecting and honoring its sacred lands and waters of Cherry Point. That resolution honoring the Lummi Nation’s sacred lands and waters, referenced in the GPT advertisement, was passed by the Whatcom County Democrats in July 2013.

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Sandy Robson

Mar 20, 2014

Below is Craig Cole’s response to a question from an audience member attending the October 2013 Tea Party Gateway Pacific Terminal debate in which Mr. Cole was the sole featured presenter. At 44:52 minutes into the almost 2 hour video, the following question was posed:
“Craig, what are the tribes using to argue against the terminal. . .what are the issues. . .?”

The text of Mr. Cole’s 2:33 minute long response is below:

“Um, we, uh, the—it’s kind of important to say—it’s hard to do this from what you read in the papers. But there are uh different tribal opinions, and uh, so sometimes when they’ll say tribal leaders it may actually be tribal individuals. Uh, not actually the Tribe itself, the Lummi Tribe. . .the Lummi Nation so, uh and so it gets very confusing. And it’s uh the uh, there are a lot of people, a lot of environmental interests, uh that are non-tribal that are working those guys over. And um within the Lummi Nation of course there will be differences of opinion on this project as there would be in any community. We are continuing uh courteous discussions, uh constructive discussions with the Lummi Nation. We believe we can address all the issues that have to do with their uh treaty rights which have to do with fishing in their usual and accustomed places. And, um so we are uh optimistic that we can uh address those issues—I want to make one thing very clear. You’ve heard a lot of chatter that somehow there was some clearing that was done that disturbed a burial ground. That’s not true. Uh, there was a small disturbance. There’s a one inch borehole that went through an Indian midden and it’s a one inch hole. . .and soils test and it tuned out to be a midden, an Indian midden which is where uh the traditional, the historic villages would dispose of things like shells and other things. There were no human remains disturbed. You hear people say, ‘Oh they were disrespectful to the tribal burial grounds—they disturbed them’. . . it’s not true.  But people who are against the project will make up almost anything. So that’s the issue. It’s the uh, treaty rights and uh, trying to find a means by which the uh, the Lummi Nation and others affected will feel that this project appropriate.”

I took the above quote from the audio/video and tried to document it word for word as closely as I possibly could. If you want to view/hear it for yourselves you can view the full video of that Tea Party GPT one-man debate/forum event with this link: (As of today’s date this is viewable online)
http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=xREsM7gipQc

If you want to simply view/listen to the 2:33 minute long response to the specific question referenced above you can use the link above and then scroll forward to 44:52 minutes into the video which is where that specific question and subsequent response from Craig Cole is located in that video recording.

It should be noted for context in terms of Mr. Cole’s response quoted above, that the Lummi Nation submitted an official EIS scoping comment to the Army Corps of Engineers on January 15, 2013 stating that the Lummi Indian Business Council [the elected governing body for the Lummi Nation] has adopted a formal position to oppose the proposed projects [GPT and Custer Spur Rail Expansion projects] during 2012. The EIS comment stated, “Both of these projects will result in significant, unavoidable, and unacceptable interference with our treaty rights and irreversible and irretrievable damage to our spiritual values.”

Additionally, it should be noted that on July 30, 2013, the Lummi Indian Business Council submitted a formal letter to the Army Corps of Engineers expressing the Lummi Nation’s, “unconditional and unequivocal opposition” to the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal and inter-related Custer Spur Rail Expansion projects at Cherry Point. The July 30, 2013 letter went on to say, “The Lummi Nation cannot see how the proposed projects could be developed in a manner that does not amount to significant impairment on the treaty fishing right and a negative effect on the Lummi way of life. Please recognize this letter as a clear statement of opposition to these projects from the Lummi Nation.”

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