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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The good? We are no longer spewing forty+ pounds of mercury vapor every day into the local atmosphere. We are no longer dumping 20 to 40 tons of polluted solid waste into our bay, ravines and gravel pits every day.

The bad? Georgia Pacific is never going to clean up the toxic legacy their profits externalized, leaving them all over our home to wreck the neural networks of our children (9MB .mov). Public officials gave G.P. a “get-out-of-jail-free” card, saddling the public with the costs. Now clean-up is too expensive, so a cover-up, or capping, has become our cost-effective alternative. Everybody agrees, or at least all the government agencies that colluded to allow it to happen in the first place.

The ugly? The public has already incurred the health risk of G.P. operating for three decades after environmental officials with any pretense of professional credibility had to know that the mercury-cell chlor-alkali facility was a threat to food and water supplies, human health and the environment. Remember Minimata? That was 1957. By the early sixties, when this plant was being permitted, everyone knew it would be a mess, and did it anyway.

Uglier? Public waterfront land, built at public expense to support water-dependent commerce and industry, will be lost forever as it is sold off for private residences - private residences that have been administratively assumed from the beginning to eventually constitute about 60% of the “New Whatcom” “mixed-use” master plan. Administratively assumed? That means that nobody’s opinion has really meant one whit otherwise. That’s public process! That steals hundreds of millions from the public.

Ugliest? Stealing further untold hundreds of millions from the public - also without the slightest discussion. Huh? That’s right! The New Whatcom fiasco is likely the biggest rip-off of Whatcom County ever. You’d think it would make the news. hah!

The biggest rip-off has also been assumed from the beginning. It is the conversion of G.P.‘s treatment lagoon into a marina. Marinas are not the most environmentally benign facilities. Boats are actually real stinkers, sloughing copper, tin and zinc into the water and leaking oily wastes, detergents, waxes and other products. Don’t get me wrong. I like boats and I like marinas. So what’s the problem?

The problem is that we will need to replace that treatment capacity. Our growing community will require more treatment capacity in several different categories. We can expect to need additional sanitary treatment. That’s just a matter of so many more dwelling units, and nobody seems willing to regulate growth.

Then there are the mandates. We already expect to be required to provide treatment for our urban run-off. Governor Gregoire just announced ambitious plans to restore the Puget Sound near-shore habitat. It’s a billions of dollars, never-ending initiative that will never get off square one without treating polluted stormwater. Besides, do we want to restore our bay just to re-pollute it? No. We will want to protect our public expenditures for shoreline and bay restoration by preventing future pollution. That requires treatment.

Finally, G.P. is gone, but does that mean we will never want jobs again? Probably not. The public already owns a large industrial water supply to the central waterfront. Without treatment capacity, it cannot be used. If the lagoon is converted to a marina, we will need to provide additional treatment capacity before we can deliver water to any new industrial process on the waterfront. How valuable is water supply and treatment capacity for recruiting business? Whether semi-conductor production or anything else, it will never happen once these resources are gone. Well, they are almost gone.

It is possible that we could keep the treatment capacity AND have three times the marina (150kb .pdf), while completing the Bay Trail from Boulevard to the foot of Cornwall. The basic premise was already approved by our state legislature at this very site. But that has never since been discussed, either. That’s public process!

Buyers (taxpayers) beware. Your government is ripping you off, making their short-term revenues look really good while knowing - but not telling - that it will cost you hundreds and hundreds of millions later. That’s ugly!

About Tip Johnson

Writer • Member since Jan 11, 2008

Tip Johnson is a longtime citizen interest advocate with a record of public achievement projects for good government and the environment. A lifelong student of government, Tip served two terms [...]

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