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