Doug Karlberg - candidate for Port Commissioner

Note: Each primary election candidate - Port, County Council and City Council - has been invited to submit one article for posting here on NwCitizen. The first we have received is from Doug.

Note: Each primary election candidate - Port, County Council and City Council - has been invited to submit one article for posting here on NwCitizen. The first we have received is from Doug.


Note: Each primary election candidate - Port, County Council and City Council - has been invited to submit one article for posting here on NwCitizen. The first we have received is from Doug. If others are received, we'll post them.
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My name is Doug Karlberg. Candidate for Port Commission #2

I am a 51 year resident of Whatcom County and as a lifelong commercial fisherman, I understand ports in ways my competitors do not. I have 37 years of hands-on, practical experience with ports from San Francisco to Nome. I have seen first-hand the changes, challenges, successes, and failures of ports and their surrounding communities.

My commercial fishing background brings a unique approach to work ethic, teamwork, and the definition of achievement. Would you like to see this style of leadership in our government? Please, read my resume - attached below.

In short, I bring a frugal, “working class” attitude to government. 

Folks, what makes our county a great place to live is its people. And people are at their best when they are not living from paycheck to paycheck. I believe supporting a strong middle class is the key to keeping our county a great place to live. For 90 years the middle class has paid taxes to the Port. Now, the Port has abandoned the middle class that created it.

Even with massive government spending, the numbers of foreclosures, bankruptcies, and the unemployed are still rising. By Christmas we will have 10,000 unemployed in Whatcom County. Our children leave for good jobs elsewhere while real wages have declined in Whatcom County for 30 years. The Port is charged with economic development, and it has been a record of failure.

Port spending is out of control and our port is becoming a high cost port, which is a job killer

Most people are unaware that the majority of ports nationwide, do not tax property owners. Current incumbents claim they have lowered taxes. This is untrue. The Port of Bellingham collected $5 million from your property taxes in 2004 and wants $7.5 million from your property taxes this year. Port charged property taxes have increased around 8% a year, but your paycheck (where the taxes come from), has not increased by 8% a year.

Our Port is a huge job creator, or destroyer, depending on how well it operates. This is a rare opportunity. We can elect a new majority this election. 

The real estate development dream has burst. We need jobs. If elected, I will make job creation priority number one .... and not just for Bellingham.

Our Port commissioners no longer listen and they are defensive about criticism. They are fighting with the City and suing to squash a citizen’s initiative, regarding a luxury yacht harbor, to prevent a vote of the people. No public official should be afraid to listen to the voters!! 

During these tough times we need Port commissioners who listen to the true job creators, the Port's tenants. But tenants are afraid to criticize the incumbents for fear of their leases. This is unacceptable.

If you want jobs, vote NO on the incumbents when your primary ballot arrives next week. Then we will hear from the real job creators, private industry. It is crucial we hear from private industry before the General Election on November 3rd.


If we do not have jobs, who is going to buy the condos or shop on the waterfront? This is the age old chicken and egg question. Which comes first?

Jobs come first. Jobs drive housing, retail and tax revenues. Manufacturing jobs drive service and government jobs. Strong support of skilled trades or craft jobs will strengthen the middle class.

I admire Warrens Buffet’s philosophy toward investment: invest in durable jobs, in industries that have a natural advantage over other communities. The industries and jobs listed below are all durable and should still be here producing jobs for the rest of this century - if we remember to feed and water them occasionally.

The Port should capitalize on the industries where we have a natural competitive advantage over other communities.

Whatcom County has a natural, competitive advantage in these areas.

1. Transportation to/from Alaska: of people, supplies, and natural resources

2. Food production and year round processing of consumer ready foods (primarily fish and agriculture)

3. Marine trades - These fell into disrepair under current Port leadership who have been inclined toward real estate development, which has now gone bust, taking the country with it. A full service vessel refurbishment center for boats from California to Alaska would do well here and be a big middle class job producer for folks who do not have a college education.

4. Transportation of people and supplies to the San Juan Islands, Victoria, and the Canadian Gulf Islands


The Port needs to re-prioritize its resources toward creating jobs in Whatcom County. The Waterfront Redevelopment needs to be divided into two parts and move forward, but not as fast as it has been.

The environmental cleanup needs to be held to high standards so we never have to do this job again. It should go forward as quickly as possible. If, to accomplish this cleanup, we need to eliminate or reduce the proposed yacht harbor, so be it. Public safety is a mandatory priority when it comes to the cleanup. The Port should do everything legally within its power to ensure that most of the environmental cleanup jobs are filled by local people. We have plenty of skilled people right here in Whatcom County. The cleanup requires broad public support.


The Waterfront and other projects can be separated into three natural components: design, engineering and financial viability. The Port should get out of the design business. The design of these projects can be handled by the public, it's their money. The Port should be there to provide support services with expert staff where appropriate. 

Bellingham did not get to be a great place to live because of a Master Plan or outside Consultants' views of what they “think” we should build. I submit Bellingham became a great community because of the designs of its citizens. I still have faith in citizens to produce a design for the future that is unique, vibrant, and will create a friendly place to live.

I would support an urban village and mixed-use commercial development of the Waterfront, but only when there is clear demand to build it. I don’t support using the taxpayer money for the “build it and they will come” philosophy.

I would like to see some level of housing on the Waterfront matched with jobs that truly produce wages to make this housing affordable. There is a cost savings to the taxpayer from higher density housing. It removes a burden from the taxpayer when infrastructure and services are concentrated in dense population centers

I am not thrilled about making the Waterfront a retail mecca or wasting this land on 12,000 parking spaces. This should be neighborhood, in the true sense of the word: multi-generational (both children and elderly), with a broad spectrum of economic backgrounds. I like the concept of the Ahwahnee Principles.



Engineering and financial viability should remain with the Port. But financial viability should be double-checked by a third party who is competent and impartial, before committing major funds. Double-check the numbers before pending $410,000,000!! This is the largest project the Port has ever attempted and it's outside their core competency.

Any major, long-term funding projects with the ability, if they fail, to threaten the viability of the Port without substantial bailouts from the taxpayers, should be put to a vote of the taxpayers to ensure clear, broad, public support.

I believe if we let the residents of Bellingham design the Waterfront while the Port and City assist with engineering, the Waterfront will be developed sooner. This could also take pressure off precious agricultural land, substantially reduce the need to drive, ensure a viable downtown and reduce the controversy over the Infill Tool-Kits.


The Port needs to be asking the public, via its website, for their input. Polls can be taken of Registered Voters. There are 200,000 residents in Whatcom County, but the current process is being driven by a small group of people - many with special interests. Port leadership is spending more time with development interests than with the small communities in Whatcom County. The small communities deserve a better hearing for their tax contributions. The Port needs to treat taxpayers like owners. Port communications should be available and written in plain, understandable English long before they ask the taxpayers for their input.

The Port’s website should be revamped from a place where the Port touts its 'brilliant and correct vision of the future,' into a Listening Post, soliciting the public’s views in a cost effective manner. 

It is long overdue that the Native American tribes, Whatcom County’s first citizens, and their concerns be treated with the simple respect they deserve. They are a part of our community. Simple respect, may bridge some simmering gaps.


The Port’s most precious asset is public trust. The Port should put their checkbook online for all to see. Port communications with profit making interests should be open and transparent. Executive sessions should be recorded. Document requests should be virtually eliminated by simply publishing information online as soon as it comes in the door. 

The longer it takes the Port to respond to public information requests, the more trust is destroyed.

The Port should not hide behind attorney-client privilege to avoid producing documents. The public owns the Port, and the Public is the client, not hired Port management.


More important than money, is speaking with your friends about these ideas.

The incumbents are good people, but they need to be voted out to successfully implement these reforms. 

Important voices will be free to speak if the incumbents are voted out in the primary. And the public will be better served if we hear these voices before the General Election.

I know times are tough and if you cannot contribute money, I understand. But if you can spare a couple of dollars to see these ideas go forward, please send your contributions to:

Karlberg for Port
PO Box 4397
Bellingham, WA 98227
Phone: 360.961.2618

I should have my website up and running this next week with this and other information.

Thanks for your time,
Doug Karlberg

Professional Profile

Work Ethic – My career involved extremely long hours. I am goal driven, not a clock watcher. Twenty-four hour work days are frequent, and continuous periods of twenty-plus hour workdays are a requirement for a successful fishing operation.

Teamwork – Fishing vessels require a unique sense of teamwork. One must physically live with one's employees. The ability to maintain an efficient teamwork environment is critical to the financial success of the venture as well as onboard safety. Firing an employee at sea, is not an option. A person must have the skills to work out people problems effectively or the whole team loses.

EnterprisingI understand what a profit is. Fishing occupations frequently involve starting up and carrying out projects. This occupation involves leading people and making many decisions, sometimes under challenging physical conditions. Often, the decisions require risk-taking and deal with both critical business decisions and, occasionally, life threatening situations.

Achievement Oriented – Throughout the majority of my adult career my take-home paycheck has been based on results alone. The level of effort or the amount of time you had invested was worthless, unless you achieved the end goal. If one failed to catch fish, for any number of reasons, your pay was zero… or a loss!

Critical Thinking Skills – Thinking is the use of logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems. I needed to determine causes of operating errors and decide what to do about them. I had to consider the relative costs and benefits of potential actions and then choose the most appropriate one. 

“Can-Do” Attitude – Much of my career has been spent in extremely remote locations that did not allow for much specialized support. Frequently, I had to improvise or attempt skills that otherwise would have been handled by specialists. At times the environment placed the vessels in situations that could only be survived by a “Can-Do” attitude shared by all aboard.

Negotiating Skills – I have been a negotiator for fish prices between fishermen and fish processing companies. The value of these negotiation some times exceeded $25,000,000. In one instance it meant coordinating and influencing 1000 people spread out in remote villages scattered along 300 miles of shoreline. Those were tough negotiations, but to this day I have maintained the respect of all parties.

Multi-Cultural Experience - I have lived in Iran(4 months), China(1.5 months), Mexico(1.5 months) and spent time in Thailand, Greece, Turkey, Vietnam, Norway, as well as decades spent with Coastal American Indians.

Lobbying Experience - Successfully lobbied for changes in fishery law in Washington, California, Alaska, and Utah. 

As a Founding Member of Salmon for Washington, I played a significant role in bringing warring factions into one room and leaving with concrete projects that we could do together. Ultimately, we built trust between groups which had not existed before including environmentalists, tribes, sport fishermen, commercial fishermen, and the State. We all came together and were able to sit civilly at one table. 

The Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association received greatly expanded powers to rebuild our watersheds during the time I was on the Board. We produced real fish instead of paper, bitterness, blame, and recriminations.

About Doug Karlberg

Citizen Journalist • Belingham • Member since Apr 08, 2008

Doug has been a fisherman for over four decades, working out of Bellingham and Alaska. He focuses his civic energy on Port of Bellingham - on their policies and practices. [...]

Comments by Readers

Larry Horowitz

Jul 28, 2009

You have my vote.  Thanks for running!


Tip Johnson

Jul 29, 2009

Karlberg said it, but it bears repeating and elaboration, and repeating and repeating…

~ Boycott Port Incumbents!

- Guarantee a new majority on the Port Commission.
- Assure a fresh look at Port policies and priorities.
- Enable a much needed debate on long neglected Port issues.
- Preserve opportunities for jobs and a healthy bay.
- Save the waterfront and prevent a Billion Dollar Boondoggle.

District 1
Vote Blethan or Hayes
NOT Walker

District 2
Vote McAuley or Karlberg
NOT Smith

This is an incredibly rare opportunity to secure reform at the Port of Bellingham, but we need to act now!

Why now? For the Primary election, we can advance these great challenging candidates with majorities from at most 10,000 votes.  In the General election, we will need to secure a majorities from more than 50,000 votes.

Why Bother?

The employer of Commissioner Walker got over 90% of nearly $200 million tax-exempt, low-interests loans issued over the last ten years. That is news.  There is no record of any outreach to other Whatcom County businesses. That is scandalous.

Commissioner Smith has made a business of building steel buildings on Port leases approved by the commission. That is news.  When asked, he publicly stated “I can think of one.” Upon prompting, he was able to remember several more.  That is scandalous.


If that is not enough to convince you to boycott Port incumbents, then read this or this

The Herald is ignoring these issues and this important race. That helps preserve the incumbents natural advantage. They know that a rout of Port incumbents is entirely feasible. That’s why it’s hush, hush. We’ve got to get out there and twitter, facebook, myspace, email and phone our friends and families - and their friends and families.  If we can get out our vote, we can win PORT REFORM in the primary election.

Ballots are being mailed today so… Let’s get busy and get out our votes! Do what you can to…

- Save a billion dollars today!
- Save a healthy Bay!
- Finally, have a say!

More Election Info


Rick Anderson

Jul 30, 2009

Thank you for your thorough presentation of what you stand for and what you want to accomplish.  I hope all of the other candidates care enough to follow with as responsive postings as yours.

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