Planning Commissioner Mocks Environmental Concern For Coal Terminal

By On

In his eagerness to attack a Democratic candidate, David Onkels forgot that members of the Whatcom County Planning Commission should not publicly comment on matters subject to future Planning Commission review. His lapse in judgment was amplified because the subject of his comment was the Gateway Pacific Terminal proposal.

A recent post on the Bellingham Herald Politics Blog discussed Darcy Burner’s intention to run for the new 1st District seat. Noting her cautious approach on the Gateway Pacific Terminal project, the Herald stated that Burner thought “the prospect of generating more jobs from an underused deep-water port site is “intriguing,” but she isn’t willing to accept environmental degradation in return.”

In response to this post, Commissioner Onkels, blogging as “David Onkels,” ridiculed Ms. Burner for attempting to “tell the rubes in Whatcom county how much she cares about agriculture and about how she’s concerned about “environmental degradation” from a carefully-planned, job-producing industrial project.”

Commissioner Onkels has not only formed a strong opinion regarding the coal terminal, he has communicated that opinion in public. He openly ridiculed someone for voicing concern regarding environmental impacts. This concern is justifiable because the environmental review process, which is the basis for determining harmful impacts, is several years from completion. Apparently, Mr. Onkels does not need evidence to reach a conclusion.

Environmental impacts at the GPT project site are included within a larger range of issues that will be examined by the Planning Commission on January 26th, 2012 when it reviews the In Lieu of Fee Mitigation proposal for the Birch Bay watershed and Cherry Point. Whether to include Cherry Point, and to potentially allow SSA to mitigate habitat impacts created by the GPT project off-site, has been the subject of extensive public testimony.

While citizens are appointed to the Planning Commission based largely on their political ideology, they still have a responsibility to reserve judgment until they have reviewed relevant evidence and listened to public comment. In fact, this is required under the Planning Commission’s Business Rules. Commissioner Onkels was a party signatory on the most recent update of these rules.

Under Rule 7, which covers conflict of interest and the appearance of fairness doctrine, Commissioners are advised to avoid bias or the appearance of bias by being discreet and not publicly committing to any specific course of action on a land use matter that will be reviewed by the Commission and voted upon by the Commissioner.

Because Commissioner Onkels believes “environmental degradation” is a preposterous claim for a “carefully-planned, job-producing industrial project” such as GPT, he is unable to provide impartial and fair review on this matter. At a minimum, he has created the appearance of bias. His participation has deprived the public of the right to a fair hearing, which includes the right to an unbiased consideration of testimony and comment.

I call upon Commissioner Onkels to take responsibility for his comment by recusing himself from all matters involving environmental impacts from the GPT project, including the Birch Bay/Cherry Point In Lieu Of Fee Mitigation proposal. It is in the best interest of the county, as well as the public, to remove even the possibility of taint in decisions concerning this controversial project.

About Wendy Harris

Citizen Journalist • Member since Mar 31, 2008

Comments by Readers

Todd Granger

Jan 16, 2012

Of course Ms. Harris,

Ask Luke, about Dave Pros and associates, using their version of the Apperance of Fairness Doctrine.

After pasting “Keep Lummi Island Rural” bumper stickers on the podium of the Whatcom County Council Chamber?

Karen Frakes, PRESENT!

Their mind’s are small, when living on an urban 1/4 acre lot, moving and building a new house, and then attempting to lock out, people who might do just as they did.

HyProsCrits, is a great designation in a rural area, when you live onm a 1/4 acre lot, woulden’t ya think?

Of course then we can discuss Kremens $150,000.00 groundwater study, that asked for $43 million to actually figure out what BAS, “IS”

Openly ridiculed?
Now there’s a concept of truth, from any Growth Management Reading, where Rural Charachter as defined by another city slicker who purchased a .25 acre lot and thinks he’s a farmer?

And of course don’t mention the transportation element of the GMA to a Lummi Island Planning Committee, or Dave Pros one section he never read in his life.

Working out very well, now didn’t it, Kremen’s sinking ship of state, the most expensive County Ferry in the World, with reduced rates given to a few, who filled in one official wetland, for developement under D. McShane’s bio-geo engineering study. If that ain’t a wetland at Cederus, there aint no such thing as a wetland in the world. Just hire McShane, he can re-designate any wetland, anywhere.

Environmental Impacts, from the Mental Health Hospital, unchanged at Smith and Northwest for a hundred years.


John Lesow

Jan 17, 2012


I don’t follow your argument here…..

Dave Pros and Michelle Luke have both served as Chair of the County Planning Commission.  Chairs are elected by their fellow Commissioners.  Both Dave and Michelle are very competent people with unblemished records.

Dave Pros served two full terms on the Commission.  His District 1 seat was filled by Jean Melious and most recently by Dave Onkels.

All Commissioners are appointed by the County Council.

Karen Frakes served as legal counsel for the Commission a few years ago, replaced by Royce Buckingham.

Both Frakes and Buckingham work for the County Prosecutor.  Karen Frakes has never been on the Commission, so the Obamaesque term “Present”, if that is what you are alluding to, does not apply.

As far as abstentions, there have been a few over the past 7 years that I remember.  There have been many split votes, typical of a 9 member commission.

Commission votes on major land use matters have been validated by the Growth Management Hearings Board in legal challenges over the past few years.

A recent example is the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan, which was passed by the Commission and Council in 2009, rejiggered by the present County Council in 2011, and declared invalid in 2012. 

I suggest that the 2009 Comprehensive Plan; passed by the Commission and the “old” County Council, was a GMA compliant document and would have withstood a court challenge if the present County Council had decided not to mess with it.  But they did, so the County is out of compliance and out of step once again. 

No Planning Commissioner has voluntarily recused, which is the topic of Ms. Harris’ post.

Sorry, the rest of your post I don’t understand


Bob Aegerter

Feb 08, 2012

Actually, the County Planning Commission will have no role in the approval (or not) of the SSA Coal Export Terminal.  The Whatcom County Council will vote on that issue.