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.” http://blogs.bellinghamherald.com/politics/politics/darcy-burner-courting-whatcom-voters-in-1st-district/#comments.
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. http://www.co.whatcom.wa.us/pds/pc/businessrules.jsp.
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.