Port’s Alternative Marina Analysis a Scam


Doug Karlberg is a local fisherman and has followed port activity for decades.
Dear Mr. Stoner,

Thank you for leaking your memo analyzing the port's alternative marina site. This document was released to the public in April of 2004, prior to the port's public meetings to solicit input from Whatcom County citizens concerning the possible purchase of the Georgia Pacific property.

The memo appears to analyze alternative marina sites in Bellingham Bay including the Georgia Pacific lagoon. This lagoon had long been the focus of the port’s attention as a potential marina site and, in 2004, the port's analysis determined it to be the least expensive site for a marina. This information added immeasurably to the port’s sales pitch to the public.

In your role as environmental director for the port, you analyzed all the available information, including internal port documents, and made a great case that your memo was accurate. But the document was only accurate for a few months, and unfortunately, the port neglected to correct the gross inaccuracies that came to light prior to the public meetings discussing the purchase of the GP property. In other words, you completely ignored the fact that the alternative marina analysis is terribly misleading.

In aerial photographs the GP lagoon looks like a marina. It looks like someone could just cut a hole in the rock wall and drive a yacht right into it. This is deceptive because that is not water inside the lagoon. It is a toxic soup of poisonous residue left over from millions of gallons of pollution that was discharged into that lagoon from GP over decades.

To simply empty this toxic pool will cost over $40,000,000 and will require removing an estimated 20,000 truckloads of toxic sediment out of Bellingham. The dust from this removal will be far more toxic than coal dust. Yet in your 2004 alternative marina study, the port placed the cost of emptying the lagoon at zero. This was misleading in 2004 and remains so today. Furthermore, once the lagoon is drained, the port will have to pay additional millions to have the top layer of the rock wall removed so moored yachts will have better view. Some of this cost may be born by grants from state taxpayers, but after ten years, with still no grant money available for lagoon clean up, it might be prudent to consider that these theoretical grants may not appear.

At the time, Glenn Taylor, G-P's local vice president and general manager, didn't see the port’s preferred marina in positive terms. In a letter from GP Senior Environmental Consultant Chip Hilarides that Taylor read aloud to the port commissioners, he said the port was disrupting years of cooperative effort on cleaning up the tainted sediments in the bay. (see below for attached pdf of GP letter) 

He also questioned whether a marina was the best use for the site, saying, 
“Many stakeholders would likely tell the port that a marina serves relatively few people and generates relatively little revenue compared with alternative public and private uses to which this property can be put after it has been filled.” 

Taylor also questioned the wisdom of hauling contaminated sediments for disposal elsewhere. 

“The impacts of hauling 20,000 (or more) truckloads of soil or sediments from the site through Bellingham are substantial and have not yet passed through public scrutiny in the cleanup planning process,” he wrote. (Bellingham Herald, May 19, 2004)

As the port’s environmental point person, you, Mr. Stoner, of all people should have understood the magnitude of cleaning up the lagoon. You of all people should have ensured that this report be corrected to reflect the best estimates of the costs of the GP lagoon/marina prior to asking for public opinion back in 2004. Does it actually need to be stated that the port, as a public agency, and you, as an integral part of the GP purchase, should know the public wants to be fully informed with accurate information prior to public comment? This is especially true when talking about significant public investment and risks we take as a community; because you are not taking these risks, Mr. Stoner, you are assigning them to the taxpayer.

So when the facts regarding the costs of the lagoon/marina changed, the port should have changed the report to the public. You should have changed this report ten years ago, but as recently as four months ago, you were still referencing this misleading memo in the local newspaper. “Turning to the port's long-cherished idea of a new marina inside the wastewater lagoon, Stoner contended that port officials did a thorough review of alternative uses for it in 2003, before deciding on the marina.”

In the time it took you to pen the memo defending this 2004 site review, you could just as easily have modified the report regarding alternate sites and their costs. There were simple spreadsheets which port staff should have had no trouble navigating. But instead, the port simply removed the accurate costs and forgot to add them back in when it became obvious the port was going to be on the hook for cleaning up the toxic soup in the GP lagoon.

I firmly believe the public has the ability to make reasoned decisions about waterfront redevelopment, but only if the port is honest with us. The new marina decision is one the most significant financial decisions in port history, and the public should be aware of the best, and the worst case scenarios. Providing one side of an issue is not an honest representation.

The Wall Street Journal succinctly described the issue we’re facing. “When a misleading message ultimately clashes with reality, the result is discontent and conflict. In a republic, deception is destructive. Without truth there can be no trust. Without trust there can be no consent. And without consent we invite paralysis, if not chaos.”

Providing accurate public documentation is critical to ensuring public trust. I wish you had simply taken the time to correct this misleading document. Instead, you generated a memo doubling down on something you knew was going to be found inaccurate. And you used this memo to provide cover and absolve the port from having to make amendments when the facts changed. We can only hope that a new commissioner has the ability and integrity to guarantee our port provides good data, including updates when necessary, so public trust in our port can be repaired.

On a final note, the local newspaper of 9/17/13 reported, “Stoner also said that developers have told port officials that a marina would help make commercial development more successful.” I have attended many Port Commission meetings where the public can sign up to speak for three minutes. Yet during all those meetings, I don’t recall any public testimony from any developer concerning the new proposed marina. Could you provide the names and comments of the developers you are basing this marina decision upon?

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Comments by Readers

Tip Johnson

Jan 14, 2014

What waterfront developer wouldn’t want the public to subsidize a marina in addition to their environmental clean-up, roads and utilities?

The Port will sell our publicly owned waterfront to developers at top dollar, filling their larder while saddling citizens with expenses.  The more amenities the Port can pin on taxpayers, the more developers will pay without complaint.

This has all the earmarks of a kickback-rich deal.  This deal and the major players all deserve a forensic financial review, what with fudging the numbers, hiding environmental liabilities on exhibits, gaming the SEPA review to avoid alternatives and lying about everything.  This will be a billion-dollar (x2 or 3) boondoggle before it is done.

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