The Cole Train: Tell it to the Herring

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In today's Seattle Times, Ken Oplinger, our local Chamber of Commerce president, and Chris Johnson from Central Labor are busy spreading their opinion beyond Bellingham to the rest of the world: "Let's finish what we started."


Yes, the herring are nearly gone from the Straits of Georgia at Cherry Point. Why not finish them off? That could clear the way for some truly unbridled commerce and jobs, jobs, jobs.

They explain that Cherry Point is a success story of "responsible development" creating "thousands of family wage jobs" while managing to "protect the environment for future generations."

Not, however, the future generations of salmon that once relied on Cherry Point herring. Perhaps the fish will learn to appreciate the oily slime of coal dust that promises to coat the water and shore around the proposed Gateway Coal Terminal. Maybe they will be fine. After all, the project proponent according to the authors, is "a very successful, environmentally conscious" company. SSA Marine was started in Bellingham by the same folks that advocated the "responsible development" of Chuckanut Ridge and Governor's Point.

The job prospects are really growing in this story. According to the article, there are already "thousands" of jobs at Cherry Point. The number of interim jobs building the terminal has grown to 3,000. Despite internal documents admitting that permanent jobs may be less than 100, Oplinger and Johnson tell the world it could be as many as 1,700.

The authors are very keen on helping the thousands of unemployed people in Whatcom County. They say the refineries and smelter have been "a steady source of family wage jobs." They are sure the proposed terminal will be a great boon, but fail to explain how, even while admitting that all this corporate activity has left Whatcom County's personal income "16 percent below the state average."

Oplinger and Johnson point out that "our air will actually be cleaner" if we ship America's cleaner coal to China. Oh really? It may be true that our coal is cleaner, but I am guessing they forgot to factor in the tons of dust that escapes the trains and has a long documented history of causing numerous health problems along the railroad routes.

Finally, the authors assert that if we don't take the jobs and make the money, someone else will. If it is Canada, the trains may still roll through Bellingham, but without local benefit. Well, maybe. But not for long, boys.

A recent analysis of the China's coal market points to regulatory disconnects and industrial deficiencies as the source of China's current foreign coal demand. They review a massive government initiative to modernize the industry and build up to 13 coal-based industrial centers. China has plenty of coal. It will take about ten years to restructure their coal economy and obviate any need to import from foreign sources.


Ten years? Is that it? Oplinger and Johnson are willing to sacrifice the remaining herring, disregard the salmon, throw a giant wrench into redevelopment of the waterfront and foul our homes with toxic dust all for a few years of a few jobs? That's a far cry from the article's title, "Coal terminal fits long-range plan."

I have to say I am not very comfortable with Oplinger and Johnson representing me as self-professed "leaders in Whatcom County." But I am pleased to see Johnson replace Dave Warren as labor spokesman. Warren stumped hard for this proposal on behalf of labor before admitting he was on the project payroll. Oplinger has been very outspoken, too. He has been asked whether he is on the take, but hasn't yet answered.

I ask again. Ken, are you getting paid to push this terminal? If so, I think it's time you stepped down as president of the Chamber and quit pretending to be one of our leaders. If not, I think it's time the Chamber's members reviewed whether Ken is leading where they want to go.

About Tip Johnson

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Member since Jan 11, 2008

Tip Johnson is a longtime citizen interest advocate with a record of public achievement projects for good government and the environment. A lifelong student of government, Tip served two terms [...]

Comments by Readers

Scott Wicklund

Jun 26, 2011

Dredging activities are excluded in this porker from Senator
Patty Murray.  It’s just a coincidence that SSA “got lucky.”


Frank James

Jul 29, 2011

New developments at the SSA site show just how much the develpoer
plans to follow the rules and laws.

They have gone out and built extensive roads through wetlands
Without any permits.

Simple eh?