The Port’s Foul Vapors

By On

All to often in politics, public interest advocates find themselves feeling like they are shouting futilely into the wind. Looking ahead, at the Port's mismanagement of the waterfront redevelopment and the specter of Bellingham's Billion Dollar Boondoggle, it is more like shouting into a literal sh*t storm of foul vapors.

Tim Eyman is successful because he goes straight to the people after elected and appointed officials ignore issues long enough. It doesn't make for good government, but it gets results. And while it is disturbing to watch tea-baggers and their ilk disrupt townhall meetings with uncivil behavior, it becomes easy to understand after watching years of citizens' concerns dismissed without consideration. It works.

Nevertheless, I am committed to a civil, incremental political process and have a long record of active participation on issues related to public interest, especially good government, land-use planning and the environment. Therefore, when I watch the Port game their environmental review, when I hear Port Commission President Scott Walker "scoff" at the idea of using a water treatment facility for water treatment, when I read his pocketed editor of the Herald disparage it as an “outlandishly out-of-touch idea”, I start to think, "What's the next increment?" When I observe the Port governing in secret, holding unqualified executive sessions, bribing away people's rights and withholding public records, I feel like shouting, even if futilely, into the bigger wind of bigger government. It probably won't do any good, but here goes…!

Feeling a little like I was approaching the event horizon of a black hole, I optimistically sent the following "Open Letter to Agencies and Officials with Purview over Government Procedure, Indian Affairs and the Environment"(81kb PDF) to the following folks:

Governor Gregoire

Senator Maria Cantwell

Senator Patty Murray

Congressman Rick Larsen

Rob McKenna, Attorney General

Brian Sonntag, State Auditor

Peter Goldmark, Commissioner of Public Lands

Jay Manning, Director Department of Ecology

Phil Anderson, Interim Director, Fish and Wildlife

Craig A. Bill, Executive Director, Governor's Office of Indian Affairs

WW Growth Management Hearings Board

Puget Sound Partnership

In the following letter, I try to succinctly outline the problem, suggest a solution and respectfully request their reply. I even generously offer to publish their response here, for the benefit of other concerned citizens. Gee, what more can I do? Will they even read it? Will they reply?

We shall see, but don't get your hopes up.

Greetings Representatives and Officials,

The shenanigans have become quite fast, furious, hot and heavy handed up here - north of the Chuckanuts on the southern shore of the Fraser River Delta. I know it looks like we're in Canada, but we still need the help of our elected representatives and appointed officials to make sure our opportunities for clean water and a healthy bay are not lost through neglect - or malfeasance. It's just not right.

Please review the attached letter and do not hesitate to ask for any further detail or clarification. We really need your help on this important issue.

I will be publishing the attached open letter for our community's information at and would be most pleased to subsequently add your replies. Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.

The Port of Bellingham has reached a “framework” accord with the Lummi Nation. Such cooperative agreement ought to auger well for public policy and the advancement of important issues - but not always. At issue is whether development certainty or clean water should command priority, and whether that decision should be based on open public process.

This Port/Lummi accord was secretly negotiated for months, under signed confidentiality agreements, including unqualified executive sessions. It was announced late on Thursday, July 30, and respectively signed on Tuesday, August 4. The Lummi Indian Business Council meeting location was changed and the time moved hours ahead, reportedly at the request of the Port. Their meeting was closed to the public.

RCW 53.08.240 ( Joint exercise of powers and joint acquisition of property—Contracts with other governmental entities), gives Ports the power to “…enter into any contract with the United States, or any state, county, or municipal corporation, or any department of those entities…” Tribes are not specifically noted, though they are for other agencies such as the Gambling Commission and the Horticultural Pest and Disease Board. The statute further stipulates that when port contracts involve another “state” (or nation?), that action will be taken “…only after a public hearing of which notice has been published in a newspaper of general circulation within the district at least ten days in advance…” This did not occur. Even after adoption, the Port of Bellingham continues to withhold records of the negotiations based upon attorney/client privilege.

The Port of Bellingham cites RCW 39.34 as their authority for the accord. However, RCW 39.34.050 (Duty to submit agreement to jurisdictional state officer or agency), requires intergovernmental agreements that “…deal in whole or in part with the provision of services or facilities with regard to which an officer or agency of the state government has constitutional or statutory powers of control…as a condition precedent to its entry into force…” to be submitted for review to any “…state officer or agency having such power of control.” The Port /Lummi accord may require such review on many grounds, though it likely will not be submitted.

At issue for tribes is the executive abrogation of the Lummi Nation’s sovereign and state rights both as treaty signatories and as early, continuous public participants with objections to key elements of the Port’s waterfront redevelopment plan. The accord extends to a host of other projects as well. The Port pays the Lummi for a promise to not interfere. Citizens of the Lummi Nation were afforded no more opportunity to participate in this agreement than citizens of the port district.

The Port of Bellingham was determined to build a marina in Georgia-Pacific West’s (G-P) wastewater treatment facility even prior to their acquisition of the G-P properties on Bellingham’s waterfront. The commission initiated condemnation proceedings on the lagoon for the specific “public purpose” of a new marina. Promotional materials for the waterfront redevelopment disingenuously refer to the facility as an “Industrial Waste Lagoon”, though the Port’s own consultants say the facility could continue in use for water treatment. The president of the Port Commission publicly “scoffs” at the prospect of using the facility for water treatment. The editorial board of the local paper calls it an “outlandishly out-of-touch idea”. But the issue has never been studied.

Instead, the Port of Bellingham intentionally manipulated their SEPA review to avoid studying how the facility might be used to meet future water treatment requirements, better protect our nearshore habitat, support jobs or save money – the most basic environmental, economic and social impacts. The proposed marina was originally included in the “No Action” alternative of their EIS. Scoping comments that dealt with treatment issues were refused because the marina was deemed a no-action item. Then, after a political rift over tedious planning issues, the Port and City of Bellingham struck a similar “framework” accord (April 20) that summarily added the marina to the “Preferred Alternative” for final review. However, this revision of scope was not open for public comment; therefore questions regarding treatment potential remain excluded from review.

At issue for citizens, whether tribal, non-tribal, tax or rate payer is whether the G-P lagoon site could save money and improve aquatic habitat. Could it support jobs, capture nearby sewage overflows, treat urban runoff, and better protect our marine waters? We know we will need additional capacity. The municipal sanitary system is at 85% of capacity. It already overflows –a stones throw from the G-P lagoon. The lagoon is ideally located at the bottom of the drainage for most of Bellingham’s developed areas. It has 26 acres and might be simply subdivided or redesigned to accommodate clarifiers for various treatment regimes. It includes a long outfall to a mid-bay diffuser and state-approved mixing zone far from the nearshore habitat. The City provides a large stainless steel industrial water supply to these waterfront redevelopment properties. This asset becomes useless if the treatment facility is destroyed. Months of document inspection at both the Port and City of Bellingham reveal that none of the foregoing issues have ever been considered. Instead, a pattern of systematic avoidance has been repeatedly evidenced. A marina may be beneficial, but at what cost? This process has become irrationally focused on a single outcome – at any cost.

Do ports have the authority to secretly negotiate contracts with First Nations? Do First Nations’ and Ports have any obligation to open public process - public meetings, records, advertisement and hearing? How long can records be withheld? What oversight exists for port contracts when negotiated in secret?

Neither the Lummi Nation nor port district residents should have to choose between clean water or development without the benefit of adequate, objective analysis. The potential of the G-P wastewater treatment facility, the property, location and discharge infrastructure should be studied. Failure to do so could forever compromise our community’s environmental integrity and economic potential. It could saddle the public with staggering costs to meet future treatment needs. Citizens expect officials and agencies with purview to consider the importance of proper public procedure and objective consideration of alternatives. Legal tedium aside, clean water is the foundation of a healthy bay.

Please help assure that this important analysis is required, whether through statutory review of the accord, during the Port’s continuing SEPA process, or both. I look forward to your reply.

We know the Port will not address these issues without external direction. We have already read the Herald's opinion. The City Council appears asleep at the switch and the Mayor long ago reneged on his election promise to study the public value of G-P's treatment lagoon. I'm not going to advocate Eimanesque or teabagger tactics, but I will recommend that voters get busy, exercise their privilege to vote out Port incumbents "Scoff" Walker and Doug Smith on their primary ballots, and save themselves a billion bucks.

Stay tuned to see how your extended government responds to issues of governance, the environment and public costs. It ought to amaze you!

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

Aug 14, 2009

It’s been a long time ago, but it would be worth looking over the original street vacation ordinances.  As I recall, the purpose was very explicit: water treatment and cleaning the bay.  I don’t have the documents so I cannot quote them.
What happened to the “baykeeper?”


Tip Johnson

Aug 17, 2009

Here’s the first response from the Governor’s office:

“This is an automatically generated Delivery Status Notification. Delivery to the following recipients failed. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Interestingly enough, there is no email listed for the Governor at that office’s website.  There is also no fax number.  The only contact other than a mailing address is a web form that will accept only 5,000 characters and won’t accept attachments.  Curiously, the email address I used (above) was lifted from the code for that form, but my message was rejected by the server.

I guess the Governor will have to get her copy by snail mail!


Tip Johnson

Aug 17, 2009

And here’s the response from the Attorney General’s office:

“On behalf of Attorney General Rob McKenna, thank you for your e-mail.  Due to the high volume of spam we receive, this mailbox is no longer monitored.  However, we appreciate hearing from you and will reply to your message if you visit the following link so submit your inquiry:

If you wish to make a request for public records, please send a message to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).  Or, if you would like to submit a consumer concern to our Consumer Protection Division, please visit this link:

Again, thank you for contacting the Attorney General’s Office.

Public Records & Constituent Services”

Their website also lists no email or fax, relying upon a similar restricted web form.  I guess that’s more snail mail.

Not a paragon of open government, but maybe it’s not supposed to be easy?!


Tip Johnson

Aug 17, 2009

O.K., we’re having such bad luck with the State officials already mailed, I’m adding all the local folks that should already know about it.  Hopefully someone will pass it along to those hard to reach ofices and possibly have something interesting to say about it.  Stay tuned!

Sen. Kevin Ranker
Rep. Jeff Morris
Rep. Dave Quall
Sen. Dale Brandland
Rep. Doug Ericksen
Rep. Kelli Linville

Whatcom County Executive Pete Kremen

Whatcom County Council -
Dan McShane
Ward Nelson
Laurie Caskey-Schreiber
Sam Crawford
Barbara Brenner
Carl Weimer
Seth Fleetwood

City of Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike

Bellingham City Council -
Jack Weiss
Gene Knutson
Barry Buchanan
Stan Snapp
Terry Bornemann
Barbara Ryan
Louise Bjornson


John Servais

Aug 17, 2009

I have been personally told on numerous occasions by elected officials that they and their staffs check NwCitizen often - like every day.  Indeed, the logs show huge traffic from government agencies in Olympia and Bellingham.  Larsen has two staff persons checking daily - so I was told by one of his staff members.  Our US Senators also have staff check this site.  When something is posted that insults an elected official, I hear about it within hours. 

Yet - yet - they can be very blind and deaf when they want to be.  Every one of them.  No difference between liberal, conservative, Democratic or Republican.  Email?  No way can they receive that - why all that spam.  But they fill my email box - and yours - with their unsolicited newsletters that praise their personal accomplishments.  But they can’t receive our email. 

Is there even one elected official that will speak up and acknowledge they have received Tip’s email?


David Camp

Aug 18, 2009

Posted on another thread - buy IMHO bears repeating: The Port Commission canceled its regular third Tuesday public meeting today due to “scheduling conflicts”. Hmmm…...I wonder if it has anything to do with the unprecedented level of public comment at the last (first Tuesday) public meeting, including comment from Hayes and Karlberg?


David Camp

Aug 18, 2009

Further, how can there be a “scheduling conflict” with a regularly scheduled, legally mandated, public commission meeting? It may be as simple as leaving the tail end of August for staff (and commissioner) vacations, but the timing of the cancellation, on primary results day, could be interpreted as political in nature. Or to avoid public scrutiny, which is why the meetings are public in the first place. Either way, the purported explanation makes little sense, IMHO.


Tip Johnson

Sep 08, 2009

At the time of this comment, not one representative, official or agency has bothered to respond or even acknowledge receipt - other than those that issued auto-responses.

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