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Flash Mob Protests Arctic Drilling

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Today Herb Goodwin, an ardent kayaktivist, received information that the Arctic Challenger, presently moored at the Port of Bellingham International Shipping Terminal, was preparing to leave Bellingham Bay in advance of protests planned for this weekend's Ski to Sea Festival. Shell pays the port around $20,000 a month to tie up at the dock.

Resistance organizers have seized upon the fact that, for the first time, there is not enough snow to support the skiing legs of the race, promoting the slogan, “No snow? sHell No!”. Race organizers, suffering under an unprecedented low team turn out, have scrambled to make up additional bike legs - even blaming the Mayor for reneging on an agreement that was never made to drive the race herd through a conservation area on mountain bikes.

Reports of security and police presence inspecting points of access near the Arctic Challenger were passed through social media. A new tugboat arrived and parked behind the vessel. A tender also arrived and positioned itself, remaining under way, between the Arctic Challenger and any potential interlopers. The Coast Guard was not evident.

Social media chatter increased over the day and at some point, a flash mob coalesced with the goal of meeting the vessel with a kayaktivist flotilla immediately, before it could disembark to avoid the weekend protest. Local pundits at a concurrent schmoozing event allowed how, given the reported activity and coverage of last weekend's event in Seattle, it would not be unreasonable for Shell to move the vessel and avoid another confrontation - and photo opportunity - this weekend.

This weekend's flotilla has been fraught with wrinkles. Herb went to Yaeger's Sporting Goods and bought about $800 worth of kayak gear. In the process, he got them to agree to bring a trailer of kayaks down to Zuanich Point Park for a couple kayak trainings, and for the flotilla event planned for the weekend. That's smart thinking on the part of someone at Yaeger's, because it's the kind of work that builds customer connections and sells boats. At the last minute, however, something stronger intervened and Yaeger's pulled the rug out from under the event, refusing to deliver the boats and stating further that they would refuse weekend rentals to anyone associated with the protest. Hmmm. Possibly not the brightest marketing strategy.

When I arrived at the end of C Street after work this evening, there was initially no sign of increased security. A crowd was gathering at the launch at the end of C Street, boats were gathering around the Arctic Challenger. Eventually security and Bellingham police arrived to politely escort a few people out of unmarked but restricted areas they had accessed to try and get better views.

While observing events at the end of C Street, I detected the unmistakeable stench of raw sewage. This is the point of discharge for combined sewer overflows during peak rainfall events when the nearby city pump station becomes overwhelmed, but I couldn't feature the presence of raw sewage with so many dry days behind us. After verifiying the odor with others, I called 911 to report it. One of the police officers on site didn't hesitate to say he smelled it, too. I worry for the safety of people in kayaks with sewage dripping off their paddles. E. coli is a known public health hazard, as Whatcom County is already well aware.

In juxtaposition, the Arctic Challenger resting in a pool of raw sewage made me long for simpler times, not long ago in my youth, when it was safe to go to most any beach and harvest food to eat. We have wrought incomprehensible damage in half a century and seem poised to double down on the harm with arctic drilling in our continued quest to feast on carbon. I grieve for my children, and theirs.

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 [...]