By John Stark
Randel Perry, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ point man for environmental review of the Gateway Pacific Terminal, has shared his thoughts on the brouhaha over access to the microphone at recent “scoping meetings” to get public comment on what issues need study.
David Stalheim shared an email message from Perry that was sent to him and a number of other people. (An email like this from a public official discussing public business is legally subject to disclosure.)
Perry, who was at last week’s Ferndale scoping meeting, wrote:
“I also had discussions with a few people at the meeting about this issue. The concern expressed was that the project proponents had ‘stacked the deck’ for verbal comment. It’s interesting that we did not hear this complaint at the previous three meetings where project opponents used the same tactic to secure a majority of the verbal comment opportunities.
One of the people I talked to provided an interesting viewpoint. She was disappointed that ‘those people’ had dominated the public testimony and felt that we had not provided an adequate forum for public debate on the issue. It was her opinion that we should allocate a 50/50 split on the numbers between the pro and con factions to facilitate a balanced discussion on the issue and to ensure that we (co-leads) were not swayed in out permit decision by unbalanced input.
It was evident that her perception was based on what she believed the meetings were for as opposed to what we are trying to achieve. I explained to her the nature of scoping meetings, the types of constructive comments we were looking for (impacts, alternatives, etc.), and that all comments, regardless of how they are submitted or how often they are repeated, held equal weight.
I also explained that it was not the agencies’ job at scoping meetings to provide a public forum for debate or to facilitate a discussion on whether or not permits should be issued. Debates can be organized by other entities and the public will have future opportunities to express their opinions to the agencies on permit issuance.
I emphasized the fact that we had discussed various methods for allocating numbers and felt that the “first come, first serve” approach was the fairest. The problem has been the actions of other organizations who use our process to further their agenda and we have no control over this.
I think the solution to this is further outreach and public education. Maybe we need a stronger message up front, before the verbal comments session begins.” (end Perry email)