Tag: Port of Bellingham
At their 3 p.m. Tuesday, June 19 meeting, Port of Bellingham commissioners will consider two ballot measures for the November election that would give Whatcom County voters a chance to decide whether to add two persons to the existing three-person port commission — and how those two new commissioners would be chosen.
At their June 5 session, commissioners had been poised to approve a single ballot measure that would have asked voters to approve the addition of two new commissioners that would be elected at large, meaning that anyone who lives anywhere in the countywide port district would be eligible to run for the new seats.
But Whatcom County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Royce Buckingham told commissioners there was a chance that a court could rule such a ballot measure invalid, on grounds that it contained two distinct issues in one ballot measure: whether to expand the port commission, and how those two new commissioners should be elected.
At the same meeting, Blaine City Council member Ken Oplinger told commissioners that people who live outside Bellingham had misgivings about adding two at-large members to the port commission. Oplinger — who is also president of the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce and Industry — said Ferndale Mayor Gary Jensen and Sumas Mayor Bob Bromley had asked him to convey those concerns to commissioners. Oplinger said officials from the smaller cities would prefer not to see a port commission with five Bellingham residents.
The June 19 port commission agenda contains two proposed measures for submission to voters. The first would expand the commission to five members. The second states that if the commission is expanded, the two new members should be chosen at large.
In a Friday, June 15 interview, Port Commissioner Michael McAuley said he expects to recommend that his fellow commissioners put the first measure on the ballot, but not the second.
McAuley said that approach will make the whole election process less confusing, while also making it likely that at least one port commissioner would be from outside Bellingham and more in touch with concerns of voters in rural areas and smaller cities.
If voters simply approve commission expansion without specifying how the expanded commission would be structured, state law stipulates that the new commission would have five commissioners residing in five distinct districts. A primary election round, if necessary, would include only the voters in the district, but the two port commission candidates emerging from a district-only primary would then face all county voters in the general election.
That’s how the Whatcom County Council works now, but the seven-member council has just three districts. Two council members residing in each of the three districts are elected to four-year terms, while the seventh member serves at large.
As of now, all three port commission districts are elected in districts identical to the three county council districts, running in a district-only primary race when necessary and running countywide in the general election.
But that approach won’t work for a five-member panel, so all-new port district boundaries would have to be drawn for a five-member port commission.
McAuley said he’s confident that this could be done quickly enough to allow candidates for the two new port commission positions before voters in 2013, meaning they would take office in 2014.
When two Port of Bellingham commissioners joined forces to oust Charlie Sheldon from the executive director post in April 2012, many local community activists rallied to Sheldon’s side in an ultimately futile effort to get Scott Walker and Jim Jorgensen to change their minds and keep Sheldon on board.
Some of those folks might have been less enthusiastic about Sheldon if they had realized the extent of Sheldon’s own enthusiasm for coal trains, Washington state coal ports and coal itself.
Sheldon was not shy about those views in a May 20, 2012 letter he wrote to Seattle City Council (this was after Sheldon’s departure from Bellingham) to criticize their resolution opposing transportation of coal through the Emerald City, which passed May 29.
While Sheldon acknowledges the environmental and health problems related to coal, he suggests that solving those problems will require a major national technology initiative akin to the Apollo moon mission — not the blocking of coal trains. Meanwhile, he says, coal remains an essential source of regional, national and global energy. And he argues that the health risks from coal trains are wildly exaggerated.
“We don’t have time for elected leaders who choose to spend th eir time supporting various national environmental movements and who choose to repeat their talking points without any apparent due diligence whatever,” Sheldon’s letter concludes.
In this letter, and in a later telephone interview with me, Sheldon said he is convinced that the Ridley terminal in Prince Rupert, B.C. has a formidable expansion potential that could draw significant amounts of Powder River Basin coal through Seattle and Bellingham, no matter what happens at Cherry Point — where SSA Marine of Seattle has proposed the Gateway Pacific Terminal to handle coal and perhaps other bulk cargoes.
That is the idea that Communitywise Bellingham took great pains to try to refute in the report they issued last week.
Jack Delay, one of the authors of the Communitywise report, called my attention to this excerpt on Page 10, which contends that massive amounts of Ridley-bound coal are not likely to pass through western Washington:
“Although the RTI (Ridley terminal) appears destined to serve primarily Canadian markets into the future, it is also the only B. C. terminal that has the theoretical ability to expand its footprint and increase capacity. This would require a lengthy plan revision process, new environmental reviews and a major infusion of capital, but it is not impossible in the 10 to 20 year horizon. What are the implications in the distant future for trains heading from the PRB (Powder River Basin) to Ridley through Washington state?
“While it is impossible to predict if PRB interests would be successful in gaining any share of theoretical new RTI capacity, it is easy to predict that any trains delivering coal will not pass through Washington state. There is a much shorter, direct route through Sweetgrass, Montana. The route is a full 800 miles shorter than the 2,700 miles route through Washington. Not only is the route 30 percent shorter, it would also avoid increasing congestion at many locations on the longer route. Cloud Peak Energy has already reported reduced profit margins using the longer route to RTI through Washington and will not renew contracts for use of it. BNSF has been reluctant to invest in this route but recently entered an agreement with Canadian National and is eliminating some financial obstacles to its use. A recent cross-border freight study identified congestion from Blaine northward, particularly for traffic that must cross the Roberts Bank railroad corridor. This is a particularly intractable problem with major infrastructure costs that will likely require establishing new funding mechanisms in both Washington state and British Columbia.
“It should be noted that these same factors also increase the likelihood that the small number of Ridley destined coal trains now passing through Washington will also get rerouted through Montana over time.”
A foe of Port of Bellingham Commissioner Scott Walker decided to take advantage of Sunday’s Ski to Sea crowds, sending a small plane aloft trailing a banner that read “Port Commissioner Walker Needs to Go.”
The plane made a few circuits over Bellingham Bay as kayakers battled the whitecaps enroute to the race finish line at port-operated Marine Park.
In the past few months, Walker stirred up some anger when he succeeded in forcing the ouster of Charlie Sheldon as executive director. Sheldon had won himself a following among many fishermen and port tenants, but Walker criticized the executive’s management style and some of his expenditures.
Then, Walker cast the lone vote against allowing a November public vote on the proposed expansion of the three-member port commission to five people.
At a meeting scheduled for 3 p.m. today (Monday, May 14) Port of Bellingham commissioners are scheduled to take up the issue of adding two new commissioners to the three-person panel.
It’s an idea that has been flickering on the margins of local political consciousness for years, but it flared up in the past couple of months, fed by dismay over commissioners’ 2-1 decision to sack Charlie Sheldon as executive director.
Concerned citizens have been gathering signatures to force a public vote on the port commission expansion, but they have also invited commissioners to simply place the matter before voters themselves.
Backers of an expanded port commission had expressed the hope that they could get the measure to voters this August, and then elect two new commissioners in the November 2012 general election. But County Auditor Debbie Adelstein tells me her staff would be hard-pressed to meet ballot publication and overseas ballot mailing deadlines for an August plebiscite on the port commission.
If backers do manage to get port commission expansion to voters in August, and voters agree to it, the resulting election for port commissioners would be a bit unusual. There would be no primary round. The top vote-getters for the two positions would assume their seats on the port commission. That means someone could be elected with a small fraction of the votes cast, if there are a lot of candidates. But let’s cross that bridge when and if we get to it.
At today’s joint meeting of the Port Commission and City Council, Bellingham Public Works Director Ted Carlson said plans for a new Cornwall Avenue railroad bridge are on indefinite hold because of the $40 million cost involved in both relocating the rail line and building the new street overpass.
Carlson also mentioned that the city had long assumed that the bridge would have to be built to accommodate a double track. But recently, he said, railroad officials have expressed a preference for three tracks through the area, which would add to the cost of the bridge.
Three tracks? I wonder what that could be about. I hope nobody will indulge in speculation here.
By the way, you can check out the full port-city staff Powerpoint on the latest waterfront planning ideas here.
Port of Bellingham Commissioner Mike McAuley suggests that an industrial-sized boat lift might be a good investment for a port that just lost a potential new employer because of a lack of large boat-launching options on the south side waterfront.
Aluminum Boats Australia had been in the final stages of a lease agreement with the Port of Bellingham, but the lack of launch facilities turned out to be a deal-breaker.
In a post on his MikeatthePort blog, McAuley notes that improving the boat launch capacity in the area has been ruled out by environmental concerns about the eelgrass at the nearby mouth of Padden Creek. Could a pier extension and a lift provide what potential boatbuilding firms need, without dredging?
It seems as though it’s been a long time coming, but Bellingham International Airport’s neighbors are now speaking out in public about the impact that the dramatic expansion of commercial air service is having on their lives.
For years, airport neighbor Matt Paskus has been showing up at almost every Port of Bellingham commission meeting, usually with a slide show prepared, to make the case against further port investments in airport growth. Besides the noise and pollution impacts, Paskus has argued that a bright future for commercial aviation is far from assured here.
Until Thursday, April 19, Paskus’ voice was a lonely one. But on that date, the port scheduled public information sessions on the airport master plan update, and airport neighbors took the opportunity to express their dismay. After the meeting, they gathered in small groups to exchange phone numbers.
I was frankly surprised that the burgeoning flight schedule at BLI didn’t seem to be generating the kind of community pushback that resulted in the 1980s, after a southerly extension of the main runway brought aircraft noise much closer to the airport’s southerly neighbors.
I could only speculate that many or most Whatcom County environmentalists and neighborhood quality watchdogs were willing to overlook the drawbacks of airport growth because they enjoy the convenience of our local airport even more than Canadians do. Environmentalists love to travel.
(My last trip to Sea-Tac three weeks ago took three hours. Traffic backups started just north of Marysville.)
It’s easy for some people to say it’s their fault for living near an airport. For anybody who bought a house there in 2011, that wisecrack might be valid. But many have been in their homes for a lot longer than that, dating back to a time when few could have predicted non-stop flights from BLI to Honolulu and major California metro areas.
The airport master plan process is expected to take the rest of 2012, and a draft plan will be subjected to more public comment later in the year. If you want to weigh in before then, you can visit the relevant page of the port’s website here, and link to the comment form near the bottom.
Favorite online comment from the story link above: ”I don’t mind the airline noise. The noise from the bands that practice at the U-Haul storage area on Airport Way is worse.”
Port of Bellingham commissioners are holding their regular 3 p.m. public meeting today (Tuesday, Aug. 17) at 3 p.m. in the Harbor Center conference room on Roeder Avenue, but the 1 p.m. closed session is likely to get the most public attention.
As state law allows, the commissioners will convene in a closed session at 1 p.m. to discuss “personnel matters, pending litigation and real estate transactions.” The “personnel” part of the meeting is expected to include an0ther discussion about (former?) Port Executive Director Charlie Sheldon, whose resignation was forced in a 2-1 vote on April 3, with Mike McAuley the dissenter.
Since then, Port Commissioner Jim Jorgensen has indicated some willingness to reconsider his decision to side with outspoken Sheldon critic Scott Walker to force Sheldon’s ouster, and Sheldon has said his return to the port’s top executive job is not out of the question if he gets the support.
Sheldon’s backers have mounted a vigorous campaign to get Jorgensen to change his mind, including both old-fashioned and online petition drives. The supporters also plan to show up in force for the meeting.
Former City Council member John Watts offers a lengthy analysis of the situation on his Hamster Talk blog.
Among other things, Watts suggests that Sheldon’s openness to considering other uses for the G-P treatment lagoon, instead of port officials’ longstanding dream of a new marina, helped turn Scott Walker and key port staffers against him.
I have heard that theory too, and it has some credibility for me. But Walker left me a voicemail message denying any link. I’m doing some additional checking.
Watts also observes that the Sheldon dismissal, and the way it was conducted, has done a lot to undermine public confidence in the port’s leadership.
It does look as though the episode has alienated the very people that the port needs to cultivate, in order to get a waterfront master plan through City Council after too many years of delay. An approval process that might otherwise have been relatively smooth is now likely to be bitter and contentious. Old suspicions about the port’s lack of accountability and hidden agendas are likely to flare anew as the master plan moves into the public hearing phase before the Planning Commission and City Council.
U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, will be touring Port of Bellingham facilities this morning.
I’m guessing that the recent turmoil at the port will not be on anyone’s agenda but mine.
Among other things, we will be touring the Greenberry Industrial facility at the port’s Cornwall Avenue shipping terminal.
I’m still working on the frustrating task of seeking answers and straight talk about the forced resignation of Charlie Sheldon, the port’s executive director. Call me at 715-2274 or email email@example.com if you have anything for me.
At the request of Port of Bellingham Commissioner Jim Jorgensen, a special closed-door commissioner’s meeting has been scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday, March 30 to discuss “personnel matters.”
In a phone interview, Jorgensen refused to confirm that he has called this meeting to address the ongoing strife between Executive Director Charlie Sheldon and Port Commissioner Scott Walker. But he came pretty close.
“It has to do with upper-level personnel,” Jorgensen said. “I hope to achieve a solution to the existing problem that’s been in the papers and on the radio.”
“It’s a necessary meeting to have, so the port can go onward and forward.” Jorgensen said.
Walker himself has characterized retired Blaine teacher Jorgensen as a peacemaker by temperament, noting Jorgensen’s long experience in breaking up schoolyard fights.
At the Sept. 29 candidates forum sponsored by the League of Women voters, Mayor Dan Pike made some critical comments about the Port of Bellingham’s progress on environmental cleanup on the waterfront.
In particular, Pike suggested that Port Environmental Director Mike Stoner was somehow responsible for the slow pace of cleanup work.
Pike observed that Stoner assumed his job in 1994.
“I was told by a former port employee that at that time the cleanup was two years out and it’s been two years out ever since,” Pike said.
Pike also suggested that the slow pace of the cleanup was slowing down everything else.
That got a rise out of Charlie Sheldon, the port’s executive director.
After watching the online video of the forum, Sheldon sent an email to Pike and two key city officials, Linda Stewart and David Webster, responding to Pike’s criticism, which begins at 59.01 minutes into the video. Port commissioners also got a copy of the email.
“Mike is held in high regard throughout the state for his knowledge of and work in cleanup projects,” the email said. “Mike has worked tirelessly on gaining funding and on continuing to keep the State Department of Ecology’s regulators focused on approval of our community’s cleanup projects.”
Sheldon’s email also suggested that the pace of progress on the master plan for the waterfront is a factor in holding back the cleanup.
“Ecology tells us again and again that land use decisions must precede cleanup decisions,” Sheldon’s email said. “They need to know how the site will be used in order to define a safe remedy. In the case of the waterfront, the master plan should have been completed years ago. Completion of the master plan is not dependent on cleanup.”
Lucy McInerney, the Department of Ecology environmental engineer who oversees much of the local cleanup work, said the slow pace has little to do with the performance of port or city officials. As she described it, there is simply no quick way to investigate the contamination of a huge industrial site, develop a cleanup strategy, and get the approval of multiple state and federal agencies and tribal governments.
“Each site is like doing a Ph.D dissertation,” McInerney said. “Every site has its own unique set of circumstances.”
Given the complexity of the site–with its mercury-tainted pulp mill and chlorine plant site plus an old city landfill–progress toward cleanup is moving as well as can be expected, McInerney said.
The good news is that actual cleanup work will begin before the end of the year, with millions in port funds and state Model Toxics Control Act money already in place to pay for the work slated to be done between now and mid-2013.
After that, McInerney said, the port and city will need to work together to make the case for additional state cleanup money, which comes from a voter-mandated tax on petroleum and other pollutants entering the state.
I’m working on a followup story on this issue for print and online, to be published in the next few days. It will include followup interviews with both Pike and Sheldon.
New district boundaries for Whatcom County Council and Port of Bellingham commission seats will be explained at a public forum scheduled for 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Oct. 1 in the meeting room at Bellingham Public Library, 210 Central Ave.
The changes include a complex shuffling of Bellingham precincts and the shift of western Lynden (the west of Guide Meridian portion annexed into the city since the 2000 census) from County Council District 3 to County Council District 2.
The Bellingham shifts are complex. Here’s a map to help you figure out who your port commissioner and county council representative will be after the shift.
Here’s a map for Lynden as well.
As of this morning–Thursday, Sept. 29–details on the changes were not yet available. I’m expecting to get a peek at the districting committee’s work before the end of the day.
Four members of the districting committee–Hue Beattie, Charlie Crabtree, Kelli Linville and Robert Thorndike–were appointed in January 2011 by the County Council. That was a couple of months before Linville announced her mayoral candidacy.
Those four members then named former Whatcom County Superior Court judge David Nichols as their chairman and fifth member.
Western Washington University mathematics professor Tjalling Ypma was appointed districting master to work with the committee on the numbers.
The Districting Committee used 2010 census data to redraw the boundaries.
The Bellingham City Council’s waterfront committee has scheduled a 90-minute session Tuesday , Aug. 9 to review the waterfront planning and development regulations now being hammered out by city and Port of Bellingham staffers. The meeting will be in the Mayor’s board room at 11 a.m.
I apologize for my original post announcing the date of this meeting as today. City Council always meets on Mondays, except when it meets on some other day.
Mayor Dan Pike and Port Executive Director Charlie Sheldon have said that major disagreements have been resolved and a draft set of plans should be ready for public review this fall.
Also on todayTuesday’s committee agenda is an overview of millions of dollars in new street connections to the water that are a prerequisite for meaningful redevelopment. At this point, nobody is sure where those millions will be found.
I’ll have an update here after the meeting, and a report for Wednesday’s tomorrow‘s print and online editions.
Michael Murphy, a Whatcom County Public Utilities District commissioner, has filed his candidacy for Port of Bellingham Commission District 3. He will challenge incumbent Jim Jorgensen’s bid for a third term.
I have a call in to Murphy.
According to the PUD website, Commissioner Murphy was elected to the three-member PUD commission in 1998. He was appointed to Energy Northwest’s Board of Directors in 2008 and also serves on the Washington Public Utility Districts Association Board of Directors. He is also a volunteer firefighter and fire commissioner, and serves on the board of WhatComm 911 and Ferndale City Parks.
Jorgensen, who lives in Blaine, is a retired teacher and charter boat skipper.
During this morning’s tour of the new airport terminal expansion, I asked Port of Bellingham Executive Director Charlie Sheldon if he was concerned about the impact of increased rail traffic on plans to redevelop the port’s waterfront real estate.
His answer? No.
Opponents of SSA Marine’s Gateway Pacific Terminal project proposed for Cherry Point have argued that the increase in rail traffic through the city would hamper port/city efforts to redevelop the waterfront acres left idle when Georgia-Pacific Corp. phased out its pulp and tissue mill operations, with tissue production stopping at the end of 2007.
While the rail line does run between those waterfront acres and the downtown area, Sheldon noted that traffic can pass over the tracks in the vicinity of Chestnut and Bay streets, and would also pass over the tracks at Cornwall Avenue if the BNSF main line is shifted away from the waterfront as now planned.
As Sheldon sees it, those access points will allow sufficient access to a redeveloped waterfront even if Gateway Pacific adds another 18 trains per day to local rail traffic.
“We spent six years planning this thing to be consistent with an active, main rail line,” Sheldon said.