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Communitywise Bellingham (CWB) was formed as a citizen group to address issues raised by the Gateway Pacific Terminal project. It has not taken a formal position on the project, and lists its goal as, "To improve the community's chances for mitigating or eliminating negative impacts of the proposed terminal on our quality of life, local economy, environmental health, and waterfront access." Communitywise is frequently regarded, however, as part of the opposition to the terminal. The PFM report, at a cost of $60,000 was funded in part by the Bulliit Foundation, Rockefeller Family Fund and the Flora Family Foundation as well as local citizens.
Both sides in the Gateway Pacific Terminal struggle need help on the margins to win public and official support. Define "margin" as the inclusion of "indirect" costs and benefits. GPT wants to be credited for indirect jobs: how many more waiters, motel maids, store clerks, car salesman or others will be hired to deal with added workers? Opponents want demerits for the terminal's coal trains, coal dust and diesel fumes and, indirectly, losses to quality of life.
The PFM report focuses on some unique characteristics of Bellingham, but also speaks to regional concerns.
Bellingham's uniqueness plays off its green reputation, its remarkable record in building a vibrant downtown complete with affordable housing, and, as PFM points out, in-migration of a substantial percentage of well-educated families. "The County has attracted residents who migrate with higher AGIs (aggregate gross income) than those who leave the County: migration between 2004 and 2010 resulted in an aggregate net increase of approximately $172.3 million in AGI . . . The choice of living in the County or City is worth something to individuals and they appear willing to pay for the region's location, lifestyle, and geography." Conversely, Bellingham also has a high percentage of well-educated people living below the poverty level — 22.4 percent of over-25 residents who live below this level have at least a bachelor's degree, well below state and national averages. "The relative high level of poverty experienced by those in Bellingham with high educational attainment suggests there is some level of choice or desire to reside in Bellingham as opposed to other locations," PFM concluded.
SSA Marine's Whatcom County spokesman, Craig Cole, said an emphasis on "the more fortunate few" doesn't recognize "getting working families linked up with new good paying jobs (as) the county's best path to a sustainable future for the many." Similar sentiments were voiced by new Mayor Kelli Linville, who told Crosscut that the need for high-paying blue-collar jobs so people could afford a home in the city concerns her more than attracting high-income immigrants.
Western faculty recruiters have often benefitted from a "livability bonus" in seeking new professors; the region's natural beauty and accessibility are often able to offset relatively high home prices and lower wages. It is this sort of image that PFM sees endangered by the grit and grime of coal transport and processing, even in cases where an individual is not living adjacent to rail lines.
"Stigma is real," particularly in terms of property values adjacent or near active railroad lines, Eichenthal told a briefing for community leaders. "There is a clear economic advantage to the livability that has been maintained in this community."
Regional pride in livability factors into other communities along the BNSF line, particularly in the Puget Sound region. In most of those communities the export terminal offers no offsetting economic gain, as is the case with Whatcom County. An exception is Longview, where a similar terminal is proposed. Other communities would feel the impact of added coal trains, with no commensurate job gains.
Environmental lawyers say there is plenty of room in federal and state law for the scope of an EIS to include communities some distance from actual construction, if a case can be made that the project damages either natural or built environment. Those categories are broad enough to drive a truck through — or a coal train, even — but lines must ultimately be drawn as the process moves forward.
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