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    Coal supporters make their push

    In Whatcom County, people see a Cherry Point shipping terminal as a source of well-paying jobs and opportunity for local residents
    One of the supporters of a terminal project to ship coal and other bulk goods takes advantage of a chance to have his views individually recorded.

    One of the supporters of a terminal project to ship coal and other bulk goods takes advantage of a chance to have his views individually recorded. Floyd McKay

    Supporters of a project to ship coal to China showed out in force for a Ferndale meeting.

    Supporters of a project to ship coal to China showed out in force for a Ferndale meeting. Floyd McKay

    The five-mile trip on I-5 from Bellingham to Ferndale is mostly open with pockets of small businesses, but somewhere along the way one leaves Bellingham and enters Whatcom County.

    Members of the team that is conducting scoping meetings to determine what should be studied in an environmental review of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal learned that point quite well Thursday (Nov. 29) as they held the fourth of seven meetings around the state. Ferndale is definitely part of “The County,” and Bellingham — although a city within Whatcom County — is not part of The County.

    It’s a phenomenon repeated in many places where a liberal city is surrounded by a much more conservative county. Issues divide, cultures divide, voting patterns reflect the division. In this case, it’s the terminal, which proponents call the “bulk terminal” and opponents call the “coal terminal.” Actually, it would be both: a bulk terminal where the bulk commodity is coal. And so it goes.

    Backers of the $665 million terminal dominated the Ferndale hearing, just as opponents dominated an earlier hearing in Bellingham. SSA Marine, the project sponsor, handed out green T-shirts to supporters who began gathering before 10 a.m. for a session that started five hours later. As a result, the green-glad supporters got nearly all of the 100 speaking slots, allocated on a first-come basis.

    About 1,300 showed up for the four-hour session, perhaps two-thirds backing the terminal, based on the reaction to speakers.

    Pro-terminal speakers held the microphone for over two hours before the number of an opponent was called. And, wouldn’t you know it, the speaker was a recent (2006) incomer to the area, a vegetarian and organic gardener building a solar home. He set a sharp contrast to the 62 who spoke before him, many of whom stressed generations of family in Whatcom County growing up on family-wage, blue-collar jobs.

    Their message was simple — Whatcom County needs more good jobs and the terminal will be a good citizen and pay good wages and lots of taxes to local schools and other agencies. Many of the speakers identified themselves as union members, particularly of construction and longshore unions, and told the panel of job losses in the economic recession.

    “Organized labor is very clear, from the hiring halls in Northwest Washington to our state and national federations, we want the Gateway Pacific Terminal built. Our members know how to build and operate these facilities safely,” Mark Lowry, president of the Northwest Washington Central Labor Council, told the panel.

    "Labor takes a backseat to no one on strong environmental standards, and none will be slighted here. We want to do this project right, and we call on the agencies to get on with the study.”

    Although Whatcom County’s unemployment rate is only 6.4 percent, below the state average of 8.2 percent, high-income union jobs have been depressed since closure of the Georgia-Pacific pulp mill in 2001. Leaders in Bellingham have attempted to move toward a more “green” and professional economy; smaller towns in the county are pushing for the industrial jobs provided by the terminal.

    That message has been the major selling point for the terminal in Whatcom County, and SSA has sent groups of young men door-to-door for weeks to emphasize the economic and tax benefits from the terminal. Nearly all of Washington’s direct economic benefits from the project — which would be the largest coal-export terminal on the West Coast — will be in Whatcom County, and most of the tax benefits as well. Negative impacts, such as additional rail traffic and shipping in Puget Sound and threats to the salmon fishery, will be primarily borne outside the immediate zone around the terminal. The three earlier scoping sessions—in Bellingham, Friday Harbor and Mount Vernon—heard primarily from the impacted communities; Thursday the panel heard from some of those who would benefit.

    There is a lot of money on the table, and proponents are ramping up their ground game in addition to spending over a million dollars on advertising in the region.

    The big winners would be the giant firms building and servicing the terminal. Peabody Coal, the nation’s largest coal company, will ship 24 million tons of coal a year when the terminal opens and increase that to 48 million at buildout. SSA Marine of Seattle, a large international terminal operator 49 percent owned by a Goldman Sachs affiliate, will build and operate the terminal. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway gets the lucrative hauling business.

    Local construction workers stand to gain from a two-year construction period that SSA Marine says will bring 4,400 jobs; construction unions, and longshoremen who would staff the terminal, are among the project’s biggest backers. At buildout, 213 permanent jobs are projected in SSA Marine’s applications, with about the same number added for rail and merchant-ship workers, tugboat operators and others associated with the terminal. Most of these jobs would likely not go to locals, however. Another 821 “indirect” jobs are predicted, at area groceries, restaurants, casinos, hardware stores, etc. Estimates are from a study commissioned by SSA Marine by Martin Associates, a national firm specializing in marine industries.

    Project supporters used the forum as a platform to make their views on jobs known, and to assure agency representatives that they — the people closest to the site — were not concerned about issues raised by what some called “fearmongers” and “alarmists” in the opposition camp. The speakers stressed the community benefits of industries already located on Cherry Point, the industrial site where Gateway Pacific would be built. “Good neighbors,” was Ferndale Mayor Gary Jensen’s description. Certainly, they have been major funders of public services in the state’s northwestern corner.

    The small school districts of Blaine and Ferndale are heavily financed by Cherry Point industries. With the Gateway Pacific Terminal, the districts would gain funds from four of the top five biggest properties in Whatcom County, including the BP and Tosco refineries and Alumet aluminum plant. Ferndale School District would receive about $4.4 million when the terminal is built out, and Blaine School District would receive $808,780, according to an analysis compiled for SSA Marine by FCS Group, a Redmond-based economic consulting firm. The other major impact is to eight Whatcom County funds, which would receive $1.8 million; the largest beneficiary is the county road fund. State of Washington property tax income would be $1.7 million. The FCS report and the Martin report are available here.

    Bellingham, where major negative impacts of the coal-train traffic would occur, receives no property taxes from Cherry Point industries for either the city or its school district.

    Because school districts are financed by a combination of levies and bonds, it is difficult to predict impact on an individual residence in the Ferndale or Blaine school districts. FCS notes that taxes on residential property may be reduced because the tax burden would be spread out over a larger tax base with the addition of the terminal.

    Critics of the terminal do not deny the significance of a $665 million project in the county, but they have called for an independent review of SSA’s economic data as part of the environmental review of the project. A study in November 2011 by Public Financial Management, a national consultant to local governments, stated that SSA had not provided the additional material that would have aided in its study. The study, commissioned by CommunityWise Bellingham, raised several issues where jobs could be lost as a result of the project, primarily from increased rail traffic in Bellingham. The study is available here.

    A major problem for Public Financial Management and others attempting to assess the net impact of a project like Gateway Pacific is that it is extraordinarily difficult to measure a negative — that is, potential loss of jobs or potential fiscal impacts to a community, other than the considerable cost of building overpasses and controlled crossings to deal with added rail traffic.

    Weighing all this conflicting testimony will be the job of representatives of Whatcom County, the Washington State Department of Ecology and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; they are sitting through the seven meetings and sifting through thousands of online and written comments. They must determine the scope of topics to be studied in an environmental impact study (EIS) that will be conducted over the next two years.

    Most of the testimony Thursday did not address the question asked by the scoping team: What do you want us to study, and why? Speakers, instead, wanted to make a point: We need jobs as soon as possible, Gateway Pacific promises the jobs and we want it built. One scoping issue that was addressed, however, was whether the EIS should have a broad mission — pulling in other coal-terminal proposals such as a large one in Longview — and creating what the agencies call an “area-wide study.” Pro-terminal speakers stressed that they want a single-project-only review. An area-wide study — a priority of many export-terminal opponents — would delay the EIS and open up issues such as intrastate rail traffic that could be crippling to the terminal.

    The scoping hearings move downstate in December, with a Tuesday (Dec. 4) meeting in Spokane, followed by Dec. 12 in Vancouver and Dec. 13 at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle.

    This story has been updated since it first appeared to correct the number of indirect jobs estimated from the terminal study by Martin Associates.

    Floyd J. McKay, professor of journalism emeritus at Western Washington University, was a print and broadcast journalist in Oregon for three decades. Recipient of a DuPont-Columbia Broadcast Award for documentaries, and a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, he is also a historian and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Washington. He resides in Bellingham and can be reached at floydmckay@comcast.net.

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    Posted Mon, Dec 3, 12:44 p.m. Inappropriate

    Choosing jobs over the environment is the paradigm we've been following since we took over the land in 1855... Supporters wearing green shirts, goes right along with their thinking there is clean coal. Their sign says stop "fear mongering". Yes the Puget Sound doesn't look polluted, so it must not really be. Its snowing outside, how can their be global warming? The Herring population at Cherry Point didn't crash by 90%, they just decided to live somewhere else.
    Environmental impact... thats not important, especially this time of year when I can buy cheap gifts from China. What do I care if China has increased coal fired plants 170% over the last decade, and plans on adding 700 new coal plants. what do I care if coal minors die, or people nearby get cancer. I'm not mining the coal, nor will I burn it, I'm just shipping it out of state. Its not like we're 4% of the earths population, and we use 25% of its energy. Thats socialist eco zombies talking, wanting to save trees, and endangered species, and wanting to take away good jobs. Don't be fooled people, come on, don;t let biologists pull your leg when they say that the predator prey model only works when the prey vastly outnumbers the predators... I mean so what if we can't eat out local fish more then once a week... the Orca's eat it everyday and their just fine. When biologists say that our Orcas are the most polluted whales in the world, that's just science talk, they look just as black and white as any other Orca! SO yes put on that green shirt and rest assured that all the resources are there for our taking, just like my father, and my father's father harvested . If we don't give China our Coal, then somebody else will, so why not take the money. That's the kind of green we live for! Responsibility to the environment, to future generations!!! Who do you think you are Chief Seattle?!! Come on, all those things that he said were all made up by some tree hugger. Its all a big fear campaign, and don't for a second think any of it is true. All we need to do is work everyday and be happy little consumers, and really what else is there?


    Posted Mon, Dec 3, 12:49 p.m. Inappropriate

    SSA Marine successfully created the appearance of support at Ferndale by hiring temps to stand in line as place-holders, hours before the hearing began. Temps provided with green supporter tee-shirts snared the first 60 speaking slots. (At previous hearings in Bellingham and Mt. Vernon, the number of supporters who showed up numbered in the single digits). As the hearing progressed through the pro-terminal speakers, about a half-dozen supporters were discovered to have already left when they were called upon to speak. Apparently, some people either were paid ahead of time or were marginally motivated to begin with.

    The first half of the hearing consisted of cheerleaders for jobs, economic growth, and an expanded tax base, with no mention or risks or costs. No mention was made of the fact that there would be no benefits to cities other than Ferndale, and that some of those other cities would likely be devastated economically. Unfortunately, journalists with deadlines had already left, taking their premature impressions with them.

    The second half of the hearing consisted of speakers who shredded the testimony of those previous with explanations of the costs that would be imposed upon taxpayers, the unavoidable risks to health and safety, and so on. Supporters in the room became increasingly subdued and began to leave. The last speaker was an attorney who explained that if the rumor of hired place-holders taking 60 of the 100 speaking slots was true, then laws against interfering with public input into the hearing had been broken, and that this should be investigated.


    Posted Tue, Dec 4, 3:01 a.m. Inappropriate

    I am very interested in the possible hiring of temps for this meeting. The use of PR by proponents of projects needs to be banned. Young men going door to door to promote the terminal? T-shirts at supposedly a sober fact finding scoping meeting? We need sober, above board assessments of above board facts; not PR commercials. The Chinese Coal Ports should not be allowed, and the tactics the proponents are using should be oulawed.

    I hope that the veracity of the temp hiring is discovered; and if true, the proponents CEO's need to be charged, and forced to appear in Whatcom County Court to answer the charges. The CEO' must appear in person, or face an arrest warrant for Failure to Appear. Shipping coal to China, this involves some of the scummiest people on the planet.

    If the Democratic Party controlled Washington State Government allows these China Coal Ports anywhere in our State; then they can kiss my butt with any "green" policy that they push."Oh, but this tax will cut down carbon emmissions" Blah Blah Blah. Talk to the hand, you allow the shipment of literal mountains of coal to be burned in Chinese outsourcing factories, and then tell me that I need to conserve? Nonsense.

    If we are going to allow the huge carbon emmissions of burning this coal, then we should get to burn it ourselves. We could heat everyones house with coal, we could get the benefit of cheap energy ourselves. Sure it would cause pollution, but it will do the same thing in China, we might as well benefit.

    So, the China Coal Ports end up being a decision on whether, or not, our State is to be "green". Don't even talk about carbon emissions, greenhouse gases, car exhaust, or anything else "green", until the decision on these China Coal Ports is made.

    The State can prevent these China Coal Ports, and the State should; and the State should say it is going to stop these China Coal Ports now with no equivocation.

    So, what is the answer Jay Inslee, Democrats, are you a bunch of hypocrites, or what? What exactly is preventing you from going on record to state that you will stop these Goldman-Sachs China Coal Ports? We seem to have a state bought and payed for by Microsoft, Boeing, any other wealthy interest, the usual suspect billionaires, and Goldman-Sachs. Prove that you really are different than Republicans for once Democrats; or be known as useless bought off hypocrites.


    Posted Sat, Dec 8, 1:25 a.m. Inappropriate

    The China coal port proponents were caught hiring temps in Spokane, and the temps had the green shirts. Here is the article in the Spokesman-Review newspaper: "Coal Backers Hire Temp Workers to Stand in Line" by Mike Prager on 04 December 2012 at the Spokesman-Review. I was referred to this article as a link in the Seattle Times article "Public Commenters at Coal-Export Hearing to Be Selected by Drawing" by Alexa Vaughn at the Seattle Times on 07 December 2012.

    The Spokesman-Review says that the trade group Northwest Alliance for Jobs and Export, "an industry-and-union-backed group", hired the temps to stand in line. The spokeswomen for the alliance, Lauri Hennessey, said about hiring the temps "we are not ashamed of that in any way".

    The Seattle Times article informs citizens that speakers at the Vancouver, Washington meeting on 12 Dec 2012; and at the Seattle meeting on 13 Dec 2012; will be selected by lottery.

    The Seattle meeting on Thursday, 13 Dec 2012, at 4-7 PM (1600-1900) will be at the Washington State Convention Center, 800 Convention Place, Ballroom 6F.

    So, the allegations of temps at the Ferndale meeting are probably true.


    Posted Mon, Dec 3, 1:12 p.m. Inappropriate

    People who live in or near Ferndale spoke of the struggle of under-employment and the pain of living with dashed hopes for a better life than is currently available. Holding out the hope of jobs without explaining the small number of permanent jobs required to run a modern, highly-automated coal terminal is cruel. How do you explain to people, who are in such obvious pain, that they are being used?


    Posted Tue, Dec 4, 3:48 p.m. Inappropriate

    "You are highly unlikely to get one of the few living wage jobs in that proposed port/factory/etc. Your community will experience far more impacts than benefits, thoroughly documented in study after study. You are being used by corporations who don't care two cents about you or your family or your community."


    Posted Tue, Dec 11, 10:28 p.m. Inappropriate

    Or perhaps those paid to wear the green shirts went for the job today, even if the promise of future jobs was low.

    Posted Mon, Dec 3, 1:25 p.m. Inappropriate

    Yup, this is why, even on the left, support for unions continues to wane. No feel for the big picture. No attempt to accommodate the interests of their natural allies. If Beelzebub wanted to reconstruct the Tower of Babel as a public works project paying top scale wages, the unions would be all for it. Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! Who cares what the jobs are, or what dire consequences they may impose on the rest of the world.


    Posted Tue, Dec 4, 3:52 p.m. Inappropriate

    Overgeneralizing about organized labor is not helpful. It is true that some construction trade unions are fighting to preserve/create jobs that are part of the global externalities problem. But many other unions, especially in the service sector, are not in bed with those corporate reactionaries.


    Posted Mon, Dec 3, 7:22 p.m. Inappropriate

    I don't understand why they don't barge it out of Longview.


    Posted Tue, Dec 11, 10:29 p.m. Inappropriate

    I'd bet Longview would approve.

    Posted Mon, Dec 3, 7:32 p.m. Inappropriate

    Look. Here's a simple argument against both Cherry Pt and Coos Bay Oregon, the two most distant of the 6 terminal sites proposed. Longview is the most cost-effective, least impact. Period, end of story. Talk ONLY 'Longview' and not tolerate coal mine shippers ala BNSF honestly proposing any-fn-where else.

    Talk ONLY 'barge' rather than railroad through vulnerable neighborhood and urban routes. That still gets Longview plus complementary 'St Helens' nearby. When Powder River coal demand diminishes, these new port facilities ship whatever they like, delivered by rail or barge.

    Ahem. Does this argument NOT tell ya'll somethin about how coal miner/shipper/railroad interests don't care to be honest? Talk Longview/St Helens/barge or shut TFU Big Coal boys.
    Big coal boys poison employees and anyone near and don't care.
    The coal train ploy went down today in flames. (^;


    Posted Sat, Dec 8, 11:02 a.m. Inappropriate

    If rail traffic and cape size ship traffic in Puget Sound are required proper mitigation for all the negative impacts they cause, the cost to ship certain routes would be more expensive. Then, the "miracle of the free Market" would yield the most economic solution of Longview.

    Posted Tue, Dec 4, 3:05 a.m. Inappropriate

    Also, Hooray for Power Past Coal. I saw the ad on the upper right side of this page, and clicked on it. Hooray for Power Past Coal, thank you to the good citizens who operate it.


    Posted Tue, Dec 4, 2:06 p.m. Inappropriate

    The union guys and SSA understand the system. And the idea of coal export is just a little part of a system that has China/Korea/Japan using, among other fuels, coal to produce the things they sell us. Does anyone commenting here have a Samsung Television set? maybe a Prius? those things come from this global system that has lucky us buying these wonderful products. With our inflated dollars and, occasionally, in exchange for some wonderful airplanes. Yes we can be righteous about coal, it's a troublesome fuel, but it's part of a whole that we have largely designed and built. Stopping the export of coal --from our picturesque places--is just hiding a part of the system from us so we do not have to see that little part that reminds us of something we'd rather not think about. It can be amusing; someone who works for Boeing, lives in a single family house out in the forest, drives a Hundai to work, votes environmental and eats organic; hates coal.


    Posted Wed, Dec 5, 10:46 p.m. Inappropriate

    The global economy has been imposed. "We" did not design it. We consistantly poll against the current free trade treaties, and related measures. Clinton won the presidency partly because he said he did not want NAFTA. That turned out to be a lie. Every free trade treaty since Nafta has been imposed against our wishes.

    Your argument is disingenuous, and a chestnut.


    Posted Tue, Dec 11, 10:31 p.m. Inappropriate

    Kieth, using the headbone-connected-to-the-tailbone argument seems to fall on deaf ears.

    Posted Wed, Dec 12, 2:47 a.m. Inappropriate

    The free trade regime, and global economy were imposed against the wishes of the United States Citizenry.

    If he wishes to explain his theory on why the coal exports, fine; but he is not entitled to say that we "designed and built" the global economy system, because "we" didn't. "We" had it shoved down our throats by wealthy interests, corporate interests, and politicians.

    So, maybe this goes over your head, but Keith's whole post was blaming the United States Citizenry for designing and building the global economy, and then that United States Citizens are hypocrites for not wishing for the China Coal Ports. Keith (and maybe you) are incorrect on both points. Keith and yourself are no where near as intelligent as you think.


    Posted Tue, Dec 4, 8:15 p.m. Inappropriate

    I agree with drdave71's comments. Anyone who looks closely at the jobs claims being made by terminal supporter, as I have done, comes away amazed at all the exaggerations being made by SSA Marine and other terminal advocates. I'm glad you got the total number of direct jobs at the terminal correct, Floyd, only 213; plus you probably should have added 44 office workers and management positions, as cited in the Martin Associates report, which seems credible on this issue, at least.

    But annual salaries and wages of $90,000 to $100,000? C'mon Floyd, where's your investigative spirit? I did some checking, like going to the ILWU web site, and found that union wages for this kind of work range from $50,000 to $70,000 a year. And I found an advertisement for a non-union job as a crane operator at a coal terminal on the East Coast, paying only $40,000 a year. If those are the average wages and salaries at the proposed Gateway Terminal, there are only two possibilities:
    1. There's a bunch of terminal managers included who will earn millions, thus pushing up the averages.
    2. Terminal advocates are lying to us.
    Neither possibility puts the coal terminal and its advocates in a very good light.


    Posted Wed, Dec 5, 8:13 a.m. Inappropriate

    The article did list any wage levels and I agree with Michael that the average for longshore work in the Bellingham area is probably $50,000 to $70,000 depending largely on hours worked.The larger wage level cited by GPT backers is an average of longshore wages on the Pacific Coast, which includes high-wage levels in places such as San Francisco and Los Angeles-Long Beach.

    Posted Fri, Dec 7, 10:38 a.m. Inappropriate

    NEWS TIP for Mr. McKay: the coal-port toadies have already launched a major television advertising blitz touting such projects as the economic salvation of the region. I have no details save that the locally targeted spots are running on MSNBC -- unfortunately I no longer have the means to research advertising campaigns -- but I presume you have access to Standard Rate & Data resources and thus could put together the requisite report.

    That said, given the Moron Nation mentality of "the County," I have no doubt the Appalachianization of Washington will proceed exactly as the One Percent intend. The coal port will be built, and the entire Puget Sound environment will suffer as a result.

    (Yes I have lived in rural Whatcom County, and it is every bit as reactionary as the Ku Klux South. Like Klan Land, it is a realm where fanatical Christians will poison your dog if you don't attend church "twice on Sunday and once in the middle of the week," and where these same Bible-thump zealots will accuse you of witchcraft merely because you plant pumpkins in with your corn.)

    Posted Fri, Dec 7, 12:55 p.m. Inappropriate

    Regarding wage (from Tacoma News Tribune):

    Those paychecks are among the highest in industry for blue-collar work.

    New figures from the Pacific Maritime Association show that the average Tacoma longshore worker last year made $96,817. That figure includes vacation and holiday pay for “A” and “B” workers as well as mileage and expenses when longshore workers travel to other ports for work. The PMA represents the ports, container terminal operators and shipping lines that employ longshore workers on the West Coast.

    In Seattle, the average longshore worker made $95,033 last year. In Olympia, where ship calls are less frequent, the average longshore worker last year made $78,149.

    Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2012/06/03/2167243/better-days-for-port-workers.html#storylink=cpy


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