Whatcom County voters appeared to deliver a mixed message Tuesday in the controversy over construction of a giant export terminal at Cherry Point north of Bellingham.
The port, which would be built mainly to export coal to Asia, had been most hotly contested in Bellingham’s mayoralty race, with Mayor Dan Pike making adamant opposition to coal exports a centerpiece of his campaign against former Rep. Kelli Linville. Linville led in early results Tuesday night, 7,219 votes to 6,831 for the mayor, a margin of 368 votes. In the primary, Pike led Linville by only 28 votes.
But in the race for Whatcom County executive, export-terminal foes feel they gained with the apparent victory of Jack Louws, a former Lynden mayor, over Sen. Doug Ericksen of Ferndale. Ericksen was trailing Louws, 19,239 to 16,675 with 65 percent of the votes counted.
Although Louws expressed no opinion on the Gateway Pacific Terminal, Ericksen was an outspoken proponent of the project. Whatcom County, along with the Washington State Department of Ecology and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will review terminal applications when they are filed in the next few months. Terminal critics feared Ericksen would pressure county officials to take a pro-terminal position.
Louws is a Republican, but his victory Tuesday owes much to Ericksen’s reputation as a partisan Republican spokesman in the Legislature. Two Democrats finished behind Ericksen and Louws in the primary, and both threw support to Louws.
Linville, a Bellingham native and longtime legislator, relied on her familiar name and reputation for working with various parties. Pike came across as more aggressive, particularly in the heated coal-export debate, where he accused Linville of waffling on the issue. Linville eventually firmed up what critics said was an equivocal position and said she strongly opposes coal exports.
Export-terminal opponents hoped to defeat two conservatives on the Whatcom County Council. Councilmember Tony Larson was losing to Pete Kremen, the outgoing county executive, but Sam Crawford was leading challenger Christina Maginnis by about 500 votes.
If early returns hold, export-terminal opponents will lose a staunch spokesman in Pike but gain leverage at the important county council. But about 20,000 ballots are still uncounted, enough for Pike and perhaps Maginnis to prevail; results showed that 38,237 were counted Tuesday.