It’s been a big week in Bellingham, Washington, my adopted hometown, out on the edge of Puget Sound…
…and it’s only Tuesday.
First of all, it’s election day for the Whatcom County Executive and City of Bellingham Mayor primaries. The race couldn’t be more important in the context of the debate over the proposal to build a coal shipping terminal just north of the city at Cherry Point, with candidate positions running the gamut, from ardent support for the project to outright rejection, as well as several shades of grey in between.
Second, after a many-years battle over plans to build a housing development on forested property alternately called the 100 Acre Wood or Chuckanut Ridge, the Bellingham City Council approved the purchase by the city of that property in order to protect it as a public access natural area. It’s a victory that could be a source of hope for those who oppose the coal terminal, a reminder that a committed citizen opposition can triumph over moneyed interests, although it should be noted that the political and financial powers pushing for the coal terminal are many, many times more mighty than the small LLC that hoped to build over 700 housing units on Chuckanut Ridge.
Finally, focusing directly on the coal terminal, two weeks ago SSA Marine, the company proposing the building of the terminal, was fined by Whatcom County for clearing some of the property for service roads without a permit, and today an attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice called on Whatcom County to enforce a county code that requires a 6-year development moratorium as a result of their illegal road work.
And while it might be tempting to celebrate, local land-use attorney Jean Melious warns:
That sounds tougher than it is – the “moratorium” in fact will only apply until the County’s hearing examiner decides that the applicant didn’t “intend” to violate the law and will meet other conditions.
Time will tell, but even if the moratorium is enforced, this is no time to go complacent. The forces behind the terminal will not take this lying down, they will protest, they will try every legal maneuver they can think of, and they have the financial resources to do so.
So, I cast my vote today with our current mayor, Dan Pike, who, as I wrote previously, courageously took an unequivocal stance against the coal terminal, and with county executive candidate David Stalheim, who has voiced opposition as well, and I’ll continue to do whatever I can to protect Bellingham and Whatcom County from Mr. Peabody’s coal train.