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Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike: “Jobs, but at what cost?”

Posted: June 3, 2011 1:29:09 PM PDT

Statement by Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike, June 3, 2011

My administration has for months been focused on information gathering about the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point.  While much about this proposal remains unknown or unclear, I am clear today that I need to take a stand: a stand for protecting Bellingham, a stand for health, safety and quality of life, a stand for welcoming new businesses that provide clean jobs to our local communities.

We have examined the benefits proponents say this operation will bring to our community and have considered the risks.  While every resident of this county certainly agrees that more local family-supporting jobs would be a good thing, those same wise locals would also add, “But at what cost?”

Our research has focused in particular on the possible impacts the transportation of cargo to the terminal could have as it passes through our city. Examination of the “But at what cost?” factor includes not only economic calculations but also costs associated with residents’ health, safety and quality of life, which are the primary reasons most of us choose to live here.

My team and I met recently with representatives of SSA Marine and their main business partners, the Burlington Northern/Santa Fe Railroad. I hoped they would bring to the conversation recognition that their proposed project would have multiple downsides for our community. I hoped they would make a commitment to provide meaningful mitigations -- or even better-- a willingness consider other commodities, and not rely exclusively on coal exports for the terminal’s financial engine.

Instead, these proponents brought denial of any potential harms and blatant defiance that they should change their plans in any way.  In fact, it has become public knowledge that they have signed a multi-year deal with Montana’s Peabody Coal to ship at least 24 million tons of coal from our sensitive shores as their major focus of business for the foreseeable future.

That is not a future that I want to see.  By any calculation, the proposed coal-dependent terminal at Cherry Point does not add up.

I will, therefore, work with citizen groups, other elected officials, businesses and the health care community to oppose the current plan for the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal.  This will be done through official Environmental Impact Statement processes and other means, including those authorized by the Bellingham City Council, as necessary.

In the end, it is my job as Mayor to protect Bellingham and protect it I will.

I have not come to this decision lightly. I have consulted with many, heard from hundreds in person at my recent listening session and received nearly a thousand emails and calls at my office. I have heard a lengthy list of concerns from City department heads about the likely impacts the proposed terminal could have on City assets and operations.  The costs in many forms by far outweigh the promised benefits.

I remain open -- as I have for decades -- to a reasonably sized, responsible spectrum of port- and marine-based enterprise for our community, including at Cherry Point.  It is our history and it can be our future, if done right.

Bellingham and Whatcom County have a robust base of business and industry, and the public and private sectors will continue to make investments that increase prosperity in our region. In partnership with the Port of Bellingham and others, the City of Bellingham will move ahead with plans to start, expand, retain and welcome new businesses and the jobs they will bring to our waterfront and other areas.

Some may seek to leverage my decision to oppose SSA Marine’s proposed plans into a claim that Bellingham is anti-business.  Bellingham residents know differently. Our welcome mat for responsible corporate and small business remains out, but we will not sacrifice our health, safety and quality of life to lure them here.

Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike

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