Moderation missing in discussions of future industry at Cherry Point

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 18, 2013 

A recent opinion column stated that our upcoming Whatcom County Council election is one of the most important in recent history. I agree, but possibly for different reasons.

One of the reasons that I believe this election is so important is the recognition of the traditional use of Cherry Point for business that brings family-wage jobs to our county. This land, while several miles away from Ferndale, has played a very important role in our community for decades.

A declaration in July by the local Democratic Party opposing any and all business development at Cherry Point is very concerning to me.

Webster's Dictionary describes the word "moderate" as meaning "not extreme." I have always felt this describes the vast majority of Whatcom County. We have "far right" and "far left," but most of us are in the middle somewhat and want our government to get things done.

An easy example is seeing Whatcom County Executive Jack Louws, with moderate Republican roots, working constructively with Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville, a moderate Democrat. They solve problems and move projects forward. I'm sure they don't always agree, but they are working together to find common goals for the whole county. The majority of Whatcom County citizens - the "moderate middle" - seek betterment of our community. Respectful dialogue used to be the desired norm in politics. It still should be.

The voice of the majority is often not the loudest. It is often drowned out by those with a more extreme agenda. Again, from the dictionary, extreme can also mean "excessive."

The Whatcom County Democratic Central Committee's three-dozen members passed a resolution in support of the Lummi Nation's past traditional ownership of land at Cherry Point on July 18 reading: "We propose and support the rejection of all industrial, commercial and residential uses of the remaining natural lands and waters on and adjacent to Cherry Point."

Zero. Nothing ever happening on what is now privately owned land. Privately owned land that has been designated and zoned for heavy industry for decades.

We should all be aware of the Lummi Nation's historical and cultural ties to this property. They justifiably have stated that the same could be said of all land "from the Cascade Mountains to the sea."

There can be no dispute of the problems caused when settlers of European descent brought the concept of land ownership to America. History shows us many examples of man's cruelty to his fellow man. We see this still today. A tribal leader once stated to me: "It has taken 150 years to totally screw up the treaty between our nations. It might take another 150 years to repair the damage."

However, I believe we need to respect the fact that the land at Cherry Point is privately owned at this time and that is unlikely to change even in the very distant future.

The Democratic Central Committee apparently sees no problem with giving up the rights of this privately held land area. Shall we assume they also mean past use by Native Americans excludes any use by them in the future? Shall we ask those committee members to do the same with their personal land ownership? It is a bit excessive and extreme.

Again, there is no dispute that there are relationships between our local tribes and non-Indians that need repairing.

An extreme agenda such as this resolution is not the answer. The resolution seeks to ignore the rule of law and undermine the concept of land use and shoreline planning under the stewardship of local elected leaders. Past history with treaties shows us that two wrongs do not make a right.

The resolution could undermine efforts by existing Cherry Point industries to expand or reinvest in their properties. More than $500 million was recently spent on two refinery upgrades designed to ensure cleaner-burning fuels. That is a boost to our economy. BP Cherry point is the largest property taxpayer in Whatcom County. The Gateway Pacific Terminal, if built, would be No. 2.

I don't feel this resolution reflects the views of Whatcom County. I'm not sure it reflects the views of most who call themselves Democrats. Like coal, hate coal, like trains, hate trains ... this resolution is truly extreme.

The Whatcom Democrats have created a Whatcom Wins! organization to support a slate of candidates. I support one of them. But all of these candidates and their opponents owe it to the public to declare how they feel about the direction this resolution proposes.

I can tell you many stories of what Cherry Point means to Ferndale and Whatcom County. Here's one: Francis was an 87-year-old Ferndale resident who recently passed away. He served our country in time of war, worked in the coal mines and in fish processing. With a family of six children, he landed a job hauling garbage for the City of Ferndale. It was hard, physical labor in the days before mechanical lifting.

He still volunteered at our local fire department and gave hours to the American Legion. Intalco came to Cherry Point in 1966 and Francis found a job that more than tripled his income. Imagine what a day that was for his family. He worked more than 20 years without a sick day. He taught his children to also work hard and volunteer in their spare time.

His children are a fire chief, a basketball referee, a church volunteer and a Whatcom Old Settlers Association trustee. He and his family all gave back to the community. Did Cherry Point matter to Francis and his family?

There has to be a balance between the history of people like Francis and the Native Americans that came before him. Both now have established histories here. Both matter.

There is much at risk in this election. Is it a choice of balance for all or those of extremism?

All candidates should be transparent and forthcoming. Face the tough questions, say what you mean and mean what you say. Let the giant majority in the middle decide how and where they want their community to work.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gary Jensen was elected Ferndale mayor in 2007 and is serving his second term in office. He can be reached at 360-685-2350 or garyjensen@cityofferndale.org.

Bellingham Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service