Applicants for Whatcom planning commission have strong stances on coal terminal

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJanuary 24, 2014 

Applicants for open seats on the Whatcom County Planning Commission include at least three people who have made strong statements about a proposed coal terminal at Cherry Point.

The Planning Commission advises the County Council on land-use decisions. Members of the council, who may be asked to consider a permit for the coal terminal, have remained neutral in public statements about the terminal on the advice of the county's legal office.

It's less clear whether a strong position for or against the terminal would compromise an application for the planning commission. The advisory group could deliberate on the same permit, in order to forward a recommendation to the council. Review of this permit is more than 18 months away.

Carl Weimer, the newly appointed council chairman, said he hadn't thought about the applicants' position on the terminal. Other issues, such as water rights, are a higher priority for him, he said.

"It's probably something to consider," Weimer said in an interview Friday, Jan. 24. "Since that issue could come to them, they would need to show a willingness to be open-minded."

Three terms on the all-volunteer commission expire Feb. 1. Chairwoman Michelle Luke is stepping down. The other incumbents, Jeff Rainey and Rod Erickson, have reapplied.

Other applicants include some political activists or bloggers on both ends of the political spectrum.

Terese VanAssche is a retired transportation engineer who is on the board of the Sierra Club's Mount Baker Group. The group opposes the coal terminal.

In an interview, VanAssche said she testified in Ferndale and Seattle against the terminal.

"I'm not going to hide who I am. I've been an activist with the Sierra Club for 25 years," VanAssche said. "I think our current council is going to make those selections (for planning commission), and I think they have the ability to be fair."

Walter Haugen, who runs a sustainable farm near Ferndale, wrote a book critical of society's dependence on fossil fuels. He commented on The Bellingham Herald's website after the November 2013 elections that having a coal terminal at Cherry Point would amount to "ruining the environment."

On the other side of the issue, Planning Commission applicant Delaine Clizbe has written critically on the Whatcom Watchdog blog about anti-coal groups. She also wrote that the threat posed by coal dust from trains has been exaggerated.

Other applicants for planning commission seats:

-- David Hunter, a former board member for RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, was planning commissioner from 2002-09.

-- Nicole Oliver worked for eight years in the county planning department.

-- Bert Webber is a founder of the Huxley College of the Environment who specialized in marine ecology.

-- Kevin Van Beek works in construction.

Applications are still being accepted at the council office until 4 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 28.

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

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