Whatcom County blasts Bellingham mayor over Gateway Pacific letter

BELLINGHAM - Erroneous, malicious, ignorant.

Whatcom County Chief Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Randall Watts used those adjectives in a Wednesday, June 15, letter to Gov. Chris Gregoire, responding to an earlier letter to the governor from Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike.

Pike had asked the governor to intervene in the review of SSA Marine's Gateway Pacific Terminal project, a deep-water shipping facility that would ship coal and other bulk cargoes to Asia via a pier the company hopes to build at Cherry Point.

As of now, Whatcom County is the lead agency for the review of SSA Marine's permit applications and the lengthy environmental impact study process that has yet to get under way.

Pike asked the governor to order state agencies to take over the lead agency status, because he doubted that county officials had the resources to do the job. He also questioned whether the county was the appropriate agency to study the impact that increased rail traffic could have on Bellingham as well as other communities outside Whatcom County.

Watts' letter says the county has already asked the Washington Department of Ecology to join the county as a co-lead agency.

"Though Mr. Pike's letter appears to be in agreement, we feel we need to respond to his erroneous and malicious statements," Watts' letter says, asserting that there is no legal authority for a state agency to step in and take over lead agency status without county consent.

Pike also asked the governor to include the city of Bellingham on the "Multi-Agency Permitting Team" of state, federal and county agencies with jurisdiction over the Gateway Pacific project. Watts argued this would be wrong, because the agencies on the permitting team are supposed to conduct an unbiased review of the project and Pike has already taken a strong stand against it.

Watts also challenged Pike's assertion that the county has shown any lack of willingness to consider the impact that increased rail traffic headed to a new cargo terminal would have on the Bellingham waterfront. Watts contended that in April, county staff had already assured Pike that those impacts will be part of the study process.

Despite the hot language, the letter seems to indicate that the county, too, would be receptive to the total state takeover of lead agency status that Pike is seeking.

"Setting aside Mayor Pike's erroneous statements, political grandstanding and blatant disrespect for Whatcom County staff, we wish to continue our discussion regarding the State Department of Ecology to be in part or in whole the lead agency for this EIS," the letter says. "We are hoping the Department of Ecology will agree with Whatcom County to be co-lead or lead for the EIS (environmental impact statement) soon."

After reading Watts' letter, Pike was not apologetic.

"I want to explicitly know that we're going to have a full and broad and complete investigation ... of critical issues for this community," Pike said.


Mayor Dan Pike's letter to Gov. Chris Gregoire.

County's reply.