Politics Blog

Kershner goes to bat for Lynden-area farmers

Whatcom County Council Chairwoman Kathy Kershner earlier this month sent a strongly worded letter to the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency, asking them to back off from a lawsuit claiming a Lynden-area berry operation cleared and filled wetlands and never repaired the damage.

The letter admonishes EPA chief Gina McCarthy and Eric Holder, U.S. attorney general, for its "inflammatory lawsuit" against Suellyn Rader and Uptrail Group LLC, the owner of land once farmed for blueberries.

The federal government's lawsuit amounts to a job-killing action at the time when the economy is still struggling -- thanks in no small part to the federal government's own actions, Kershner said.

Her letter implies that the damage done -- 10 acres of wetlands filled on the south portion of a 33-acre parcel on Halverstick Road northeast of Lynden -- is minimal compared to the human cost potentially incurred in the lawsuit.

"The EPA and DOJ need to apply balance and common sense," Kershner wrote. "You cannot impede progress in the name of environmental action that yields little for our environment and even less for our people."

The agencies are asking the U.S. District Court in Seattle to penalize Suellyn Rader and her husband's estate the to the tune of $32,500 a day for each day of violation of the Clean Water Act, dating back to 2006 at least -- which would add up to more than $86 million.

Kershner said in an interview on Wednesday, Sept. 25, that she knows Brad Rader personally. She's not taking sides on whether or not the Raders are guilty of failing to apply for permits -- "I'm not getting involved in that," she said -- but rather questions why federal agencies are meddling in what should be a local matter.

"The federal government, with all the things it needs to deal with, reaching into Whatcom County for a 10-acre blueberry farm seems to be over the top," Kershner said.

Kershner wrote the letter on County Council letterhead ("from the desk of Councilmember Kathy Kershner") and copied it to other council members, Washington's senators, Whatcom County's two U.S. representatives, and county Exec Jack Louws.

(It's not unusual or improper for a council member to send a letter to another government agency in his or her official capacity, even without other council members' knowledge or consent. For instance, council member Ken Mann individually wrote an official letter to the Board of Natural Resources supporting the reconveyance.)

Since writing her letter, Kershner said she has talked to Brad Rader and will "stand down" for now at his request. The Raders are trying to work out a deal with the EPA, Kershner said.

Kershner's Sept. 13 letter is posted below.