by Sandy Robson
After reading their 2015 Whatcom County Voters’ Pamphlet, some voters could wonder if Port of Bellingham Commissioner candidate Gary Jensen’s pants are on fire. Current Ferndale Mayor Gary Jensen’s candidate statement in the “Whatcom County Official Local Voters’ Pamphlet” seems to be an odd manifesto which contradicts the mayor’s actions.
Perhaps the most surprising sentence in his statement is when he said:
“I have never supported the burning of coal.”
That Mayor Jensen would even think it was acceptable for him to make a statement that flies in the face of his years of campaigning for the nation’s largest proposed coal export terminal, demonstrates his questionable judgment. It should be noted that at the bottom of the candidate statements page in the pamphlet, it states: “Candidate statements will be printed exactly as submitted and will not be checked for grammar, punctuation, spelling, or accuracy.”
There is no doubt as to Gary Jensen’s support for burning coal when since 2011, he has been arguably the most public supporter of the Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT), proposed in Whatcom County, Washington, which, if built, would be the largest coal export terminal in the United States.
Pacific International Terminals, a subsidiary created by SSA Marine for the GPT project, plans to export 48 million tons per year of Powder River Basin coal. The destination for all those millions of tons of coal would be primarily Asia, where the coal would be burned. So, it goes without saying that if Mayor Jensen has been supporting GPT, he has been supporting the burning of coal. Were the terminal to be built, the combustion of that coal shipped to Asia through GPT, and the resulting emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), would be the smoking evidence to refute Mayor Jensen’s outrageous public denial. The KCTS 9 and Earthfix original documentary, “COAL,” that was aired in June 2013, reported: “Once built to full capacity, Northwest export terminals would ship 100,000 million tons of coal to Asia every year. Burning that coal would put about 200,000 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.”
Carrying the burden of making unwise decisions
In his 2015 Voters’ Pamphlet statement, Mayor Jensen talked about being able “to carry the burden of making wise decisions, attempting to make our community a better place.” He added, “Decisions that must be made for the benefit of all, but not perfect for individuals.”
Was Gary Jensen’s decision to support a 48 million ton coal export terminal along the Salish Sea a wise decision?
Does he think that agreeing to let SSA Marine use him during his time as mayor, in its multi-media advertising campaign for the terminal, was a wise decision?
Will a huge coal terminal really make our community a better place?
When Mayor Jensen said decisions must be made “for the benefit of all, but not perfect for individuals,” it seems to be the opposite of what is actually the case with the proposed GPT. The terminal benefits the corporations involved in the project, and while it is projected to generate 257 permanent terminal shift jobs (44 of those are administrative jobs), all of the 208,000 plus residents of Whatcom County would be feeling the brunt of the reasonably foreseeable significant adverse impacts that such an operation would bring with it. A more accurate point for Mayor Jensen to make would be: “Decisions that must be made for the benefit of individuals and a handful of corporations, but not perfect for all.”
“Not perfect” would be quite an understatement to describe how GPT’s adverse impacts would affect individuals of the Lummi Nation. The Lummi, a Coast Salish people, are the original inhabitants of Washington State’s northernmost coast and southern British Columbia. Their reservation abuts Xwe’chi’eXen, which is the Lummi peoples’ ancestral name for Cherry Point.
Sacred obligation, sacred salmon
The proposed location for GPT is along the Salish Sea, at Xwe’chi’eXen (Cherry Point), an ancestral archeological village site and herring spawning ground. Herring are a critical forage food for salmon on which the Lummi peoples’ survival and culture have depended since time immemorial, but salmon are now severely threatened after salmon stocks have drastically declined. The herring population has also drastically declined (more than 92%) between the 1970s and 2012.
The Lummi Nation’s treaty fishing rights are secured to them by our federal government in the Treaty of Point Elliott of 1855. Article 5 of the Treaty provides that, “The right of taking fish from usual and accustomed grounds and stations is further secured to said Indians in common with all citizens of the Territory. . .”
Xwe’chi’eXen was the first site in Washington State to be listed on the Washington Heritage Register and it’s eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Xwe’chi’eXen holds deep cultural, spiritual, and historical significance for the Lummi people.
In his January 5, 2015 letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lummi Indian Business Council (LIBC) Chairman Tim Ballew II stated, “. . .the Lummi Nation has a sacred obligation to protect Xwe’chi’eXen based on the area’s cultural and spiritual significance.” His letter requested that the Corps take action and immediately deny SSA/PIT’s permit application for the proposed GPT project, “based, inter alia, on the project’s adverse impact on the treaty rights of the Lummi Nation.” The LIBC letter further stated, “The impacts on the Nation’s treaty rights associated with this project cannot be mitigated.”
Some history of the Mayor’s GPT Support
Mayor Gary Jensen’s Whatcom County Voters’ Pamphlet statement is not the only kindling under his pants afire. Below is more fuel, some of it from articles already published by this author. Some of the history of Mayor Jensen’s support of GPT which began in 2010, long before the public was even made aware of the proposed project, deserves a review.
SSA Marine’s pre-planned, pre-emptive, pressured appeal to DNR
In June 2010, Mayor Jensen, along with six other people, signed onto a June 15, 2010 letter. The letter project was orchestrated by SSA Marine’s paid local spokesperson on the GPT project, Craig Cole. The letter was sent to Washington State’s Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark, who heads up the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
The six other letter signers were; SSA Marine’s paid local spokesperson on the GPT project Craig Cole; Whatcom County Public Utilities District Commissioner and President Jeff McClure; then-mayor of Blaine Bonnie Onyon; then-Washington State Senator for 42nd District Dale Brandland; former mayor of Bellingham Tim Douglas; and then-President of the NW Washington Central Labor Council, who eventually became the Co-Chair of the Northwest Jobs Alliance Dave Warren.
The letter expressed an immediate concern that DNR’s Draft Cherry Point Environmental Aquatic Reserve Management Plan could deny an opportunity to permit SSA’s proposed GPT project, and appealed to Goldmark to remove what SSA and Cole et.al. considered to be inherent conflicts in DNR’s draft plan. They also wanted the plan language in the draft changed so that the requirement for future or on-going studies would not cause any delay in permitting and leasing decisions made by DNR on SSA’s proposed GPT, as well as modifications to current industrial facilities located at Cherry Point.
Mayor Jensen et al. lobby the public for SSA Marine’s GPT project
Mayor Jensen also signed onto a pre-written op-ed that was orchestrated by SSA consultant Craig Cole which was published in The Bellingham Herald on July 3, 2010.
The opinion piece was a pressured public appeal to Washington State’s Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark, asking him to change language in the draft of the Cherry Point Environmental Aquatic Reserve Management Plan. The plan was being updated at that time in 2010 by the DNR, which manages state-owned aquatic lands. The plan had been enacted in 2000 to protect the sensitive and unique aquatic ecosystem at Cherry Point in the Strait of Georgia. The Cherry Point Reserve and its management plan was/is a potential roadblock to SSA Marine for its GPT project proposed at Cherry Point.
On February 20, 2011, a print advertisement for the GPT project was featured in the Sunday edition of The Bellingham Herald. Gary Jensen, as a sitting mayor, allowed himself to be used in that ad by SSA Marine.
Public records obtained from the City of Ferndale, show that Mayor Jensen, along with Lynden Mayor Scott Korthuis, was sent a February 15, 2011 email from Gary Smith, a partner at Smith & Stark Strategic Solutions, a Seattle-based public affairs and strategic communications firm hired by SSA Marine.
In his February 15 email, Gary Smith asked mayors Jensen and Korthuis for their approval on the final copy for a GPT print ad which he said was slated to run on February 20, 2011, in The Bellingham Herald, and for the mayors’ approval on the final copy for a GPT radio ad which was also slated to run that week.
Public relations rather than public service
Both Mayor Jensen and Mayor Korthuis also gave their approval, allowing Smith & Stark, along with Copacino + Fujikado, a Seattle-based advertising agency working in tandem with Smith & Stark, to use the mayors’ likenesses, photographs, and voices in advertising for SSA Marine’s GPT project.
According to the copy for the radio ad that featured mayors Jensen and Korthuis, after each of them spoke a couple of lines in support of GPT, the script for the announcer in the radio spot read, “Both mayors support SSA Marine and its plans for the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point: A major export facility that will ship commodities to Asian markets—creating hundreds of permanent jobs and generating millions in new taxes for the region. Without harm to the shoreline or environment.”
So, Mayor Gary Jensen let himself go on record for supporting the GPT project in an ad that claimed there would be no “harm to the shoreline or environment,” from the project. People might be wise to question the responsibility of an elected official to have allowed himself to be used to sell such a proclamation to the public.
Mayor Jensen was featured in pro-GPT ads in print, radio, video, GPT and its public relations-created advocacy groups’ websites and social media.
Email records show that SSA consultant Craig Cole sent a June 26 email to Mayor Jensen, asking him to do an interview with TVW, a Washington State public affairs network, for a series the network was doing on the GPT project. Email records showed that Jensen was interviewed by TVW for the GPT series on July 11, 2012.
Marching orders from Cole
According to a November 27, 2012 email from Craig Cole to Mayor Jensen and Lynden Mayor Scott Korthuis, Cole asked the mayors to address the media that would be gathered for the November 29, 2012 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) scoping hearing for GPT held in Ferndale. Cole specifically requested that the mayors mention to the media, the letter from the six Whatcom County small city mayors which they would be jointly submitting during the hearing as a scoping comment in support of GPT.
At the November 29 EIS scoping hearing for GPT, Mayor Jensen was the recipient of speaker slot #1 thanks to SSA’s public relations firm/s paying day workers to stand in line early that morning so they could hold a spot for him, and for about fifty other GPT proponents including numerous elected officials, labor leaders, and business leaders. There had been a limited number of speaker slots so that only the first hundred or so people who lined up were able to testify to the EIS agencies and public at the hearing.
On December 12, 2012, Craig Cole sent an email to Mayor Jensen, asking him if he would travel to the Seattle December 13 EIS scoping hearing for GPT, to speak to the media there, in support of SSA’s GPT project. In his dogged loyalty to SSA Marine, Mayor Jensen traveled to Seattle to address the media, expressing his support for the project. Records also show a December 11, 2012 email sent from Craig Cole to Mayor Jensen, asking him to do a radio interview the next day on December 12th, with conservative talk radio host, John Carlson of Talk Radio 570 KVI, which the mayor agreed to do.
PR experts spoon-feed promises of prosperity and environmental protection
In December 2012, Craig Cole and Smith & Stark spoon-fed a pre-written op-ed to Mayor Jensen for his approval for him to submit to The Bellingham Herald for publication.
Smith & Stark partner Gary Smith, sent a December 18, 2012 email to Craig Cole (and copied SSA Sr. VP Bob Watters and SSA VP of Business Development Joe Ritzman) with the op-ed ready for Jensen’s review. Cole then forwarded it to Mayor Jensen a few minutes later, for the mayor to review and approve, as the supposed author of the opinion piece. The op-ed, entitled, “Gateway Pacific Terminal will make a great neighbor,” was published in the Herald on December 21, 2012, and the author listed was Mayor Gary Jensen.
Jensen’s op-ed recognizes Cherry Point, but does not recognize Xwe’chi’eXen
During the 2013 County Council election season, Mayor Jensen authored a September 18, 2013 op-ed which strongly criticized the Whatcom Democratic Central Committee’s resolution it passed on July 18, 2013: “The Resolution to Honor the Lummi Nation’s Sacred Lands and Waters at Cherry Point.” It was an honorary resolution in support of the Lummi Nation protecting its sacred lands and sacred waters at Cherry Point.
Mayor Jensen’s September 18 op-ed was featured in a GPT email promotional piece disseminated on September 19, 2013, via the SSA Marine/GPT email mailing list.
That honorary resolution has been misrepresented and used negatively by SSA Marine and by groups associated with SSA/PIT in their advocacy for GPT. Mayor Jensen, in striving to advocate for GPT and Cherry Point industries, took a similar tack by calling the honorary resolution “truly extreme,” and saying it represented an “extreme agenda.”
What seems extreme, is that the mayor does not support a resolution intended to honor the Lummi Nation’s sacred lands and waters at Cherry Point (Xwe’chi’eXen), a place which represents profound cultural, spiritual, and historical significance for their people.
In his op-ed, Mayor Jensen wrote: “I can tell you many stories of what Cherry Point means to Ferndale and Whatcom County.” He went on to write three detailed paragraphs recounting the personal story of a particular Ferndale resident named Francis, who had worked at Intalco at Cherry Point for more than twenty years, and how Cherry Point had mattered to Francis and his family.
Jensen followed that with this paragraph: “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.” However, while Jensen made that statement, he did not write specifically about why Xwe’chi’eXen matters to Lummi people. The only reference he made was to say that “we should all be aware of the Lummi Nation’s historical and cultural ties to this property [Cherry Point].”
Jensen did not mention the name of any Lummi individuals. He did not provide any personal histories that could have gone back countless centuries, that would attest to the Lummi’s committed protection of and reverence for the historical, physical, and cultural nature of Xwe’chi’eXen (Cherry Point).
Mayor Jensen wrote in his op-ed that when Alcoa Intalco Works came to Cherry Point in 1966, that enabled Francis to get a job that more than tripled his income, saying, “Imagine what a day that was for his family.”
What Gary Jensen failed to imagine and understand when he wrote his opinion piece, is what it would feel like for families of the Lummi Nation who have experienced decades of broken promises from government officials, to hear the mayor of Ferndale counsel moderation, and say that a resolution to honor their sacred lands and waters at Cherry Point was “truly extreme.”