Our Whatcom County Planning and Development Services Department (PDS), which is part of our County Administration under the direction of County Executive Jack Louws, needs to start being fully transparent with the public in matters relating to the Gateway Pacific Terminal project.
Last week, GPT applicant Pacific International Holdings (formerly known as Pacific International Terminals) officially withdrew its three County permit applications for the GPT project. What the company possibly has planned for the future is unknown. However, PIH/PIT’s VP Skip Sahlin, stated in his February 7th letter to the County that the company is considering various options such as submitting a modified version of the project in an attempt to reduce environmental impacts, and/or PIH potentially challenging the Army Corps’ May 9, 2016 denial of the federal permit needed for the GPT project.
It is therefore important that our County planning department and County Administration be completely transparent regarding issues related to the GPT project because it can appear again in another iteration. Some of our County government have already demonstrated a pattern over the past year of working behind the scenes with the company without disclosing critical information to the public. We need to be vigilant, and we need to let our County government know that we expect full transparency, and we expect that full transparency to be constant and timely, and not after the fact.
I just sent an email letter today to PDS Director Sam Ryan, letting her know about a recent experience I had with PDS Assistant Mark Personius, in which, I felt he was not transparent with his responses to questions I had posed to him in January.
Below, are two excerpts from my email to Ms. Ryan.
To be exact, I actually sent two separate emails on January 23rd containing the same information and questions to Mr. Personius; the first one I sent at 8:49AM to Mr. Personius and I copied (CC’d) Deputy Executive Tyler Schroeder. I sent the second email (as a forward) at 8:53 AM to Mr. Personius, after realizing I had forgotten to copy the County Council members on my first email.
In both emails, I asked Mr. Personius five questions. At the bottom of this email, I have attached two screenshot photos showing those five questions and Mr. Personius’ responses (in red) from his January 24th email reply.
Question #3 was:
“Has there has been a response communication from the County to PIH/PIT’s December 16, 2016 letter to PDS? If so, can you please have that posted on the County’s GPT webpage?”
Mr. Personius replied to that question by saying, “No.”
Question #4 was:
“If there was a response from the County to PIH/PIT’s December 16th letter, what then was communicated to PIH/PIT?”
Mr. Personius did not respond to question
Not only did Mr. Personius not disclose that the County had already sent a January 6th email communication response to PIH/PIT’s December 16, 2016 letter to PDS, and that the County had scheduled a meeting with the PIH/GPT team, but when asked by me if he/PDS planned to respond to PIH/PIT’s December 16th letter, he said he was “not aware of any pending need for PDS written correspondence to the applicant in response to their December letter.”
In looking at the January 2017 GPT Project Correspondence that was recently posted on the County’s GPT webpage, I see that the County’s scheduled meeting with the PIH/GPT team did take place on January 30th as discussed in Mr. Schroeder’s January 12th email sent to Mr. Personius and Mr. Buckingham.
According to a January 28, 2017 email from PIH/PIT’s Skip Sahlin, sent to Mr. Schroeder, Mr. Personius and Mr. Buckingham, confirming the January 30 meeting at the Northwest Annex, the applicant’s team planned on discussing the following subjects with Whatcom County officials:
• The current Whatcom County permit applications (which have since been withdrawn by PIH as of February 7, 2017) and the process with the Hearing Examiner
• The CH2M contract “contract roll off”
• The 1999 Settlement Agreement contract
• The 1997 Shoreline Substantial Development permit and the Major Development Project permit
• The efforts of the Planning Commission and Council around the County Comprehensive Plan Chapter 2 – Cherry Point Urban Growth Area
I feel that Mr. Personius was not transparent with me in terms of the questions I posed to him in our January email communications which I have referenced throughout this email to you.
I appreciate Mr. Personius having replied to my emails from 2016 to present each time in which I requested answers (11 times), however, in this particular case, I am left with the deduction that his January email communications with me were obstructionist.
Hopefully, this will not happen again in the future. There have already been multiple instances last year, where the County Administration, of which, your planning department is under, has not been transparent with the public regarding information pertaining to the GPT project.
I want to add that I appreciate your, and your department’s, hard work relating to the GPT project as I understand that the project, for many reasons, presented various challenges for PDS staff and the public.