Tidal Power

As a renewable energy source, tidal energy is one source that — like solar — is about as reliable as you can get. That doesn’t mean we don’t have to be careful in how and where turbines are located, but with its usage already proven in the North Sea, it’s worth exploring elsewhere. As noted in this article, tidal power is being looked at for the Gulf Islands.


Surprises in Store

The frost and fog of late have made it difficult to work on our winter sun tans, but the arrival of Red-breasted Mergansers and Belted Kingfishers gives one hope that spring is not far off. While it might be premature to put away one’s long johns, it is nonetheless a good time to start venturing out to favorite birdwatching sites at the beach. Sometimes, there are astonishing surprises in store.

Extreme Hydrocarbons

As a new study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports, the extreme hydrocarbons unearthed by the Alberta Tar Sands open pit mines are extremely toxic. As the study concludes, Tar Sands oil — the subject of a pending U.S. Coast Guard risk assessment for Salish Sea shipping — is highly carcinogenic, causing infertility and immune disorders in humans, and mutations in fish. As the most destructive project in North America, the Alberta Tar Sands — slated for expansion if the Port Metro Vancouver oil terminal is allowed to double in size — has the potential to spread that toxicity from the Athabasca River to the Fraser. Looking at the NASA photo of the Fraser River plume into the Salish Sea, it isn’t hard to imagine the devastation a pipeline leak or vessel spill there would cause.

Heavy Oil Light Laws

While the Government of Canada is busy dismantling its environmental protection laws in order to accommodate its turbocharged oil export scheme, some in the US Government are concerned about the risks posed by vastly increased numbers of oil tankers transiting the Salish Sea. As noted in The Tyee, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington state recently added an amendment requiring the U.S. Coast Guard to assess that risk by June 2013. Of particular concern to Senator Cantwell regarding the export of Tar Sands heavy oil bitumen via tankers through U.S. waters, is the toxicity and additional clean-up challenges it poses.

Birch Bay’s Shame

Birch Bay, a seaside resort community 100 miles north of Seattle and 38  miles south of Vancouver, British Columbia, is economically dependent on tourism. Birch Bay State Park is a regional attraction for recreational clammers and crabbers, as well as kayackers and birdwatchers. Hotels, condos, cafes and restaurants wouldn’t be there without these touristic attractions.

Blaine, a small town heavily reliant on commercial crabbing and fishing, as well as tourism, lies 5 miles north of Birch Bay on Drayton Harbor. Drayton Harbor Maritime sponsors many waterfront related activities in support of the tourism industry.

The Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce website is, understandably, devoted to tourism. It’s what pays their bills.

All of this economically beneficial tourism, however, is at risk due to the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point, 5 miles south of Birch Bay. As a proposal that would bring 487 bulk carriers per year to ship coal from Cherry Point to China, the clean water and beaches of Birch Bay would be vulnerable to wind-blown coal dust, to routine ballasting of these mammoth ships, as well to the inevitable accidents like happened recently at Westshore Terminal just across the border in Canada.

One difference between Westshore Terminal and Cherry Point, however, is that Cherry Point already has a BP oil refinery dock. An accident like that which happened at Westshore could result not just in spilled coal, but spilled oil. Oil spilled at Cherry Point in 1972 led to the genetic mutation of Pacific herring, a mainstay of the diet of endangered Chinook salmon.

Given all the above, I was surprised to learn that — according to a knowledgeable writer of a letter to the editor of The Northern Light, The Community Newspaper of Blaine and Birch Bay — that the Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce had not only supported the proposed coal terminal, but had sponsored a forum at which only the supporters and not detractors were allowed to present information.

While this is not unusual behavior for a chamber of commerce, the fact it was by a chamber whose members depend on tourism is baffling. As the editor of Cascadia Weekly recently remarked, the collusion of corporate and union interests to prevent opposing testimony at the public hearings on the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal is shameful.

Trying to shout down their opponents or calling them derisive names is not what we’d expect from mature adults, but apparently that has not deterred the developers, unions or chambers from misbehaving.  In fact, it hasn’t deterred them from disseminating outright lies about the harmful impacts of the project.

Given their friends’ delinquent approach to public process, it’s a shame the Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce even chose to get involved.


It was historically the coldest day of the year today, but the sun was out, the wind was down, and the beach was covered in Sanderlings. While accustomed to the eagles hunting ducks here on Birch Bay in Winter, it seemed almost like Spring was around the corner with flocks of shorebirds.