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.

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