Crucial Time in Ferry Negotiations – Again

From Colleen McCrory…

Do you get the feeling that ferry issues are coming to a head (again) and we still don’t have any idea of how they are going to be resolved?  At this point there are so many questions:

Has the October 15th deadline been taken off the table?  (Not that I’ve heard)
Both sides have agreed to sit down with an acceptable mediator, but how long is that going to take, and what happens if they cannot agree on anyone before the deadline?
Does anyone on either side of the negotiations have a personal interest in preserving our community?  (Don’t we wish)
Are we doing enough to help ourselves survive this crisis?

It is crucial that we all address the last question, mainly because it’s the only one we can.  The powers-that-be have often stated that they never know what islanders want because all they get are conflicting communications from the individuals who check in with them.  This has been an effective tool in dismissing us.   The absence of a unified island voice undermines us like nothing else can.

If your bottom line is continuing affordable and reliable ferry service to Gooseberry Point (with enough parking!)-  you will be a member of the only island organization we have that can give us the unified voice we need to help ourselves and be heard.   The Protect Lummi Island Community (PLIC) group is made up of almost 500 members, many of whom have contributed hundreds of hours researching, meeting, analyzing, planning and communicating with those that can help us resolve this crises…and that’s in addition to their day jobs! This is a powerful effort in a situation that makes most of us feel powerless.

We must ask ourselves:  How would losing ferry service to Gooseberry Pt. affect our community?  Who, besides PLIC, is working on a ferry resolution that works for the majority of our community?  How can we send a message of unity and determination to our representatives at the negotiating table that enhances our position?  How can we use legal counsel most effectively?  How can we actively engage federal, state and local political players on our behalf?  It’s a lot of work and PLIC is on it.

The meeting tomorrow night at the Grange should be an interesting one.

24 thoughts on “Crucial Time in Ferry Negotiations – Again

  1. My main objection to PLIC’s stance is that out of the gate the self-appointed group declared for the status quo. Granted, life would be easier if there were no changes to ferry service or fares. But sticking to a single demand may well have hampered the County’s negotiating position. I’m guessing (fearing?) the County team will ultimately accept the Tribe’s proposal, especially if major costs can be made to be borne by Islanders and cuts in service. Where in the process–in the County or in PLIC–was there any opportunity to seriously consider and discuss alternatives? PLIC planted its flag early on and we’re pretty well stuck with a no-change demand.

    (As to a unified voice, if PLIC can truly claim 500 members out of community of about 900 men, women, and children, I’d say they’ve got it. How much “consensus” does the County need?)

    I gave money to PLIC early on, but I am not a member. I chose not to join when it was clear that it would withhold legal findings, remain single minded about its demand, and opt for secrecy and top-down organization.

    A new contract with the Tribe with escalating fares over 25 years will in itself bring BIG changes to the community. In the face of economic turmoil and climate uncertainties, I’m not excited about signing away any possibility of re-thinking our ferry service for 25 or 35 years. (And I won’t be around to worry about it very many years into the contract period).

    Given the byzantine levels of governments and legal jurisdictions we have to get through, it is getting clearer that a US or State government entity is unlikely to jump in and save us. PLIC might have been a forum for real discussion. I am certainly interested in what they have been doing on the behalf of Islanders… but I get only promises– and information about how hard “they” are working and why I should join without ever learning WHAT they have been doing on our behalf.

    I give the PLIC organizers credit for jumping into the void of legal governance on the Island. I just wish it had been designed to be responsive to all points of view before declaring for no changes in ferry fares or service. I do feel powerless. Neither the County nor PLIC represents me.

    • I pretty much agree with Pat’s comments. I was also involved with PLIC early on in its formation. I became disillusioned when when actions agreed upon by the group were ignored and tossed aside and different plans and actions were taken with little to no discussion.

      In my opinion rather than help PLIC has in many ways weakened the County’s bargaining position by being publicly and loudly opposed to any consideration of any alternative rather than demonstrating flexibility and adaptability. When you have no bargaining leverage in a negotiation you get whatever the other side wants to give – which might not be much.

      While PLIC does claim to have 500 members there are many islanders who do not agree with their approach or that Gooseberry is the only alternative and do not need or desire for PLIC to speak on their behalf. PLIC may speak for many but it does not speak for all. The island does not speak with a unified voice because there isn’t only one opinion. We are diverse and have many and differing opinions. That is part of the richness of life and the island.

      It is completely unrealistic to believe that we can continue with the same level of service at the same cost. We should be part of the discussion thinking creatively for solutions that could meet our needs rather than refusing to consider any alternatives.

      Change happens in life,

    • “I give the PLIC organizers credit for jumping into the void of legal governance on the Island. I just wish it had been designed to be responsive to all points of view before declaring for no changes in ferry fares or service. I do feel powerless. Neither the County nor PLIC represents me.”

      One has to understand the process of negotiation in order to understand why not all information is released. One starts ideally, like in buying a house, then negotiates from there.

      My hope is in PLIC. They are the only one’s who are attempting to unite this island. I’ve attended most of their meetings, and have confidence in them. I put my confidence in them as they live on the island, know what’s at stake, and finally have legal information that the county has accepted to hear.

      It’s too bad that folks loose themselves out of the big picture just because they don’t completely agree with everything PLIC has/ or is doing. We are indeed too diverse on this island to agree on everything. But, at least someone, as a group, is trying to do something.

      I’m not judging until this whole thing is over. I don’t see any other Island organization taking a stand on this issue. I for one am grateful to PLIC for having the courage to stand up and do something!

  2. Hi,

    Nancy Ging has asked where the petition at originated. I did it.

    She also asks how I think it will help. I think it could help in a few ways.

    First, only Congress has the authority to correct any obstacles to achieving the federal intent implied by the DOI approval of a right-of-way for a ferry to Lummi Island. The Secretary of the Army has authority over navigable waters and the power to prevent any obstruction of navigable capacity. If they are not asked to help, they won’t. They might not anyway, but you never go broke by asking.

    Second, the island strategy of pursuing the status quo long term lease hasn’t appealed to me. Leases have become the problem, not the solution, and every indication is that any future lease will not retain the status quo. Seeking perfection of the right-of-way not only eliminates the specter of astronomical costs, but stops the endless wrangling over rents and allows everyone to get to work on the real problems, mainly cars.

    Third, it is often useful to bifurcate a political strategy in order to create a better basis of comparison. I’s just classic good cop, bad cop stuff. Expressing more extreme positions makes other positions look more moderate. A successful petition drive for a perfected right-of-way could give the Lummi Nation cause to reconsider their demands, since getting something is better than getting nothing (Caveat: Even Congress must provide “just compensation” upon condemnation. However, that could be in the hundred thousands rather than millions). Congress and the relevant agencies might also look at the options and consider condemnation easier and cheaper than getting mired in a comprehensive settlement, especially in view of the many prior approvals and their clear intent.

    Further, underscoring the Lummi premise that their tideland rights supersede decades of federal approvals will weaken their position whenever analysis of the options is eventually forced to occur.

    Finally, a petition has greater potential to force that analysis because it has one clear message and can reach much farther and more quickly through email networks to friends, families and visitors to Lummi Island. The petition abstracts all various considerations of ferry size, frequency and fares and asks simply for access that has already been approved.

    I crafted the petition based on my experience with past public interest issues. I provided it only as an example of how I would approach the problem. As I have already explained to several individuals, it is not my place to implement the strategy for islanders and I am not shepherding the effort in any way. That is up to islanders. However, I am very confident that islanders, with a little enthusiasm and effort, could utilize the internet and their email contacts to generate an impressive submission in very little time. Of course there is very little time left and events are now likely to unfold without islanders having seized the agenda or exerted any control over the options. But it is likely to take quite a while to resolve and it’s never time to give up until you win.

    Remember Ghandi’s quote? First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. It looks very much like we are sill in the first stage.

    Hope that helps the transparency thing.

    • It only helps the “transparency thing” very slightly unless you make it clear on the petition web page that the petition was started by you, and that you are a resident of the County who is very interested in this issue, but you are not a resident of the Island and don’t speak in any official way for Islanders. Right now the page could easily mislead people into thinking the petition has been started by a group of Islanders in their own self-interest. Some Islanders may support the petition, and I don’t have any problem with that at all, but I think it should be clear–on the petition page itself–exactly how it got started, by whom, that it’s an individual action, and what your personal interests in the issue are.

        • (2nd paragraph edited slightly at Colleen’s request)

          Tip, I hope you’ll re-link to your draft petition. I regret that (it appears that) a single person’s comment that the petition needs more work — and that you should do that work — led you to remove the petition page from your site.

          Tip’s recently clarified here and elsewhere that his intent has been to provide islanders and other Whatcom County residents with an option they could develop beyond the, “Hey, let’s have another lease kinda like the last one, only more expensive and not resolving any basic issues” (e.g., the status of the federal right of way from the mainland to Lummi Island),

          That option seems especially reasonable right now, in light of Stuart Rich’s announcement at the 9/21/2010 PLIC meeting that their lawyers think that (a) the rights of the County in the 1988 lease are NOT extinguished (despite the Lummi Business Council’s claim & County’s initial acceptance of that notion) nor (b) that Lummi tideland rights absolutely extinguish the road right of way to Lummi Island from the mainland.

          Like Pat, I think the petition is a potentially viable option and not mutually exclusive with other approaches. If someone wants to take it, modify it to their satisfaction and move it forward . . . fine.

          Could Tip do more? Sure. But so could anyone else who thinks the suggestions Nancy made are important. This is something people who want to ‘help’ with the ferry situation might take on, if they think the petition is important but needs development. But they can’t help if they can’t find the petition.

          • I wasn’t talking about whether or not the petition is a good idea. I just think that ANY petition should always clearly state who originated it and why. And Tip’s the only one who can do that “work” adding that information to the petition page because it’s his web page.

            I don’t think what I asked is unreasonable. Tip was willing to put that information on this forum, so why not put it with the petition, too, where no one interested in the petition can miss it? As I’m sure you know, Wynne, a lot of people don’t see the comments on this web site after the initial article announcement goes out.

            If we want transparency in government, then we have to be willing to have our own political activities be transparent, too. At least that’s my belief. And that means clearly identifying origins and interests. It doesn’t have anything to do with the advisability of the action being taken.

  3. I have been told that the only way to “ask” the federal government to approve, or perfect, the right-of-way is to sue them. It is pretty much guaranteed that, as you say, “they might not anyway” (help), if asked. Hoping that Congress “and the relevant agencies might also look at the options…” sounds like a lot of mights and a whole bunch of time, and as you say, “it is likely to take quite a while”–with no guarantee of success. In the meantime, our community still needs to survive, go to work, get our kids to school, and know that we can depend on emergency services.
    If the negotiations fail, this is a direction we need to explore. My hope and focus is on doing whatever we can do now to create an acceptable outcome in renegotiating the lease. Eventually, we may have to gamble on being successful in court, but the stakes are too high to go down the litigation road unless we absolutely must. That is not to say that I don’t value your point of view. I thank you for it.

  4. Litigation is not an option, No one can afford it. It takes too long. Social relations and stability for planning and investment deteriorate.

    These are the stated reasons that the policy of the United States is that local jurisdictions should not be left to negotiate historic disputes with tribes. Federal intervention for a mediated, comprehensive settlement is the standard. You can find it time and again throughout Indian Land Claims Settlements across the nation.

    The way to get results is to get attention. That’s why it’s still the first stage of this effort. The way to get attention is to discipline the message into a clear unavoidable issue. That takes guts, creativity and perspicacity. And it takes effort – unflagging effort.

    Meanwhile, I expect the ferry will run as usual while the dispute is settled.

  5. I’m headed out of town for a while and I want to leave you with this:

    It is never enough to say, “Woe is me.” It’s not enough to merely say what you wish. Folks can look the other way a long, long time. You have to stand up and say, “That’s wrong!”, point a finger at the wrongdoer(s), deliver the rationale and actively demonstrate your resolve. It’s all about message discipline.

    The Civil Rights Movement proved that minorities needed to stand up, identify the causes, define the issues, provide potential solutions, get busted and do it again. We had already, much earlier, suffered a civil war over this…”Then they fight you and then you win.” Well, we won.

    Lummi Islanders have not yet even been allowed into the discussion. Islanders haven’t even decided whether to finger the County or the Tribe. In a political issue you have to take sides. Do you want to be involved? No one will invite you. You always have to insert yourself. It takes guts….

    Don’t wait for permission.

  6. I don’t see a contradiction between working to keep the ferry running AND petitioning the various levels of federal offices to get the right-of-way issue determined. Even if we end up with a lease again–as we probably will–the underlying disputes and misunderstandings ought to be resolved. I appreciate all the work individuals have been doing to “fix” this thing… and I will continue to talk about Tip’s petition to friends and islanders and encourage them to sign. (I do agree with Nancy that the job would be easier with complete authorship information on the petition itself). Thanks to all who have done such good work on our behalf.

    • Pat,

      Do you have the petition? If so how do we sign it? As I see it we do need to look at all option and use anything at hand.
      Tip Johnson has worked really hard for the Islanders and I don’t believe the people appreciate the research and time he has done.
      We all need to start helping even if it’s just a signature.

      • Eileen, I printed out 2 or 3 copies when it was still up on the web, which I’d be happy to share. I hope Tip will put it up again now that there is a growing interest in the petition mechanism and in Tip’s well-researched position.

  7. If anyone really wants to help develop and manage a petition to the feds, check out these sources:

    Tip’s been clear that he doesn’t view this as “his” petition. So — those of you interested in this approach — why not jump in, add information like Nancy suggests. Those are good, even though I think that expecting Tip to take on the work isn’t the best way of making it happen.

  8. It’s really too bad that we, as islanders can’t come together on this, when the stakes are so high. Finally! Someone who seems to know the end’s and outs of Indian/ferry issues, and how they work, explain them so clearly, someone who has gone to such trouble to bring things to light is somehow tripped. And, he doesn’t even live on the island! What does that say for us collectively, who do live on this island?

    No one, as far as I have read or heard, has shared their research and knowledge so eloquently as Tip Johnson for our ferry issue. Why can’t we rally behind someone, some group, or organization to help ourselves? Why do we have to be so fractured? What’s with the people on this island that they can’t come together on such an important issue? “It’s the ferry stupid!!!!” Your life is about to change if you don’t set your petty issues aside and look at the big picture, there’s a good chance that many of us will loose our income, homes and way of life, retired or not. I can’t move off because, I can’t sell my home, because the market value is less than what’s owed. I’m not the only one in such a state. I suppose renters are free-er in that issue. They can move off any time they wish. I personally have a lot to loose.

    I request the petition be returned. I’s not important to me who put it up. When this is all over I want to feel like I did all I could to keep my ferry. I implore Tip to PLEASE put it back.

  9. One of the many many joys about this place, is the fact, that Lummi Island is an argument surrounded by water. If everyone held the same view on any issue here, I would not love this community nearly as much.

  10. The promotional web page was removed to avoid distracting argumentation. The petition has remained online at However, islanders may wish to craft their own, even if it means two slightly different petitions in circulation.

    Some islanders have interpreted the “Whereas, the Lummi Nation unilaterally rejects all such arrangements, threatens a blockade and demands arbitrary, increased payment for passage” as angry or aggressive language. I consider these defensible statements of fact and clear points of complaint, but any petition should reflect islanders’ feelings as truly as possible.

    The main point is to organize a disciplined, single request.

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