On Being Good Neighbors

From Colleen McCrory, Co-editor…

I have spent a lot of time this week sorting through conflicting thoughts and feelings about the dinner on the Lummi reservation last Monday night.  Being invited to dinner by the Lummis was an honor, and I looked forward to an evening of sharing between our communities, as did the almost 200 other islanders that accepted the Lummi’s gracious invitation.
I looked forward to sitting down to dinner with our Lummi neighbors and getting to know each other a little better.
I went with the expectation that our communities would sort through traffic congestion and safety concerns, and try to find creative approaches to these problems together.
I envisioned an evening of respectful listening that would nurture our awareness of how the ferry affects our respective communities.
I expected that we would honor each other’s point of view, and that we would explore everything from how to keep ferry lines from blocking fishing boats, to how we can help make the Lummi marina a reality, as well as how to insure that our island community survives.

Okay, I was overly optimistic. But even if only a small part of my hopes and expectations were realized, I would have been encouraged.

As it was, the evening was frustrating and disappointing. For the most part, we ate only with each other. We were not invited to speak, nor to respond to Mr. Jefferson’s remarks, or power point lecture. Our questions were bunched together, paraphrased and answered in vague terms. One of our Native islanders asked that we be allowed time to respond, as is tribal custom, but it didn’t happen. We did not mutually explore ways to lessen the impact of ferry traffic on the Lummi Nation. We were not able to speak to the extreme hardship that hundreds of islanders will face if they are forced to abandon their island homes to move to mainland Whatcom county for everything from jobs to gas.

Islanders value maintaining a friendly and respectful relationship with our Lummi Nation neighbors. If the majority of Lummis do not see any mutually beneficial aspects to having our ferry dock at Gooseberry Point, then we need to find a way to go elsewhere. This will take a lot of time and a lot of money. These are hard times and money is tight, but that won’t always be the case (there goes that optimism again). Given enough time we can find a viable alternative site, do the environmental studies, get the permits, find the money to pay for a new boat– and a new dock,  build the boat– and the dock–.and move! I expect it could take up to 25 years to get all this done. Perhaps if that expectation is clearly written into a new lease, it would make a difference in the negotiations.

I believed the tribal representatives that met with us at our school last year when they told us they wanted to be good neighbors. We want to be good neighbors as well. Right now many in our community are being forced to consider abandoning their homes.   Think about that.

Good neighbors would not be a party to something like this. Yes, it is about the money, but it is also about so much more.

17 thoughts on “On Being Good Neighbors

  1. Colleen,
    Thank you for your thoughts on the dinner. It seems that you put a lot of heart into it.
    I chose not to go as it seem to me it has always been about money and they have stated many times they do not want us on their roads. Which as we know technically are the county roads.
    I really think we need to seriously look into going into Fairhaven.
    The other option is the Bellingham Waterfront with all the new development we might fit in.
    One has to look at the positive side it. Bellingham waterfront has nice restaurants, shops and area’s to walk around. It could be good for the economy them and the island.
    I know will need a different ferry but we going to need one down the road anyways.
    Let’s start now.

  2. Colleen,

    I liked your suggestion when you mentioned at a recent ferry meeting and I like it now, particularly given recent events in the ferry “negotiations”.

    Lest some put your comment about abandoning homes in the same category as the “how many more Lummi’s must die” comments, I want to say that it is not a frivolous comment. Just yesterday, my advisor told me that if an agreement cannot be reached, the best thing to do is shutter our house, move off the island, and let the bank take back our beloved house.

    With sadness, Randy Benson

  3. In july when we bought our house on lummi one bank would not loan money to us for a house on lummi island because of the ferry situation. i thought how silly, the county will never abandon the islanders and they have a legal and moral obligation.time has marched on and my feelings that the county officials are in control lessen. i think at every turn and now with the veiled threats from the other tribes to the feds the help from patti murray and the like lessen. i still think everyone has good in them . the tribe sees this as their power position to get what they want.they are truly in a power position.in the skagit valley the tribes are more a part of the community and use casino resources to help the community. it just feels different. i feel long term the solution is to move the ferry.really they dont want it there. it does not benifit them and other than being neighborly which i dont think will be a good enogh reason the marina is their only thing they need help on .the safety issue is smoke.on friday we saw a tribal police car parked along the road. traffic slowed. watch the brake lights. not a complicatede solution. write a few tickets. like i said its smoke.shame on the county for putting islanders thru this extreme pressure. but im trying to think positive.

  4. Colleen

    Capitulation or Vigirously Defend. Unfortunately it may take both – to find time in order for Whatcom County to extrapolate ourselves from the Tribe at Gooseberry Point while identifing funding sources for a new boat an/or non-tribal mainland ferry landing

    We may need a free right of way or at least a fair market lease, and if Whatom County accepts an above market lease- inflation adjusted annually , plus millions in other capital improvements, especially, given the inflationary forecasts with unprecidented federal deficit spending, this will only further raise our ferry fees, impede the Countys ability for retained revenues, taxing districts or other funding sources to expedite a move.

    Your idea is very appealing to me and no doubt others who are tired of this uncertainty. .. if the Tribe really wants the Ferry moved – sooner rather than later – they have yet another opportunity to demonstrate leadership and could even offer to finanically assist Whatcom County within their Grant Funds by offerring a free lease and generous offer to buy the existing County property – assuming the Ferry can be relocated within a reasonable time period.

    Greece has been selling some very attractive car and passenger ferrys very cheaply which looks up to the task.

    • Cliff,

      I hate to rain on your parade, but, due to the Jones Act of 1920, only Vessels built and crewed in the United States, may operate between Domestic Ports. A foreign built Ferry is not legal tp run here. Further there are no apropriate, used Ferries for sale on the entire U.S. West Coast. Even further, while there may be some old, worn out, crates for sale on the East Coast, there again are no appropriate ones there either. The Ferry would have to be built, with a minimum delay of at least one year, if, am existing design could be obtained. A new design would cost far more and take even longer.

      Like everything in the Country’s infrastructure, the money has been spent on other things, the Ferry Authorities have run their exisiting boats until they are no longer usable. Sound familiar?

      • Won’t this Lummi exercise of sovereignty, by superseding several authorities of the US and WA state governments, start to qualify GP as a foreign port? 😉

  5. The entire Mainland Ferry Terminal situation upsets me in many ways, but the worst is what I feel has been the deliberate withholding of information from Islanders, who are – after all –those who are most directly affected.

    It seems most Lummi tribal members may not have any particular animosity toward those who live on the Island. However, the official tribal contention, though erroneous, is that the safety issues with which both tribal members and Islanders are rightly concerned will be alleviated by closing the ferry landing at Gooseberry Point. If the Ferry landing stays at Gooseberry, the tribe wants to be compensated with massive road improvements and much higher-than-market-value rental payments for a tideland lease.

    Meanwhile, as “behind closed door” negotiations continue, we Islanders – individually and collectively — know nothing about what is being discussed, now, or very little previously. In addition, PLIC — which has spent a large amount of Islander’s money for legal opinions – will not divulge those opinions. It appears that these opinions are being saved for a mythical Perry Mason moment off in the future instead of sharing them and enlisting us to help support their findings. And, last week, when I was attending the recent county council meeting, I was told by their president that “Heavy Hitters” are coming into this fray, with the inference that these imaginary giants may somehow save us, and that I ought to keep quiet and not “rock the boat”. Based on our experiences in the last 17 months, I consider that to be unfounded speculation at best.

    As I see it we have two options.

    1. One is to go along with what the negotiations bring.

    2. The second is to not settle and let the “Cease Operation” date expire.

    My opinion-

    From what I see, the outcome of Option 1 will not go well. If a “deal” is struck, we Islanders will be faced with larger and ever increasing costs. These additional costs, we can be certain, will be directly applied to our ferry rates.

    Based on its past actions, what will prevent the Lummi Tribe from changing its mind once a new agreement is reached? Or dreaming up some new demand that costs even more, such as a parking surcharge, fishing “mitigation”, or some other arbitrary and capricious impact fee?

    Based on the County’s past actions, how will we know that, once reached, a new agreement will be monitored and properly enforced? How are we assured that due diligence is this time being applied? In 1988, the County entered an agreement, and in 2011 appears to be amenable to entering another, without seeking multiple legal opinions with which to counter demands being made by the tribe. The full text of the Point Elliot Treaty and reams of legal documents have been ignored. The “Road to Lummi Island” right-of-way is but one of them.

    Our local, state and federal governments have done a miserable job of protecting our citizen rights and well-being, and the Lummi Tribal Government has been shown to be less than trustworthy. If an agreement is signed now, Lummi Islanders and their next generations will be stuck with the ongoing potential of having to relive our past 17 months, over and over.

    Concerning Option 2, Mr. Jefferson, at his Community Connection Dinner, stated that the tribe will enforce the shut-down of the Lummi Island ferry by applying for an injunction if the County continues operation.

    Does the tribe have the preponderance of evidence that it needs to support an injunction? Will not such action, even if an injunction is granted, cause the Lummi Tribe to surrender its sovereign immunity and bring them back into court? Will the petitioned Court not look at the Tribe’s abrogation of the Consent Decree? Will the Court show concern for the lack of respect the Decree was given by both the Tribe and the County? Perhaps the request for an injunction will in itself stimulate court action to validate the rights-of-way.

    Our Congressional Representative and Senators have been reticent to enter this fray. How does their reluctance correlate to contributions provided to them by Tribal Casinos?
    Standing by while vast amounts of money are paid for a lease that may well be neither legal nor required will not sit well with voters in the 2012 elections. Continuing the Ferry operation past the “Cease” date will likely serve to push them toward a position; I would like to see their true colors.

    My Position.

    I personally vote for Option 2. I am contacting my political representatives and telling them how I feel. Regardless of your viewpoint, you may want to do the same.

    A resolution of this matter is needed. Let the chips fall where they may.

    But at any rate, we need to start to deal openly and honestly with one another.

    Jim Dickinson

    • Well thought out and articulated, Jim. I suspect you’re summation of events and options is shared by many islanders, myself included.
      The time for secret negotiations, 800 lb. gorillas entering the room, and game stopping legal opinions have long since past.
      Japan has lost for huge swaths of fertile farmland for generations, effecting millions. I’m quite sure we can endure a disruption of our ferry service for weeks, while the LIBC voluntarily enters a US District court to seek an injunction.
      That’s actually the best outcome for us, to get all this on the table – all the parties in an open court. We may not like the outcome, but at least we’ll know where we stand as US Citizens.
      This may end up as a landmark case, being fought on both sides by heavy hitters itching to win the battle, and take decades to reach the US Supreme Court, but maybe it’s time to decide once and for all, what a sovereign nation, within a sovereign nation actually means.
      I suspect cooler heads will prevail, and the final solution will come as a let-down in my scenario, with a reasonable settlement for all parties.
      Hell, we could even throw a party, where everyone is invited, and we had nothing to talk about.

  6. Colleen,

    Thanks for your heart-felt remarks. I, too, always try to be a good neighbor, wherever I find myself, both at home and at work.

    Our democracy is based on the rule of law: we have a system committed to the idea of fairness, a system that rises above emotions like desire or notions like convenience. Whether or not the tribe wants the ferry is irrelevant; the law says that we have a right to be there. We have a historically established legal right-of-way, and we also have a lease whose validity, I believe, would hold up in court.

    The ferry situation has been made murky by emotional agendas: the false, fraught cry of “How many more must die?” and the guilt felt by many white people over what was done to Native peoples generations ago are two examples. While traffic safety, social justice and historical accountability are of the utmost importance, they have no bearing on whether or not agreements negotiated in good faith (i.e. lease, right-of-way) should or should not be honored and legally enforced.

    Traffic concerns are a red herring, as is the marina. I like to think about what our attitudes to the negotiations would be if the ferry dock were in another nation, say Canada, or Mexico. We’d long since have arrived at an agreement, probably quite a bit fairer to the county than what has been proposed to date.

    My wife, Julie, came across this “ferry tale” on Nina Laden’s blog last night, and I think that it is quite pertinent: http://thenightifollowedtheblog.blogspot.com/

    Steve McMinn

  7. Jim..

    Thanks for the info. What happened to NAFTA and Free Markets. $5MM for an substantial 80+ car ferry built in 2005. ?

    Being you are deep well of knowledge… Can you direct me to one of your prioir reports or other info. on the design of the Lummi Marina? Thought I read a Herald Story whereby a significant break water needed to be built near the old Jones Restaurant ? If so, could the Whatcom Ferry Ramp be located at the end of the breakwater and the cars cued up on top – off the road? Similiar to Twassessen but smaller scale… Someone this weekend at a dinner party suggested the Marina is going to be a very non-traditional island design ? Fact, Fiction or is all of this simply another recurring nightmare scene from the Movie Groundhog day ? If the Tribe needs the existing Whatcom County land holdings you would think reasonable people could find a mutually benficial solution to our problem, even if the Islanders needed to help pay for a breakwater, ferry landing move and retrofit in exchange for a right of way perfection.. Personally, would rather pay my fair share of this expenses over time under a LID, in lieu of an unpredictable costly tideland lease with inflation adjustments.
    Would agree with your scenario about the legal outcome, given the amount of material or should we say non-material weaseling facts – not to mention the right of way arguement. Assuming Whatcom County steps up to protect us and perhaps themselves from other law suits, can’t imagine any Judge will issue a bench ruling and order which shuts down this Ferry, until the matters are fully litigated or voluntarily settled out by the parties. Have seen many cases where facts were clear and compelling- but Judges are usually a very cautious and fair-minded to both sides of the table.
    Unfortunately, even if Whatcom County achieves a fair settlement or actually prevails, there is something to say about having a ferry terminal which they claim is not wanted, inside the boundary of a soverign nation.

  8. Steve Mc Minn

    Thank you for posting your articel and more importantly your sub-article . However, I almost missed it since it was not posted separately. The night followed the blog represents how many of us feel on the Island but are usually hesitant to speak the words.

    Others share your deisre to change the name of this Island and also are profoundly offended by the Lummi Nation’s Executive Group behavior and to a much lesser degree by Whatcom County for not auditing important documents and simply saying No to the Tribal Councils over-reaching and threatening ways. From my perspective is time to make some changes and the Islands name is a good place to start. My vote is for Isla de Panchenco or Luminara. This would be a great Island community event -and we would find out if this initiative represents the majority or minority group of the Island Residents.

    • Cliff,

      Thanks for your response. Just for clarity, ” The Night I Followed the Blog” is a blog by writer / artist Nina Laden, who writes about many subjects. I found this particular post to be relevant to our discussion here.


  9. Thanks to everybody for the thoughtful, intelligent comments about our “situation”!
    What I’m wondering about is this: when/if we do lose the ferry on April 11th – do any of us have back-up plans of any kind? any alternative transportation ideas? Should we all be stocking up with food? How will we cope without transportation? Should we be leaving a car on the other side? I haven’t given up HOPE yet, but I do think we need to prepare ourselves as best we can under the circumstances. WHAT SHALL WE DO!!

    • I can only speak for myself, but I’m planning on the ferry being disrupted for up to a month to sort all this out.
      It’s prudent for islanders to have a month of food, water and fuel on hand for that period of time, if for no other reason than for preperation for a natural disaster.
      Transportation could be cut off for a variety of reasons to Gooseberry (injunction, civil disobedience, or just a few lummis exercising their ‘right?’ to fish in front of the ferry landing). The Cheif will probably run on fair weather days, except Fridays and Tuesdays, and maybe a passenger only boat on those days.
      I plan to have a car in Fairhaven for plan B, and my little putt putt boat if we get into plan C.
      We’ll cope, until sanity sorts all this out. I feel for the commuters and school kids. They have few options.

      • Sorry Janet, I got my dates wrong on the Alaska Marine Ferries from Fairhaven.
        M/V Malaspina will use the facility on Fridays, and starting the 1st week of May, the M/V Kennicott will use Fairhaven on Saturdays, for the duration of the summer season.

    • I can leave my second car on the mainland. I can get stocked up on food and essentials. But what do I do about my job? I work full time on the mainland. I have responsibilities at my office and I am my only source of income. I have a dog and a lovebird and a brother who has been living me until he can secure a full time welding job. My only float-able source is a very inexpensive bright yellow sit on kayak, and something tells me that is not going to get me anywhere! With no ferry service I will be up the veritable Shit Creek Without A Paddle! WHAT SHALL WE DO IS RIGHT!

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