A Rock and a Hard Place

From Colleen McCrory:

The vote on the ferry lease is most likely tomorrow.  We are down to the wire, and the pro and con arguments are coming in hot and heavy.

We are seeing provocative arguments on the illegality of the lease and/or suing to “perfect the right of way”.
One islander wrote the Council recently saying:

“I believe that Whatcom County enjoys a legal right of way fromBellingham to Lummi Island through Gooseberry Point. I believe a tidelands lease is legally neither required or appropriate. I believe it is your duty to assert these rights on the behalf of your constituency”.

Other contributors to the Forum talk eloquently about a “political solution” and petitioning Congress, cautioning that,

“these only work if undertaken with true determination and the conviction that not giving up is the only way to win”.

Barbara Brenner talks about the political, as well as the legal approach, when she says in a quote from a recent response to a request for her approval of the lease:

“It is the federal government alone that can legally decide how WhatcomCounty uses this public right-of-way. I would be grateful to see the federal government finally get involved. This never should have been done the way it was. Our federal elected and appointed officials have chosen to stay out of an issue that they are a big part of. I don’t blame the Lummi Nation for trying to get the best deal.  That is what all parties usually try to do. Now it is either time for the federal government to get involved or legally Whatcom County can keep running the ferry as we have done. If the feds finally become involved, that is in the public interest”.

The issues I have with disapproving the lease and pursuing either legal or political approaches are these:

 1. Who has the will, the dedication, the expertise and the money to litigate?  Whatcom County government?  I asked Barbara Brenner that question and she ducked it, suggesting that we have lawyers on the island who might do it.  I’ve talked to others in county government and absolutely no one has indicated any willingness to go to court on our behalf.  For starters, they really, really cannot afford it—politically, or financially.  And as far as I can see, neither can we.

2. When I contemplate the political approach;  trying to enlist the support of our state and federal representatives to take up our cause at the federal level, I find myself in another very hard place.   I cannot find a reason why county, state and federal politicians would alienate tens of thousands of Native American constituents, with lots of political and financial (casino) clout, to fight for us.  We are a passing blip on the radar for them, and not a very important one.  Ms. Brenner comments that our “appointed officials have chosen to stay out of…”  -this issue, and yes, they “should” be involved.  But, it’s not hard to figure out why they have made themselves scarce.

 3.  And finally, who among us hasn’t been depleted by the last 2 years of stress and upheaval?  Who among us has the energy, time and money to pursue either the legal or the political challenges?  Not for a short period of time, but most likely for years.  I’m waiting for someone to come up with a (practical) plan, as well as make a commitment to lead the charge in making the theoretical a reality, should the lease be disapproved.  Petitioning is not going to do it.  A legal challenge is risky.

I have issues with the lease too, but it is essential to keeping our community together.  That’s the most important thing to me, and we need the lease approved to do it.

So, PLEASE call and email the County Councilmembers TODAY.  Urge them to approve the lease!
Here is their contact information:                  http://www.co.whatcom.wa.us/council/whatcomcountycouncilcontactinfo.jsp

3 thoughts on “A Rock and a Hard Place

  1. Or, if you want, ask the Council to disapprove the lease and do something else.

    Whatever the outcome, I for one hope we’ll all be careful now and in the aftermath to be truly respectful of each others for taking positions that differ from our own. Whatever happens, we’ll each have opportunities (sooner or later) for disappointments, sympathy, bitterness, better or worse relationships with each other. I sincerely hope we will, as a community, move forward (in whatever direction) as positively as we can. Regardless of what happens, Lummi Islanders will be facing many more challenges in the future (new boat anyone? changed service levels, altered fares …). However we come out of the current decision process will be important to addressing those issues as they come along.

    The fact is — there is NO perfect answer to the ‘ferry lease’ dilemma.

    We have NO ‘optimal’ solution, no matter what measures each of us chooses to focus on (time now and later, money spent now and later, risks now and in the future, community stability, energy levels, love of fighting or peace, local or federal politics and political will.

    Each of us (including our elected representatives) will decide according to the lenses we wear that filter the balance of risks and benefits.

  2. Over the past two years it has become increasingly apparent that we on Lummi Island are caught squarely in a crossfire between two combatants who don’t give a fig about us. The Tribe and the County have painstakingly inched their way to an agreement on their respective behalves, neither of which is much motivated by any particular concern for residents of Lummi Island.

    We appear to be very much on our own, collateral damage in what is for one group (the County) an ideological war against the public sector itself. For the other, the tattered remnants of an aboriginal nation that owned Everything Around Here for some eight thousand years, it’s a long overdue opportunity to exact some payment for centuries of wrongs.

    To make matters worse, all of this is happening at a time of collective economic crisis that limits the options of all parties. The over-used but appropriate phrase here is “the Perfect Storm.” Personally I don’t like the bullying way the Tribe has used to exploit their new political prerogatives, but I understand it and feel compassion for it. If that were all there was to it, I would say, sure, approve the lease: after all, it isn’t Lummi Nation that has raised our fares 500% in five years.

    The more formidable force against us seems to be our own County Council, driven by a bizarre conviction that every tiny community should pay its own way, and limited by its lack of vision and understanding about how communities and economies actually work.

    It doesn’t matter a great deal if the lease is approved or not. At the end of the day, it’s still the Council that plays the major role in establishing fares and ferry policy, not the Tribe. If we want a better deal, we probably need a different Council.

  3. ——-Original Message——-

    From: borntofish@q.com
    Date: 9/13/2011 8:22:26 AM
    To: council@co.whatcom.wa.us
    Subject: Ferry lease

    Dear Whatcom County Council:

    My wife Janet and I believe that the Whatcom County Council should approve the lease with the Lummi Nation that will allow the Whatcom Chief to continue transporting people, vehicles and commerce between Gooseberry Point and Lummi Island. While there are things contained in the lease that we don’t like, the alternatives are either too expensive, too risky (litigation) or just not safe.
    A lot of people, in both county government and the private sector, have expended a tremendous amount of time and effort getting to this point. We have a lease that was basically given tentative approval by the County Council. Over the last two years county negotiators, supported by a strong consensus of concerned citizens, worked together to negotiate the best possible lease to continue ferry service for its citizens. To not sign the lease and undo all of the hard work done up till now doesn’t make sense.
    All we want is some degree of certainty returned to our lives with the same level of services available to us that every other citizen of Whatcom County is afforded in their everyday life. All we want is our “bridge” to get home
    Please sign the lease !

    Sincerely,

    Dave & Janet Wing
    2799 Coastview Ln.
    Lummi Island, Wa.
    360 758-2077

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