Lease Passed, 5-2 Vote

The County Council passed the lease last night, 5-2.

The relief from uncertainty and a sense that ‘now we can move on’  is welcome by many islanders and the majority of county councilors.

However, it’s worth nothing that even the staunchest supporters of approving the lease expressed considerable dissatisfaction with the lease cost, many of its conditions and the process by which it was reached.

Two news reports on what happened last night, one in the Bellingham Herald and the other at NWCitizen.

My hope is that the civil, efficient, problem-solving, data-informed open model of the Ferry Task Force will pave the way to more effective ways for islanders and our County representatives to address future ferry issues (many lie ahead) than what occurred during the Gooseberry Pt negotiations.

14 thoughts on “Lease Passed, 5-2 Vote

  1. Email from Barbara Brenner about her vote last night, which she sent to her whole AOL today. It presumably is in response to a query from a citizen and part of the public record.
    ___________________
    I wanted to inform you but I didn’t know what to write. So I decided to just send a copy of an e-mail I wrote to a friend after I got home. I hope everything turns out like you want.

    Barbara Brenner

    I just got home and saw your e-mail. It couldn’t have come at a better time. I had to vote against something tonight where so many people wanted us to support it. It was the lease for the Lummi Island Ferry. From day one I don’t believe our county attorney cared about the issue, except to make sure his position was the final word. He refused to even consider very legitimate issues raised by islanders and others. I contacted two attorneys who gave me lots of information and support for the position that we had a legal right to the route between Lummi Island and Gooseberry Point. Many of the islanders were also convinced of that position. I was hearing more and more from other county residents who felt it was a very bad deal and who were starting to sympathize with the islanders, which they did not do originally. I started to believe our council would say “no” to the lease which was three times the appraisal plus so many financial bells and whistles in addition that I don’t think anyone really knows what it will end up costing. I thought the council would see through our county attorney and be inspired to fight for the islanders by voting “no” and hiring an outside attorney to really fight. The lease will cost many hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for about 15 feet of tideland.

    But I was wrong. Recently many islanders were told to lobby the council to vote for the lease, because even though many thought we had a legal right to the route, they were tired and wanted closure. They had been scared into believing if the lease didn’t pass as is that there would be no ferry runs, that there would be a blockade, that they would be trapped. I knew legally we would be responsible for getting them on and off the island but they had gotten so scared. It was like that Stockholm Syndrome, where people get to a point of fear and horror that they believe almost anything is better. The Lummi Tribe did a very tough negotiation. I don’t blame them. I blame our attorney who gets to come to work every day and get paid twice a month no matter what happens. The hugely increased costs won’t affect him. The path of least resistance is the easiest path when someone has no financial or empathic stake in the outcome. He even wrote extremely insensitive comments about the islanders (I have included his comments below this).

    My dad was like yours. He taught me to stand up for what I believe it right, especially if I believe it is legal. He was a lawyer and a judge. Everything was about the law (and justice) to him. Tonight people were saying we had to avoid litigation at all costs. They were so scared they were letting the whole world know we would do anything to avoid litigation, even pay an unfair, and I am sure unnecessary cost to get them to and from their homes. The most moving were comments from two children.

    I had always felt very close to islanders. When the school district almost closed the island school I attended the school board meeting and spoke to the board members several times to support the school. The islanders were inspirational. The school remained opened. The islanders had to help pay for that. Another time the county administration recommended we unilaterally raise the fares without giving us real numbers to show we needed to do that. I voted against it but it passed. A number of years ago the administration recommended we change the formula for ferry fares and include the docks as part of the ferry fares. But the docks are bridges without middles. They even have bridge numbers. Bridges are supposed to come out of our county-wide road fund, not the ferry fares that hit islanders very hard. I fought against it but the council majority voted for it.

    Now I had to vote “no”. I feel so bad for the islanders. I believe the costs of the ferry will get much higher and many will have to move. I feel like I let them down but I couldn’t support what I believe were illegitimate costs. I was so sure we had another way.

    Anyway, thank you so much for the e-mail. Your timing really couldn’t have been better. I would love to know what you think. It actually will affect you too because some of the increased costs will come out of the county road fund, into which all of us in the unincorporated areas pay. Today we were told by the administration that our road fund is “diminishing”.

    I probably shouldn’t go on and on. Its way after midnight. Please read the comments below to get a better understanding of how our county attorney feels about the islanders (scroll all the way down to see what I wrote him, then what he wrote Ken, then my response to Ken that I copied our attorney). And he still got his way. I am sure he has rationalized that he did his best.

    Barbara

    *******************

    ——————————————————————————–
    From: BBGUN1010@aol.com
    To: BBGUN1010@aol.com
    CC: DGibson@co.whatcom.wa.us, NHanson@co.whatcom.wa.us, MBlakely@co.whatcom.wa.us, DBrown@co.whatcom.wa.us, MEngels@co.whatcom.wa.us, JPaulson@co.whatcom.wa.us, BBrenner@co.whatcom.wa.us, SCrawfor@co.whatcom.wa.us, CWeimer@co.whatcom.wa.us, KMann@co.whatcom.wa.us, BKnutzen@co.whatcom.wa.us, KKershne@co.whatcom.wa.us, TLarson@co.whatcom.wa.us
    Sent: 9/9/2011 4:22:08 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time
    Subj: Fwd: Hearing on Lummi Island ferry land lease

    Thank you Ken for sending this to me. It is unfortunate Dan Gibson, the attorney giving the council information on this issue chose not to answer my e-mail. Dan Gibson has known me for years. My “touch” in my e-mail was pretty mild I thought. I don’t believe I stepped over the professional line at all. So now I guess some council members won’t receive important information from our attorney unless we walk on eggshells with what words we use. That sure sounds like interference with public process since I needed to know the answer.

    By the way, I don’t agree with our attorney. Whatcom County government was very respectful when the Lummi Nation requested a postponement for the hearing. I find it difficult to believe they would not understand the difficulty of islanders getting to a public hearing during drydock. Yes, some can carpool but I thought our intent of public hearings is to make it the easiest for those who are directly affected, not just to make it iffy.

    Regarding complaints from islanders, I also thought our purpose is to ensure everyone directly affected have time and input on a draft proposal. In case he forgot, the islanders were not involved in any of the negotiations regarding the lease until very recently. Now it appears the islanders are being punished for commenting.

    As for what islanders do during drydock, yes they do all those things. It is just more difficult for them. Again, our public hearings are supposed to at least appear we are trying to hold them when it is a little convenient for those directly affected.

    I still hope we postpone the hearing until after drydock.

    Barbara Brenner

    ——————————————————————————–
    From: BBrenner@co.whatcom.wa.us
    To: bbgun1010@aol.com
    Sent: 9/9/2011 3:59:11 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time
    Subj: Fwd: Re: Hearing on Lummi Island ferry land lease Attorney – Client Privilege

    —–Original Message—–
    Date: Fri, 09 Sep 2011 15:58:53 -0700
    From: “Ken Mann”
    To: “Daniel Gibson”
    Cc: “Barbara Brenner” ,
    “Pete Kremen” ,
    “Sam Crawford”
    Subject: Re: Hearing on Lummi Island ferry land lease Attorney –
    Client Privilege

    Dan – I hear you. Given the torrent of emails lambasting us for inadequate parking, I doubt any Lummi Islanders would agree the logistics are relatively simple. Nothing is simple out there!

    I understand your logic.

    Perhaps we could arrange for a shuttle or schoolbus to bring them to the hearing and back from the hearing, with a dedicated ferry that will wait until late to take them home?

    I have CC’d Pete, Barbara, and Sam.

    Thanks,

    ken

    Ken Mann

    Whatcom County Councilmember
    (360) 676-6690 (office)
    (360) 483-6020 (mobile)
    kmann@co.whatcom.wa.us
    >>> Daniel Gibson 09/09/11 3:12 PM >>>
    Ken:
    Thanks for that lighter touch. The reason that I have recommended that we keep the September 13 hearing date is that I have received numerous and repeated complaints from representatives of Lummi Nation about the long delay of the County in voting on the lease. I have explained in response that the Sept. 13 date was the first regularly scheduled Council meeting at which a hearing could be held following introduction in early August. Our attempt to introduce in early July (for hearing in late July or early August) was thwarted by people (primarily residents of Lummi Island) complaining about the content of the lease and insisting that introduction be postponed. So we have folks on both sides of Hales Passage complaining about the Sept. 13 date–too late for those on one side and too early for those on the other side. I am puzzled by the claim that dry dock prevents attendance at the Council meeting. People on the island get groceries, go to work, and generally carry on life as before, with the exception that most have a vehicle parked at Gooseberry Point which they reach by being a foot passenger on the ferry (as some people do throughout the entire year). If they don’t have a car parked there, nothing prevents them from working out a ride with someone who does. If attendance at the hearing is really a matter of importance to someone, the logistics of arranging transportation to achieve that seems relatively simple.

    Daniel L. Gibson
    Asst. Chief Civil Deputy Prosecutor
    Whatcom County
    dgibson@co.whatcom.wa.us
    360.676.6692 (Public Works) or 360.676.6784 (Prosecutor’s Ofc.)
    From: BBGUN1010@aol.com
    To: DGibson@co.whatcom.wa.us
    CC: NHanson@co.whatcom.wa.us, MBlakely@co.whatcom.wa.us, DBrown@co.whatcom.wa.us, MEngels@co.whatcom.wa.us, JPaulson@co.whatcom.wa.us, BBrenner@co.whatcom.wa.us, SCrawfor@co.whatcom.wa.us, CWeimer@co.whatcom.wa.us, KMann@co.whatcom.wa.us, BKnutzen@co.whatcom.wa.us, KKershne@co.whatcom.wa.us, TLarson@co.whatcom.wa.us
    Sent: 9/8/2011 10:46:50 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time
    Subj: Hearing Date on Ferry landing lease

    Memo to: Dan Gibson, Whatcom County Civil Prosecuting Attorney
    From: Barbara Brenner, Whatcom County Council Member
    Subject: Hearing Date for Ferry Landing Lease

    I asked our clerk of the council to please change the date of the hearing so that it would be reasonable for islanders to attend, i.e. after drydock. She told me you said there would be some kind of problem that would prohibit that.

    A public hearing is supposed to have a reasonable expectation that those most affected would be available to make comments. The date of the hearing, September 13 does not have a reasonable expectation that those most affected would be able to attend since drydock, especially this year, has caused quite a hardship on islanders’ trips on and off island.

    I am not sure why you made the opinion you made but I am requesting, for the sake of a legitimate public hearing instead of a hearing just for show, that you contact the council office and give your permission to delay the hearing until after drydock. I am really surprised and frustrated at what I have been told and I hope to hear from you that there was some miscommunication and that you can support a delay in the hearing until after drydock. It seems very unusual that you would make the decision as to when we have a public hearing, and especially to have it on September 13, when it would be difficult for many islanders to attend.

    Thank you for your consideration of my comments.

    Barbara Brenner, Whatcom County Council Member

    • Barbara, you deserve so much more than a mere “thank you” but right now I am too distracted to compose the many reasons I am grateful to you for your stand on the lease issue, for your empathy with your constituents–including those who live on the Island–and for your guts to go against Council and public comment when the chips were down. Thank you for your intelligence, your obvious caring heart, and for your moral sense and backbone. I wish the entire Council shared these traits, regardless of how they might have voted on the lease.

      Sincerely, Pat Hayes

    • Email I sent to Barbara Brenner this morning:

      Hi, Barbara–

      I was proud to have you as a representative last night. One of the reasons we have a seven member County Council is to represent as many viewpoints as possible. You have always had the courage to do that, even when it is hard.

      Every viewpoint expressed last night, including yours, was valid, to my mind, and everything that was said needed to be said. None of us can foretell the future and we ALL took a huge amount of uncertain, vague, and contradictory information, derived mostly in secrecy, and tried to come up with what we thought was the best solution. Besides that, Council was privy to a lot of information we citizens were not. It’s no surprise we didn’t all come to the same conclusions.

      While we ended up on opposite sides of the fence last night, you did what you honestly thought was best after doing everything you could to be informed on this complicated issue. I for one will never fault you for that. Besides, I am sure there were Islanders who agreed with you wholeheartedly. I think you continue to represent us well.

      Thank you, Barbara,
      Nancy Ging
      Lummi Island

  2. We should probably get started on developing Plans A, B and C for replacing the Whatcom Chief. The lack of Plan B for the ferry lease was unfortunate.

    • I agree, Nancy, except I think the first priority is to work with the County to get the Task Force recommendations implemented.

      By then perhaps there will be a formal Ferry Advisory Board and we’ll have a structure for proceeding with planning work for a new ferry, parking solutions, and perhaps alternative route options.

  3. The NWCitizen article by Tip Johnson is unbelievable. Portraying Lummi Islanders as beaten down hostages is insulting and about as far from the truth as can be imagined. Just because we chose not to act on your “legal” opinions as you wished, Tip, is no reason to belittle us. It’s not like Islanders didn’t spend a lot of time and effort considering everything you suggested. We did. Independent thought is still an American freedom.

    I have no doubt you will respond to this with rationalizations and excuses, or whatever you think will present you in a good light and me in a bad light. The truth is, though, that your article has a vindictive tone toward Islanders that is offensive. “Stockholm Syndrome”? Good grief.

    • Here was my take on the meeting last night which I sent to Colleen McCrory:

      We have a ferry dock lease contract.

      The Council voted 5-2 to approve the contract with LIBC, with Barbara Brenner and Tony Larson declining. Brenner felt the County had the right-of-way and should use it and not act from fear of litigation. She thought lack of a contract might also force the Federal government to intervene and clarify the situation. Larson said he didn’t believe this was the best contract that could be negotiated. He felt the County had failed to use some of the leverage it could have used.

      The public hearing before the vote was taken was a model of a unified stand. While a couple of speakers spoke against the contract (bringing up valid points, by the way), the rest asked Council to vote approval. The PLIC chartered bus was almost completely full (over 50 Islanders), and more Islanders joined the group in the Council chambers. PLIC had organized a series of speakers who testified first, each of whom addressed a different part of the issue. A couple of Island teens were among the speakers, and they gave strong presentations about how families and students have been affected by the years of uncertainty. Other speakers followed. Presentations were short and focused–exactly what the situation called for.

      Councilmembers then individually stated their positions and gave reasons for their decisions. Several said that though they were going to support the contract, they thought it was important to start immediately to look for better alternatives. Councilmember Weimer said he would be introducing an ordinance in the next couple of meetings to establish a ferry advisory board. Several others supported that idea. Barbara Brenner said she was going to hold the Council to their promises to pursue alternatives as quickly as possible.

      Looking back on it, I think everything that was said tonight needed to be said, and all positions were well represented. It was an appropriate culmination of two years of massive effort by all parties involved.

      • Because I couldn’t make it to the meeting last night, I asked Nancy to give me her take on what happened. Her fair and thoughtful summary of the Council meeting is appreciated, and I’m glad she shared it with everyone.

    • Gee, sorry you feel that way about my opinion, Nancy. No excuses or rationalization, just the observation that islanders failed to find a unified position and the energy necessary to gain traction on the issue. That was not a problem the Lummi Nation had. I personally found it disappointing that almost everyone – except the tribe – admitted they didn’t like it but pleaded to get it. I have quite a lot of experience in community achievement campaigns and in my opinion this was a good, win-able issue that failed unnecessarily.

      I believe it is still win-able, but remain unconvinced that most islanders are up to the challenge. So I expressed my disappointment and you disagree. I’m OK with that.

    • I can’t agree with you here, Nancy. When Islander after Islander stood up and said that it was a bad lease but we’re stuck with it…so vote for it….get us out of our misery…. I think Tip’s take was justified.

      It IS a bad lease. What came clear to me last night was how poorly the County negotiated on its own behalf–let alone on behalf of Islanders. When Sam Crawford revealed just how warm and fuzzy he feels about Lummis–now that he knows they’re human–it became clear he was the worst possible person to have headed the County’s negotiating team!

      (And did you notice, while congratulating himself–and Gibson– on such a great lease, he did not once mention the angst and energy of the Islanders that made up his audience?)

      So two years of waiting for our elected representatives to deal with this for all county citizens (not just islanders) left us stuck at a dead end. We were “beaten down” so much that we’re ready to on take an exorbitant bill that we may not be able to afford.

      The good part–the escape clause–may save our hide yet. But relinquishing the ROW argument as this lease does, and showing the LIBC that the county is a bunch of inept pushovers doesn’t bode well for future “negotiations.”

      Good luck to us forming a group to refine and re-vision the ferry connection to the mainland. We need it. And then we can prove Tip wrong: Islanders do know how to fight back.

    • The Stockholm Syndrome is defined as “A phenomenon in which a hostage begins to identify with and grow sympathetic to his or her captor.” (Am. Heritage Dictionary)

      I agree with Nancy that this term does not apply to islanders very well, despite the fact I’ve heard and read many repeatedly describing themselves as feeling ‘held hostage’, mostly by the LIBC by also by the County at times. (Ironically, Tip has used the ‘hostage’ term, too.) But feeling ‘held hostage’ isn’t enough for the Stockholm Syndrome to apply.

      I didn’t find TIp’s opinion piece to be ‘vindictive’ — it sounded more like frustration to me that one (legitimate, I think) alternative never got serious consideration by many people, for various reasons.

      I wasn’t ‘offended’ by Tip’s article, though. I’ve found over the years that even the most off-the-wall, critical assessments or strong views that differ from my own often have at least a grain of truth in them. I prefer to focus my limited energy on finding those grains than fretting about the writer’s hypothetical state of mind.

      So — Stockholm Syndrome? Nope. Feeling insulted or belittled? Nope to that, too.

  4. While we’re talking about the conclusion of the contract vote, I’d like to express deep gratitude for the incredible role Colleen McCrory and Wynne Lee have had in all this work since the very beginning. Their efforts in maintaining this blog have been difficult, exhausting, frustrating, and never-ending, all of which they took on as volunteers, and I believe we as a community owe them a huge debt of thanks. I hope they will be appropriately honored at celebratory events. For now, Colleen, Wynne–THANK YOU SO MUCH! We wouldn’t be where we are now without your extraordinary efforts.

    • Yes indeed…. Wynne and Colleen have done an amazing service to us by setting up and maintaining this site. It has been years of daily work. Thank you both! (I bet with the vote last night you thought at last! Now we can close down the Ferry Forum!….sigh, not quite yet.)

  5. Susan and I think the Council, Pete Kremen and Dan Gibson did about as well as could be done under some very difficult circumstances, many of which were beyond their control. I also feel strongly that we would not have a lease had it not been for PLIC. Aside from PLIC other individuals worked positively in good faith. Those of you who feel the nay sayers had a positive contribution, have a right to feel that way. Many, many people are satisfied with the final contract. Also, I do not agree that we gave up or “failed to find a unified position and energy”. We are proud to have consistantly supported PLIC. We thank the Council members that voted in favor.

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