Posted by: sweeneyblog | June 21, 2013

Friday Odds and Ends: Skip Richards, Toxic Excavator and Ferndale

Hello Loyal Readers,

It is time again for Friday Odds and Ends, all the news that is fit to print, but not enough to justify its own post.

Skip Richards

Skip Richards

First on the agenda, local curmudgeon Skip Richards sent me a blistering note on Linkedin recently. “Sadly, it has come to my belated attention that one of my LinkedIn network connections, Riley Sweeney, has posted a falsehood about Skip Richards, in a comment on a Herald blog post . . . in which he falsely claimed I am part owner and operator of the Whatcom Excavator and the Whatcom Tea Party. For the record, I don’t own or operate either entity. I challenge Mr. Sweeney to produce any evidence of such ownership or operation.”

When I politely returned his message with an email discussing my sources, he responded, “Your sources are most likely drawn from among that handful of die-hard haters determined to blame others for their own failures to sway a majority in the 1993 et seq local elections. They should get a life.” Well, that settles that then.

At the time I published the comment on the Herald, I had two trustworthy  sources that confirmed his involvement, and the Whatcom Excavator was  heavily promoting the anti-Indian forum that he was headlining, so I officially apologize for associating Richards with the Excavator and Tea Party.

On a similar note, Ellen Baker cornered me at the last Whatcom Republican meeting and said that she would have nothing to do with Skip Richards because he was “a creep” and while she used to be involved with the Excavator she is not involved anymore.

The article was accompanied by this logo. Charming.

The article was accompanied by this logo. Charming.

So it leaves the question, what is so toxic about the Excavator that the writers refuse to sign their names to it and people demand a retraction at the slightest association? I clicked over to the Excavator yesterday and the top article  accused David Stalheim of being a “bully,” spitting “flames and venom,” and a lengthy rant against Futurewise. I have no idea why someone would want to distance themselves from that sort of reasoned discourse.

Speaking of distancing themselves, the Ferndale City Council, after a lengthy discussion, decided to remain officially neutral on the proposed jail in their backyard. “We can’t stop them from building it,” said council member Cathy Wilson to the Bellingham Herald.

You would think after the Ferndale Council welcomed the Gateway Pacific Terminal with open arms for its job creation that this large-scale public works project would be just as eagerly welcomed, but it seems Ferndale has just as many reservations about it as I do.



  1. I commend you for “walking” into the Republican Domain in Whatcom Co. I’m so far removed I don’t even know what the Excavator is. I do know that THEY are very organized and wonder about their leadership at this time – with the important elections coming up in November. I sure wish we could at least rival them with signs for our candidates! The Dems used to do them in by stenciling in a barn ( I’m told!). Sure wish some SIGN MAKERS would step up to help.

    • I know the Whatcom Democrats have put together an incredible staff focused on contacting and persuading voters. Yard signs are good but influencing and turning out voters is our number one goal.

      • I think we have to have a many “pronged” approach. The main goals should be visibility and persuasion. Seeing somebodies name everyday on the Freeway is a very good way to let those people know who the candidate is by knowing their NAME. Calling and leaving a message on the person’s phone is probably the least persuasive way to get the Word across. We must counter what the Republicans are doing. If signs don’t work and messages on answering machines don’t work the question is what will. Our presence at events this year is an excellent approach. We MUST get our Co. Council Candidates elected this time round.

  2. To Janet, The signs disappear as fast as we put them up. Someone steals them in the dark of night. I think bumper stickers are the answer. Everyone can drive around Whatcom County supporting their favorite candidate and issues. They peel off easily after the election.

    • If disappearing signs are indeed a problem, then an inexpensive infrared trail camera might be part of a solution.

      • they make a yard sign now that’s cheap & has a chip in it for tracking…cool huh? it’s a felony I believe to steal them…

  3. It’s hard to imagine what the consequences might be should the Ferndale city council—my elected representatives, ‘resolve’ that they are fundamentally opposed to a County jail being located at the front door to our town core. Nothing in the law forbids them speaking their opinions—where’s the courage?—One might conclude that they want this beast in our—their—town, which would be an inexplicable position. At least 3 of them are facing the voters in November—they should be held accountable for their actions regarding this tragedy about to be perpetrated on our city—while they sit quiet & apparently afraid, hiding behind a law that does not—I repeat—forbid their opposition.

    A note on the council meeting as well: The objection raised that it would cost “$20,000” to put a resolution, “yes,” or “no” on the ballot is ridiculous—there is already a ballot being printed for Nov…adding a line or two plus the required paragraphs in the voter’s pamphlets does not cost $20,000 in a city of 6000 registered voters…that’s what the mayor said about putting our police station on the ballot—and then too a ballot was just months away anyway—this council does not like the messiness of dealing with an informed constituency…

  4. The Ferndale City Council had at its disposal a practical, legal mechanism for engaging the County on the jail issue that would have (and still might) caused a reconsideration of the Ferndale site. The EIS requirements are not met for the simple reason that “Viable sites” must be studied and included in the final…Since none of the ‘finalists’ had utilities, except of course Ferndale, and since Bellingham was not as I understand even in the ‘top 9’ sites, in no way do the areas of study for the current EIS meet State law, much less common sense. The Ferndale council was presented with this information 2 weeks ago, and should have known in any event (we have a $129k a yr manager and a city attorney, and the money to sue many Ferndale citizens for all kinds of things, right?). “Neutral” is not what we elected them to do when our community is about to become, “Prison Town USA”

  5. There seems to be something seriously wrong with Ferndale’s city govt. starting with the city council’s resolution to support SSA/GPT and followed by the city’s switch from PUD supplied water to well water after almost 40 years as a customer of PUD–most likely because of SSA needing to show they have the necessary 1.9 billion gallons of water yearly in order to submit their permit application in March 2012. The city officially got off PUD water end of December 2011 which was perfect timing before their permit application submittal. Now the jail situation is quite odd. Also, there has been a few businesses that have approached Ferndale about possibly locating there such as Costco, Boundary Bay, and I think, Westside Pizza. From what I’ve heard about those the city has seemingly made it very difficult and not been very welcoming. . . Which is quite the opposite of the red carpet welcome mat Ferndale’s city council and mayor rolled out for GPT. Costco would have generated a lot of jobs, quite possibly more than the 250-ish permanent jobs GPT would generate without all the permanent serious adverse impacts that accompany the GPT project. Costco would have been a great addition and revenue generator for the city and would have given motorists a reason to exit from the freeway at Ferndale’s Main St., not only shop at Costco, but also patronize restaurants, stores, etc. in the city. But now Costco will be in Bellingham.

    • Sandy you seem to have a handle on ferndale politics…the mayor & council majority have been so focused upon chasing capital projects and leveraging Federal stimulus money that they seem to have lost sight of the big picture….our natural partners are the Lummis, and still the mayor and his allies seem to be making even that relationship difficult…but it goes deeper than all that. Bellingham has said that they want to incorporate what we’ve annexed (Ferndale) and what the Tribe owns at Slater Rd. into their own Urban Growth Area plan…why?—because if Ferndale & the Lummis’ successfully develop that area, we might ‘catch’ Canadians first, and thus “diminish the Bellingham tax base.” In truth Kelli and her friends love the idea that the jail will go away—away from her theatre district…away will go the bail bonding companies…away will go the indigent prisoners released at midnight…away to Ferndale…

      We don’t need or want Big Retail either, for that matter…they produce diminishing returns every time…the facts are clear…

  6. Sandy – I apologize about any confusion you may have about Ferndale and local business news.

    I’m happy to clear some things up:

    1) I believe I’ve said this to you multiple times now via email and telephone calls that the City of Ferndale’s switch from purchasing Nooksack River water back to taking advantage of our existing groundwater waters had nothing to do with the Gateway Pacific Terminal project.

    The well water supply project came about for multiples reasons. Again, I’ve mentioned these to you, and I believe I even sent you documents related to the project.

    The City had already been using its own groundwater wells prior to a switch to purchasing river water. I have no history as to why that switch was made, but this community had water rights for groundwater supply and we believed it was important that we took advantage and actually used the groundwater rights we had.

    Meanwhile, as has been made very clear recently in the news, there is an ongoing fight — likely to get bigger and be very costly in court — related to water being taken out of the Nooksack River. Local tribes have made it clear they have concerns about the amount of water being taken out of the Nooksack, including for municipal water purveyors.

    This issue has been well known throughout the community for a long time, and the City was cognizant of the fact that such an issue exists. It was important to the Ferndale community that we have better direct control over our own water supply, and one that would not necessarily be so impacted by future, very costly litigation.

    Next, Whatcom County Public Utility District No. 1 several years back began working to revise its water system plan, which included significant necessary upgrades to its utility infrastructure. Paying for those upgrades occurs through the revenues from the PUD’s customers, including at the time the City of Ferndale. We had been informed by the PUD through annual budgets of the PUD that we were facing very large increases in rates. We were projecting going from spending $339,049 to purchase PUD water in 2012 up to $901,876 by 2019. I provided this information to you from our Finance Department. That increase was absolutely unsustainable for the Ferndale community. While recent rate increases by PUD were eaten by utility fund reserves, that would not have continued to be possible and it would have meant substantial rate increases for the customers — the residents and businesses — themselves.

    At the same time we learned from PUD that the City would need to construct a new $5 million treatment basin as part of this new water system plan.

    So the City was faced with substantial new capital construction constructs, very substantial rate increases for our community’s utility customers and an uncertain river water purchasing future. All three of those things lead to a determination that Ferndale needed to take better control of its own water future.

    At no time did the City of Ferndale ever factor in or consider the Gateway Pacific Terminal in this, and while I don’t want to be rude, I feel it’s important to say that such claims are completely baseless and, frankly, made up. Nobody here can figure out where exactly those types of statements are even coming from.

    As to the “timing” of our project – our well water supply project was required to go through a very rigorous state review process that included a mandated project report and pilot study to determine the viability of going back to our (already-used) groundwater well system. It took quite some time for that work to be done, years in fact, prior to construction and completion of the project.

    2) As to your allegations about Ferndale not being business friendly, I completely disagree with that, and your allegations about specific businesses are very untrue.

    Costco was working to purchase land from a private land owner and never came to agreement to purchase that land from that private land owner. At the same time, the City of Bellingham has worked very aggressively to try to keep Costco within its City limits, and Costco has also specifically said that they would prefer not to leave a community they’re already established in. Bellingham, it appears, is also offering to do a substantial amount of infrastructure upgrades using its funding rather than requiring Costco do to it. Those are not things in the control of Ferndale, and we’re not in the business of demanding any organization come locate here just because.

    Our business is to ensure that we have plans in place to protect our existing community should a business want to come here. That comes in the form of our EAGLE building design standards, our highest-in-the-county transportation Level of Service C and our forward-thinking Planned Action Master Plan that spells out the types of protections for the environment and our transportation system that would be required for building in certain areas of the City.

    We made Costco aware of these things and at no time did we ever receive an indication that any of it was prohibitive to their locating here. For you to say we are unfriendly by sharing with them planning efforts and regulations designed to protect our existing community members is concerning to me. These are the efforts that our community approved.

    Boundary Bay Brewery at one time was granted a Conditional Use Permit allowing them the ability to have an establishment in an area of town that wasn’t previously specifically intended for that type of use. Boundary since then has taken no action on their project and we’ve received no indication that it’s due to anything the City did. Instead, we see in the newspaper that plans to expand to Ferndale have been put on somewhat of a hiatus while they focus on expanding their current brewing equipment and operations in Bellingham.

    I personally just went and spoke to the Community Development Department about Westside Pizza because I’d never heard of them coming here, and it turns out that neither has anyone in Community Development, either. We don’t believe they’ve ever sought to construct in Ferndale.

    Meanwhile, we’re very proud to say that we have enacted more than 30 different building incentives and flexible-construction options in the City that have increased density, reduced utility connection costs based on proximity to our plant, maintained lower impact fees for residential development and our downtown core and in recent cases reduced the potential fees on a local business constructing a brand-new facility by more than 80 percent from what they would have been in the past.

    In summation, Sandy, I appreciate your passion related to the Gateway Pacific Terminal issue, but I question why every time the City of Ferndale is brought up anywhere — on any topic — you make it a personal issue with little to no accurate information.

    As I have said to you in the past, I am always available to speak with you and to provide you with information. Unfortunately, it appears you have purposely ignored what has been provided to you or said to you in exchange for very, very inaccurate statements designed — it seems — to simply attack a City for a non-binding resolution related to a project not even within the City’s boundaries.

  7. I don’t see anything wrong with vitriol of any kind by the Excavator,
    it’s all relative in sound and fury so it balances out the noise from the rest of the sides.
    But please don’t go quoting third parties in name calling since it’s too small an act for a good blogger and anyway it just looks worse for the repetition.
    Sam’s comment about the intent and design of some of Ms. Robson’s suspicions vis a vis Ferndale government doesn’t mean that coincidence isn’t still serving the end results she mentions.
    It’s all so convenient, isn’t it.

    • Asa 17 yr home owner in Ferndale, I’ve had a front-row view of developments here…Sam did a good job of articulating the timeline and some of the motive for City actions regarding water supply, and other matters. Though his position is not political, he should be forgiven for his advocacy of the city officials he works for, and with every day. I have a different take on how we got here regarding the water issue, and a number of other crucial issues as well…

      I find our city leadership unimaginative, considering the beautiful setting of our small city, and our strategic location between the border and all points South. They chose to develop our city using big retail i.e., Walgreens, Rite Aide, Sonic, Dollar Tree, McDonald’s, etc., etc…I raised my daughter in Friday Harbor, where we took a very different approach…One can look to LaConner, even to Blaine and see better exploitation of natural assets…Gig Harbor stopped a walmart because of their determination to preserve what was best about their area…we did not move to little ferndale to watch it made into a Federal Way, or a Fife,…and now we face not only a plastic & concrete covering of our fair city, but a jail, which is functionally a prison, and indeed will contain at any given time at least 10% prisoners sentenced to the State Penn….So I’m not surprised to see our fearless leaders punt the issue of a jail…they have no vision that means anything but capital projects, leveraging federal & State dollars, and the very bottom—sales tax revenue as a way to pay for it all…wonderful. Our mayor once called the notion of small businesses, the kind that sustain small communities, “Old Fashioned.”

      • Mr. Stewart – As always I truly appreciate how respectful you are even in your disagreements. It makes it very enjoyable to have a conversation with you, and I think it’s important that these community conversations keep happening.

        I don’t necessarily agree that I’m not supposed to have any advocacy for a City position on why we switched to our groundwater wells again, but I believe what I’ve done in this case is state extremely important reasons for the switch. Explaining a citywide perspective on an issue is different than perhaps defending the specific action of any one elected official. But at the end of the day, I work for a mayor — and it doesn’t matter who that mayor is, I will do my job to the best of my ability and based on that elected official’s view of how to do that job. I am fortunate right now that the current mayor basically agrees with my philosophy of providing community information as transparently as possible and as much as possible. I hope whoever is elected next also shares that vision, of course.

        I would invite you to offer up your thoughts on why you believe the City switched. I truly do my best to be as accurate and as fair as I possibly can when I explain things — and this is really no different from when I was journalist. However, the fact remains that I am here to provide community information and to provide the perspective of the City — and its elected officials.

        The information I provide could obviously change with whomever is in office. The decisions could be very different and I would still do my best to ensure I’m explaining why a decision was made in a certain way. As the person who keeps the historical record of the City, I do believe I have a good grasp on most of the issues in Ferndale because i’m the one chronicling it.

        I have a pretty big passion for truth and accuracy. It is something that has been important to me for a long time and is a big part of my journalism background. If I believe someone is being inaccurate, I’ve never made an apology for correcting that person (I have even done to during council meetings to elected officials, including to the mayor — respectfully of course) — and that has frequently upset people when they are being corrected. I do so only when I have direct documented information that shows the information they’ve provided is wrong.

      • The road back to well water for Ferndale was not a straight road, and begins way back when we went off the wells and onto treated run-off, etc. It’s too much to recount here, and I wasn’t here for a lot of it… It’s my understanding that the man who was in charge of water at the time has recently written a letter with some detail and his comments, which apparently weren’t favorable regarding the switch back to well water. Maybe his view would help the public understand just exactly the nature of the contention around the issue…
        As with so many issues, myths abound as to why the city switched, whether or not we had to, etc., etc…Some of the vitriol contains grains of truth…Will Rogers said that “It ain’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so”—like the idea that Costco would be good for Ferndale (and in partial response to Sandy’s to which you replied)—Costco is no answer for anything. How people manage to excuse Big-retail, and go after big oil, big coal, big insurance, etc., etc., is beyond me…Costco has not one female on their senior management team…according to the Wall St journal they lead the industry in snatching private property, including private homes when market forces don’t allow them to purchase the property they want…and just who do you think is funding wage-slavery in Asia if not Costco, Sam’s Club, Walmart, Kolh’s, Target, etc., etc? —for all the propaganda, Costco is only marginally better than the worst of the industry, it only takes a little digging, which I did in my book on Big Retail, “Underlings.”—I worked for big retail for 30 years, and I personally contributed to the destruction of communities and employees at the direction of company executives…I quit doing it and wrote it down. What those big companies do to employees, customers, and communities is not a matter of opinion.

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