Posted by: sweeneyblog | January 25, 2015

Interviewing with Gary Jensen for Port Commissioner

If you stuck a pin in Whatcom County and balanced it on its political center, you would probably be poking somewhere near “Gary Jensen”. The two-term, outgoing mayor of Ferndale has cut a quite a square of political turf for himself in this county. The former plumber turned politician identifies as a Democrat, endorses local Republicans and federal Democrats, was heavily recruited to run against Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-Free Lunch) and now is running for Port Commissioner. Oh, and he brought a chart to the interview.

Mayor Gary Jensen

Mayor Gary Jensen

“This shows our solid waste in Ferndale for 2014,” he says, showing me a downward sloping line graph. “It’s good, people are throwing out less stuff.” Small changes that add up to a bigger impact is a key part of how he sees the role of government.

“So many of the decisions that I make on the local level aren’t partisan. I’ve raised taxes and spent money. Yeah, I’m guilty of that. But I’ve built a police station and a library. So some of the stuff we do is pretty cool.”

After eight years as Mayor, why the shift to Port Commission? “If you look at indirect jobs, they touch more jobs than anybody In Whatcom county and I’m not done wanting to serve.” He sees the Port as a avenue for tackling depressed wages and income inequality. “We have to improve income inequality – one way is a good wage and the port has a lot of jobs that do pay well.”

The opportunity to develop the waterfront and create something lasting also appeals to Jensen. “You look there,” He points towards the Bay. “Some day we are going to look at what’s happening a few blocks from here and your kids are going to say – hey that’s a pretty good thing. There’s a proverb, ‘A wise man who plants a tree whose shade he will never enjoy.’ I like that.”

He notes that family considerations played a part in his decision. “It is my own fault for creating a 60 hr per week job (as mayor). I didn’t want to say no to people. I think I’ve attend more meetings than the other mayors do put together.” He smiles, “But I promised my wife to cook dinner for her once and a while, the port isn’t as much time, there are not as many meetings.”

Rojcza House

Rojcza House

On a scale of one to ridiculous, how ugly is that giant house? Jensen cracks a big laugh. “I actually think it’s kindof cool. My problem is, would you just finish it?”

The house (pictured left) aside from being quite eye-catching in the middle of Ferndale, has been the subject of a bureaucratic tug-a-war between the property owner Artur Rojsza and the mayor’s office with the fines, mediation and threats of lawsuits flying back and forth.

“(Rojcza) will spend 20 minutes describing this brick. He wasn’t making it up, he was ‘feeling the vibration of the worker’. That’s great, but can you use the bricks to finish the house? But then he puts a flag and a cross on the pile of bricks and boom, its a 9/11 memorial. Who would of thought of that?” He gives a grudging smile. “He’s kind of brilliant.”

On to more serious topics, Jensen has been a vocal proponent of the Gateway Pacific Terminal project, is this run for Port a secret, backdoor attempt to install the project? He says that final project may not be as bad as people think. “I didn’t believe they are going to ship coal. Really, you think that Coal is a viable product? By the time the permit is going to go through – people smarter and bigger than you and I are jumping off that product. Even China is realizing they have to burn less. The problem in this community – oh you are a proponent of coal and that’s terrible. No one wants to burn coal! Burning coal is not a good deal!”

Jensen Endorses GPT

Jensen Endorses GPT

But back to the proposal at hand, “Where do (GPT) make the decision that this isn’t a viable proposition. I think that this election will come and go and that project will still be out there. It is zoned for that, people have a right to turn in a permit.” He says that the mitigation might be prohibitively expensive for the project. “If they say you can’t release a speck of dust, there’s no way you can’t do that.”

He says that the future of Cherry Point will be decided down the line. “Your generation is going to have a conversation about what we do at Cherry Point. Some people don’t want it zoned for industrial, some people do.”

He says this constant battle is wearing everyone down. “If we can ever calculate how much money has been spent on either side, on t-shirts alone, do we really want to go through that? Do we want zero things there, or do we need to rezone it?”

Considering the multi-million dollar battle played out in the 42nd district last year and the bloody County Council fight in 2013, I can see where he is coming from. Jensen notes the history of the location.

“It was a marina a long time ago. We used to camping there as a kid, it was a place where you could go crabbing for free. Hopefully we can sit down and have a conversation about where do we want to do there.”

One of the central conflicts for the Port right now is airplane noise. The Port oversees the airport which has expanded their flights in the last ten years thanks to booming Canadian traffic. As a result, some of the locals have complained.

Jensen says on this issue, his hands are somewhat tied. “There’s only certain things we can do since much of that is regulated by the FAA. You have to be aware of flight paths. I used to live right under the path.”

He described the planes coming close enough to make him do a double-take however he does not see it being a long-term problem. “I can’t see that airport being giant, like Seatac, but you always have to listen to people because it does affect them.”

He says a bigger concern are the oil trains. “You don’t realize the impact of an oil train until you are waiting for 15 minutes. This is a pain in the butt! People have to have a voice, and we have to listen to them. You can’t always make people happy but you can never stop trying.”

Gary Jensen being interviewed

Gary Jensen being interviewed

Jensen leaves Ferndale without an anointed successor. Council member Cathy Watson has announced her intention to run but no one else has jumped in. Jensen says he probably would not endorse in that race but would work with whoever is elected.

“I would certainly work with them, but I think that I have a good staff – young talented people. When I came into office, the staff was still upset, they weren’t together. Planning and Public Works worked across the hallway from each other but did not talk. Ferndale still has some problems, and my to-do list is way bigger than what I’ve accomplished.”

Jensen’s proudest achievements as mayor? At first he defers, noting that it is never one person that makes something happen, “I don’t think that politicians should self grade their test,” but when pressed gives a few examples. “I’m proud of the Lean movement, that people’s voices are being heard. I’m proud that it is friendlier, that our council works together. If you had a permit in Ferndale, we work with you.”

“The city had worked for 29 years to build a police station. Things like that drive me crazy. I had a committee one time, they spent four meetings on a mission statement. I told them, you haven’t done anything other than argue about the mission statement. You haven’t done anything! Mission statements are important but can we get to doing something?”

He mentions the struggle with the City of Bellingham over locating the new Costco. In the end, Mayor Linville secured the new location with the city limits of Bellingham but Jensen was lobbying hard for them to relocate to Ferndale. “In the end, she smoked me.”

Speaking of local executives, what does Jensen think of Port Executive Rob Fix? “Rob? I’ve been in meetings with him. He’s talented, he’s a numbers guys. I will completely tell you what I think of him when I work beside him.” With that artful dodge, I wrap up the interview with a quick question about football.

What is his take on Ballghazi? “You can’t just bump them out of the Superbowl, but they should lose their draft picks and pay a fine. You couldn’t all of sudden disqualify a team and (Colts Quarterback) Andrew Luck can’t catch up that fast.”

While Andrew Luck may have trouble, Jensen’s luck continues to go strong as he prepares for his first County-wide election for Port. So far, he is the only candidate declared for that seat, but it is early and I will post updates as they happen.

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Responses

  1. I’d encourage Mr. Jensen to play-up his support for the Watters coal dump proposal so as to ensure his acceptance and success in the wider field of Whatcom County politics.
    Coal is where it’s at
    and vocal coal dump supporters are who we need in office,
    especially ones courageous enough not to bother with impact studies before they chip in with their expert coal dump opinions.

    • Well said Dave. However, I am reminded of the old Polish saying, “Ironia jest marnowana naniewiedzy.”

      • How about FAKTY SĄ ZMARNOWANE NA *IGNORANT*?

  2. Don’t  know if you got this one. Features Mayor Jensen–of interest to you Ferndale folks. He is a clever political fence strattler. I never trust someone like him.  How can a Dem (so he claims) be for coal and against oil? I think he just wants a higher paying job.

    Sent from Samsung tablet

    • Could you please add your full name? We require full names here or I have to delete your comment.

    • Sounds like Barack “I was against gay marriage before I was for it” Obama.

  3. Well, I spilled my coffee upon reading these three statements from Gary.
    “I’m proud of the Lean movement, that people’s voices are being heard. I’m proud that it is friendlier, that our council works together. If you had a permit in Ferndale, we work with you.”

    1) Ferndale is not “lean.” The infrastructure and staff have increased exponentially during his term as Mayor. And yes, it is his fault because of the strong mayor system in Ferndale. The majority on the City Council just cave in to Gary’s demands. Those who don’t are slapped down. Examples: Steve Malpezzi, Lloyd Zimmerman and Carol Bersch.
    2) “People’s voices are not being heard.” No public vote was held on the police station because Gary admitted it would not pass. He said this in two articles in the Ferndale Record in 2009.
    3) Ferndale is hardly friendlier when anyone who criticizes the Mayor takes the risk of being harassed by the cops. The Rojscza’s are a prime example, with 104 criminal citations for an election sign Gary didn’t like, but I was stopped by the cops myself for criticizing the police station proposal in 2009.
    4) The Council does not work together. It is very divisive. Ask Malpezzi, Zimmerman or Bersch.
    5) Permits are hard to get if you are on the outs with the Mayor. The Rojscza’s still cannot get their permits to finish their house because of the Mayor’s obstruction. Ask Malpezzi, Zimmerman or Bersch if you don’t believe me.

    Lies, lies, and more lies. Riley, I am surprised at your fluff piece. Is it because Gary self-identifies as a Democrat?

    • Walter, look at my previous electoral interviews, they are aimed at letting the candidates share their thoughts and perspective, not inserting my own. This one is no different.

      • LOL! 🙂

  4. A very interesting position on Cherry Point. Let’s build a coal terminal that isn’t going to ship coal. Hmmm–How does that make a lot of sense. And, of course, since I live in Ferndale, let’s not even talk about noise, traffic and increased air pollution in Bellingham as a result of the increased train traffic..

    Sorry, this guy is a no go for me !

  5. It is spelled Rojsza.

    Gary Jensen was elected in 2007 with over 83% of the vote. That was because he ran against Jerry Landcastle, one of the most corrupt politicians that I can really think of. He hasn’t been doing much better, even though he was elected to end the Landcastle era.

    Jensen would “work with whoever was elected [for mayor].” What if that was Lloyd Zimmerman or one of the Rojszas?

    Ferndale was portrayed as a place where it is great and everyone works together. The fact here is that if you try criticize anything about the City of Ferndale (especially Gary Jensen) you have legal trouble. And the Ferndale City Council works worse together than almost any other group I can think of. Look at how Keith Olson wanted to kick Lloyd Zimmerman off of the council. And Gary Jensen wants the house to be finished… LET IT BE FINISHED! Don’t get the builder into legal problems so that it can’t be finished.

    You can’t bump a sports team out of the super bowl, but you can try bumping a council member off the council… ironic.

    BOB CECILE FOR PORT COMMISSION!! (I have heard the rumor that he’s running, but it is just a rumor.)

  6. A February 5, 2014 Herald article reported:

    “Mayor Gary Jensen received a 57 percent pay raise in 2008 to clean up the mess left by his predecessor, City Council members said. Now that Jensen is stepping down at the end of 2015, the mayor’s salary will come down, too.”

    In the article, Council member Keith Olson said the Mayor was given a raise because: “He [Jensen] was going to have to take a lot of time from his private business, Sullivan Plumbing, in order to turn around and undo all the damage of the previous mayor.”

    So, basically the city of Ferndale paid 57% more money to Mayor Jensen because supposedly he would have to take time from his private business to fix any potential problems left by the previous mayor. But then, Mayor Jensen went on to devote what seems to be a large amount of his time and efforts for multiple years, promoting the GPT project, even agreeing to let himself and the City of Ferndale be used in SSA Marine’s advertising for GPT.

    In the Feb. 2014 article Mayor Jensen said he “still puts in 52 hours a week as mayor.” That number then likely included his time promoting GPT as Mayor because otherwise with all the time he spent on these GPT-related activities listed below, it seems unlikely that he could also put in 52 hours weekly.

    Mayor Jensen has written a number of Op-Eds trying to garner public support for the GPT project. Jensen has even let SSA Marine’s PR consultants spoon-feed him at least one pro-GPT Op-Ed pre-written for him by those consultants (that was evidenced in public records).

    Mayor Jensen was speaker # 1 at the Ferndale GPT EIS scoping hearing in November 2012 testifying there in support of GPT. He was the recipient of that #1 speaker slot courtesy of the dayworkers who SSA’s PR firms admittedly (reported in the Spokesman Review) hired to arrive early in the morning to hold spots in line for approximately the first 40 to 50 speakers.

    Jensen traveled to Seattle for the Dec, 2012 GPT EIS scoping hearing held there so he could speak to media in support of GPT there.

    Jensen signed onto the November 29, 2012 small city mayors’ GPT scoping comment supporting GPT project, submitted to agencies tasked with the EIS.

    Helping to pave the way for the proposed GPT, Jensen was one of 7 people who signed a June 15, 2010 letter (orchestrated by Craig Cole) supporting GPT, in which essentially, those 7 people were lobbying/advising Washington Public Lands Commissioner, Peter Goldmark, to remove what the signers of that letter perceived to be inherent conflicts in the Draft Cherry Point Environmental Aquatic Reserve Plan.

    He has appeared in pro-GPT videos, did radio interviews in support of GPT, was featured in print ads and social media ads for GPT, and I’m sure I haven’t mentioned all he has done to promote the project.

    One thing I don’t believe the mayor did in terms of GPT, is seek out experts or people from the opposition side of the GPT issue who could inform the city council and himself so that they would have information about GPT from someone other than Craig Cole who is SSA’s paid local consultant for GPT. Our group, Save Birch Bay requested to come give a presentation to the city council in 2013 and we were given an opportunity to do that.

    While I imagine Jensen is probably a decent person, I would not support his running for any public office after his actions as mayor, on behalf of SSA Marine and its GPT project.

    ps. I noticed in that Feb. 2014 Herald article it reported the Ferndale City Council voted 5 to 2 on Feb. 3, 2014 “to effectively reduce the mayor’s salary [starting in 2016] by tying it to the salaries of mayors in Washington cities with populations between 7,500 and 14,999.”

    Council members Jon Mutchler and Brent Goodrich voted no. So, since they were the only city council members who voted not to reduce back down the mayoral salary starting in 2016, I think it’s likely one or possibly both will run for mayor.

    • Good point about Mutchler or Goodrich running for mayor… Goodrich did last time.

    • Well said Sandy. Glad you are taking point on this issue.

  7. Did not ask him about the change of water supply from PUD to hard water wells. Suddenly PUD had H20 for GPT and plumbers made out.
    Where is the follow up ? on port wages. What are his ideas on the ASB ? My old friend D’Armond would say you just skimmed the surface. Nice photos.

    • Hue – Unfortunately a misconception has been created by one-sided reporting in various places about our water supply issue. That reporting has purposely been designed to insinuate that the City switched its supply to apparently benefit a proposed project that may not ever happen and has no benefit to the City, which is miles away from it and would receive no direct benefit from it.

      Much of why we switched is outlined in our water supply feasibility study, which was published in 2009 (we hired the contractor for that study in January 2007, before the current mayor was even office). That report also points out that we had continuously looked at switching our water supply, including in the 1990s. We had even sought an extension from the Department of Ecology to develop one of our main wells back in 2004 – again, before the current mayor was in office and before GPT was even on the horizon.

      Those reasons included:

      1) The costs of purchasing and treating water from the PUD continuously were going up. We wanted to be able to have better direct control over those costs. We had been warned by the PUD that we would see some substantial increases because they needed to do some necessary capital improvement work. The City had already eaten an increase around 10 percent but we would not have been able to keep doing that and cost increases would have had to be passed on to customers. We didn’t want to do that.

      2) The Department of Health for several years had been pressing us to take control over our entire water treatment process, which we couldn’t do without utilizing our own wells.

      3) The PUD was moving to a previously used treatment process that would have required the City to construct a $5 million treatment basin. Since we knew the cost of our well water project might be around the same, it made sense to use our community’s funding for our own system rather than another entity’s.

      4) Not mentioned in the report but equally important is that we wanted to try to avoid the costly litigation that is likely to happen over utilization of Nooksack River water. This is a big issue for municipalities, the tribes and farmers.

      As you’ll see in the report, the levels of calcium carbonate experienced in the test wells was nowhere near what we ended up experiencing. The contractor in the end couldn’t explain why we had such a substantial change in the water chemistry. It’s unfortunate that happened, but we dealt with it and we’re proud to have been able to do so without a single cost increase to our utility customers to install a nanofiltration system.

      Again, please see this report (which, again, we began working on before the current mayor was even the mayor) to see that we had some very important reasons for looking to switch.

      City staff were the ones that advocated for this project, not an elected official. That included multiple Public Works directors over the years. That included the state of Washington itself asking us to take full control over our water treatment process.

      The report: http://www.cityofferndale.org/pw/utilities/water/wtp/wwsp/Feasibility%20Report%20FINAL%2009_09-18.pdf

      • Uh – Who are we to believe Sam? A long-winded post from a City staff person with a vested interest, plus a propaganda piece on the City of Ferndale website OR an independent journalist who is digging for the facts?

        Remember, those of us exposing your’s and the City’s lies don’t actually get paid for the work we do. You, on the other hand, are sucking up taxpayer money to manufacture propaganda, spin and lies.

        Of course, you COULD use the Argument from Authority, but you would still lose. Hue Beattie certainly has more credibility than you do.

        And why are you so paranoid when Hue’s comment comes down to a couple of simple questions? To wit, why didn’t Riley ask the hard questions about the water supply? Where was the followup on port wages and ASB? The fact that you are so proactive makes me think “something is rotten in the city of Ferndale” (to crib a line from Hamlet). I am sure others do too.

        Really, Sam, your best course of action would be to actually do your job instead of trolling the web on City time trying to deflect opposition for Gary’s run for Port Commissioner.

      • Hi Mr. Haugen – Respectfully to Mayor Jensen, I don’t really care if he’s running for Port Commission. I wish him the best.

        What I do care about, though, is misunderstanding about why Ferndale made a very important switch to our water supply. I work for the community of Ferndale, and part of my job is to provide information about Ferndale.

        Folks don’t have to believe anything I say. There is a very small contingent of folks who don’t live in Ferndale who have made that choice, and I respect that choice. I do have concern about purposefully misleading insinuation about a tough choice our community made out of hope for the greater good of our drinking water system.

        That’s why I linked to the official feasibility report document created by a contractor many years ago and began prior to when the current mayor had been elected, which also recounts that we began working on this issue and trying to extend our applications in the 1990s and in 2004 — also before the current mayor had even been elected to the City Council.

        I respectfully disagree that it’s propaganda to correct factual misinformation, which is part of my job. We want to make sure people know the truth. The document is there for folks to read on their own.

        Hue Beattie is a great guy that I’ve known for quite some time and I felt he would find the information helpful. It appeared that, based on his comment, he also had been confused by the inaccurate insinuations about why we switched our water supply.

        I will continue to post as necessary to ensure people understand why Ferndale made this decision for Ferndale – not for anyone or anything else.

      • What about not criticizing High School students about their views on the whole issue?

        And no one in Ferndale that I know of besides people in the government support the change in water supply. I am a resident of Ferndale myself.

        Maybe the best way to solve the problem is to tell the PUD to stop providing 2 billion gallons of water per year to Pacific International Terminals, or else they won’t get their huge franchises that the county provides them; increasing the supply will lower prices. THAT would be an effective way to try reducing water prices, but that would be a job for the county, not the city of Ferndale. My point is- there are better ways to take care of the problems with the original water source (the PUD and the river) than making a new water source against the beliefs of the vast majority of the people in Ferndale.

      • Hi James – Thanks for your input.

        I appreciate your feedback about our water supply. We spent more than a half decade discussing this issue in public meetings and received no comments as to whether we should or shouldn’t switch our water supply at the time. Our switch was to revert back to a system we’d already used in the past, not to create a new water source. Had the City not utilized its water rights, we would have eventually lost them as I understand it.

        I definitely want to invite you to share your thoughts on community issues. I’m not sure I’ve actually ever heard from you. Please do know you can share your thoughts with your elected officials any time. Email those comments to samtaylor@cityofferndale.org and I’m happy to pass them along to all of your elected officials.

        I don’t necessarily agree that the “majority” of our community didn’t want to switch the water supply. I do believe that many people were upset about the water hardness issue.

        Since we’ve addressed that, we haven’t really heard further comments about the supply officially. I did read the other day online some folks who don’t like the taste of the water. Those types of comments have been received by us on every water supply we’ve had. When we had treated river water people complained about the flavor and thought there was too much chlorine; when the water was harder some thought it tasted too much like minerals; now we have some people who don’t like the new blended taste but they haven’t really qualified why. They just said it was “icky.” Other people have said they really enjoy the new water chemistry. Water taste is subjective, and we won’t be able to address everyone’s thoughts and desires on the taste. We do like that we have to use less chlorine to treat the water now, as it means fewer treatment byproducts.

  8. If the best thing I could say about an elected official is ‘First do no harm,’ then I would not be able to give Gary Jensen the benefit of the doubt as it relates to his performance as a public servant.

  9. In regards to Sam Taylor’s continual blather of disinformation:
    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” – Upton Sinclair

  10. Mayor Jenson,

    Not building a coal port or any other polluting enterprise at Cherry Point — and giving the aquatic reserve and the herring a chance at restoration — is doing something.

    SM

  11. Sam Taylor: In looking at the content of your comments on this blog post which you made in your role of Ferndale Assistant City Administrator, I assume that a number of your comments were in reference to me and the article I wrote published in the 2013 Oct./Nov. issue of Whatcom Watch. The information I presented in my article was referenced from public records I obtained from the city of Ferndale and the PUD, along with Longview city council meeting minutes audio I listened to, and numerous newspaper articles I referenced.

    I make the assumption you were referring to me in your comments on this blog post because you have made numerous similar comments posted online about me in reference to what I wrote in that article as it relates to the Ferndale water switch from Nooksack River water to well water.

    In making your comments on this blog post, you made those accusations in a general manner without naming me, but I feel because of your repeated similar accusations on that subject in which you did reference my name, and because you never revised or removed those comments, some people will believe you are referring to me here.

    If in fact you are referring to me in the comments you made here, I request that you provide evidence to substantiate your claims such as my “reporting was purposely designed to insinuate that the City switched its supply to apparently benefit a proposed project.” I have copied and pasted the other accusations you made in your comments here:

    “That reporting has purposely been designed to insinuate that the City switched its supply to apparently benefit a proposed project”

    “There is a very small contingent of folks who don’t live in Ferndale who have made that choice, and I respect that choice. I do have concern about purposefully misleading insinuation about a tough choice our community made out of hope for the greater good of our drinking water system.”

    “It appeared that, based on his comment, he also had been confused by the inaccurate insinuations about why we switched our water supply.”

    Sam, in your role as a city employee you have also stated multiple times in other online comments such as the Herald, that I “generally make statements that are not true.”

    After I asked you to revise that statement you refused to do so, and you then went one step further by making this comment below online in the Herald:
    “I’ve spoken with a variety of folks here at the City about your comments and my responses, including my boss [Mayor Jensen is his boss] and several City Council members, and I think there is agreement here that we believe you make inaccurate, divisive statements that are not accurate or reflective of the truth about our community. My comments stand as a response to those issues.”

    Sam, recently you even have made this claim in an online comment:
    “I’d say that the official position of the City of Ferndale is that the things you’re saying about our community are not true.”

    I don’t recall that I have made comments about the Ferndale “community,” at all, let alone ones that “are not true.” My articles and comments have been about the actions of the Ferndale city council and the mayor. Again, where is your evidence to support your claim that I said anything untrue about the Ferndale community?

    Sam, you continue to post online comments with statements maligning me, even after I have requested multiple times that you refrain from doing that, and you make those comments in your role as a Ferndale city employee. I think in light of the lawsuit settlements reported in the Herald which the city of Ferndale was involved in, that you are potentially putting the city of Ferndale in a vulnerable position by making such statements about me without providing facts to back those up, so I request one more time that you revise those statements and do not make such accusations that you cannot back up.

    • From an article by Sandra Robson in the September 2013 edition of the Whatcom Watch titled “GPT: Are Export Corporations After Our Water.” Below are notes on this article. My notes are in red but I doubt that translates here so I have placed asterisks around my comments.

      Originally, Ferndale city officials decided it would be smart to invest in the $5 million conversion from river water to well water. Now as costs continue to add up, people are still dissatisfied with their water. In December 2012, Ferndale City Council approved a contract (not to exceed $30,000) with Wilson Engineering to compile a report for water hardness fixes. The estimate in that report for the cost of a water softener in the treatment plant was $1.2 – $1.4 million.

      ** This is inaccurate. The cost estimates provided, first, were for multiple types of treatment systems. To IEX systems were projected to cost $1 million to $1.2 million in capital costs and between $70,000 and $99,000 for O&M costs. The nanofiltration system (which has since been installed), was estimated to cost $1.6 million to $2.1 million. The O&M costs were projected to be $79,000 to $99,000. Source is the official report from Wilson that was presented to council: http://www.cityofferndale.org/pw/utilities/water/wtp/wwsp/softening/Final%20Water%20Softening%20Report%2020130403.pdf **

      This water switch, so far, has cost the city much more than originally estimated, and seems much more costly than the expected water rate increases that had been one of the main catalysts for Ferndale deciding to switch.

      Written communications obtained from both the city of Ferndale and the PUD show the actual rate increases to be much lower than what the city of Ferndale had said. The city had said that the PUD water rates were increasing to 25 percent a year for the next four years (meaning 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014). PUD Manager, Steve Jilk, wrote a September 27, 2010, email to city Administrator, Greg Young, and city Public Works Director, Janice Marlega, informing them that the PUD was prepared to lower the planned rate increases to their water customers from what they projected the year before, as he thought that might be good information for the city as they proceeded in considering the alternatives of well use, or PUD supply, or even a blend of both.

      On November 1, 2010, Steve Jilk sent an email to Young and Marlega saying the projected rate increases the PUD had estimated for the city would be significantly less than what they had projected the year before. PUD had estimated the rate increase would be 20.8 percent for 2011, and they now (Nov. 1, 2010) were projecting the rate increase for 2011 would be 10 percent. Additionally, a November 17, 2010, email from city of Ferndale Finance Director, Mark Peterson, to Young and Marlega showed that the PUD’s actual estimated rate increases would be 10.2 percent for 2011, and 10.5 percent for 2012.

      Since the PUD rate increases to the city of Ferndale seemed more reasonable than were first projected by the PUD, and considering the fact that in 2010 the economy was still in dire straits, and switching to well water would necessitate millions of dollars in up-front costs, it has caused people to question Ferndale’s decision to go full speed ahead with their switch to well water.

      ** The City had been informed verbally of future cost increases of 15% annually. Staff worked with the PUD to negotiate costs and in many cases were able to reduce those rates, but we had to operate under the reported assumption. Moving to well water allowed a projected savings of $1.47 million. Source: Spreadsheet of Finance Director Mark Peterson, attached to email to PW Dir. Janice Marlega August 20, 2012, which you have a copy of. The system remains more cost effective than having had to construct a $5 million treatment basin (see 2009 well water feasibility report, which I believe you have a copy of, but just in case is here: http://www.cityofferndale.org//pw/utilities/water/wtp/wwsp/Feasibility%20Report%20FINAL%2009_09-18.pdf

      Overall, the City has been able to drastically cut down on future potential rate increases and has only had to deal with inflation. Despite the nanofilration system installation we have never increased the costs to our utility customers due to this project. The project, therefore, is not much more costly than the rate increases we expected. Regardless, in 2011 we had a 10.2% rate increase and a 10.5% rate increase for 2012 (source; Mark Peterson email of November 17, 2010 to Greg Young and Janice Marlega, which you have a copy of). These are not insignificant amounts and were still difficult for us to deal with. Nothing about those rate increases was acceptable and still required us to look into switching to our own water supply to better control cost increases.
      Please cite a source for “people to question” our decision because the rate increases were smaller double-digit rate increases. Cite a specific source please (The SPJ code of ethics states “Identify sources clearly”). Otherwise, I am unaware of the truth of this.

      The upfront costs for the well water supply project was paid for using utility funds that were not struggling during the 2010 recession. An insinuation that this project would be difficult to pay for due to the recession is absolutely inaccurate. **

      Is it simply a coincidence that both Ferndale and Longview switched their water sources and their cities are both locations for two of the largest coal terminals proposed in the United States?

      ** Yes, it is simply a coincidence. There is no connection whatsoever, and you were told this by multiple officials at this City. You never asked for that information (SPJ code of ethics: “Diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing.”), but we told you that anyway. This is an irresponsible, unethical inference that no journalist who follows the Society of Professional Journalists would EVER make. Not without damaging their credibility, at least. You have absolutely no proof whatsoever. This is an insinuation that is inappropriate. **

      Is there any connection to PIT needing 5.33 million gallons of water per day, and the city’s decision to move off of PUD-supplied Nooksack River water, which will be the source for the water the PUD supplies to GPT? In order to submit their GPT permit application to the county, PIT needed to show they had ample water supply in that application which they submitted in March of 2012. Ferndale had moved off of their PUD-supplied Nooksack River water by December 31, 2011.

      ** No, there is no connection, and the 5.33 million gallons that this industry allegedly needs (we don’t even know of this is true, since we have no detail of this and don’t know anything about it, so I have to rely on your reporting, which is not always accurate, as noted above). You’ll note in the records you received a letter dated October 22, 2010 that shows our reduced operating demand for water to 1.6 million gallons per day. The City needed nowhere close to the amount of water you’re saying we gave up to this private industry. Therefore this is an irresponsible insinuation backed by false information about how much water we even needed.

      Finally, the SPJ code of ethics states: “Never deliberately distort facts or context, including visual information.” This reporting is a deliberate distortion of facts and context to insinuate that the City of Ferndale switched its water supply so that a private industry could use the water instead. There is no proof of this. The amount of water we needed was about 4 times less than they needed. We clearly faced double-digit rate increases. Our feasibility reports also outline this. You have also insinuated that Mayor Jensen pushed this along because of his connections to supporting the project. As the feasibility report notes, this process began in the 1990s and we even received an extension to keep working on the wells in 2004, this was before Mayor Jensen was elected to the City Council, let alone being chosen by our community as the mayor.

      This is necessary context all left out of your articles. There are very clear insinuations of our intent and there are also explicit inaccuracies or incorrect assumptions in the articles. I have outlined them above **

      • Sandy kind of hoisted you on your own petard didn’t she Sam? Haw, haw, haw.

      • Sam, you are attributing intent (which you have no possible way of knowing for a fact) to what Sandy writes and the information she chooses to include in her articles. Sandy is not a professional journalist. She holds herself to her own standards. People can decide for themselves whether her approach is an honorable one or not. Meanwhile facts are left out of all articles, and I am sure that you left plenty of facts about the water switch in Ferndale out of your comments on this post. Some you can’t help but leave out, others you could include, but you don’t for whatever reason.

        Sandy’s article “GPT: Are Export Corporations After Our Water” was written for Whatcom Watch, which is a community forum. That forum is about giving community members a voice. ( http://www.whatcomwatch.org/php/WW_open.php?about ) Sandy did not make assertions about the actions that were taken by leaders in Ferndale and Longview. She did ask questions, offer clues, and bring to light some information that may well have been otherwise unknown to the public. Our water, the amount and quality of it available, is a very important issue for people to gather information about. The well-being of our waters are being seriously compromised everyday. Most adults aren’t children, and shouldn’t act like them. Just because, you, or the mayor, or a big corporation, or Sandy, or an NGO, or a newspaper says whatever they do, doesn’t make it true. “Because I said so”, should only be an emergency strategy and we should always try to proactively avoid emergencies. People need to hear other sides of stories and be helped to envision other scenarios, besides the obvious or prevalent reasons given, as to why potentially dangerous things are happening around them. This is all my opinion, I hope others will always be empowered to form their own. – Dena Jensen

      • Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Dena. I have outlined specifically inaccurate information as well as unethical insinuations that should not have been printed based on my professional opinion. The article harmed public discourse and created a purposely misleading view of Ferndale in my opinion.

        This is a serious issue to me as a former journalist that spent a lot of time working hard to bring fair and accurate information to people in Whatcom County and elsewhere in Washington state and Idaho. Journalism is a huge love and passion of mine and I do not take it lightly when people try to excuse away what I sincerely believe to be unethical reporting. This is citizen journalism, but it’s still journalism (just like Riley’s blog) – and ethics matter, respectfully.

      • Alright – this thread is getting rather heated. Thank you to everyone who contributed in a positive way – let’s move on to the next thing.

  12. “Sandy is not a professional journalist. She holds herself to her own standards. People can decide for themselves whether her approach is an honorable one or not. ” — Dena Jenson

    Still, citizen journalists and their publishers have to be held to some guidelines and standards of fact checking, attribution, ethics, etc. when tackling big stories. Otherwise they and their stories run the risk of being discredited. And I say that as a much-published, semi-retired journo who is no fan of GPT.

    Sam Taylor was a professional reporter and — from what I understand — a credible and thorough one at that.

    BTW, Sam Taylor, speaking of ethics, do I recall Mayor Jenson being featured prominently in a full page print ad in 2011 – “Mayors See Hope in Coal Port” – or something to that effect? If my memory is correct, is there any conflict – perceived or otherwise – with an elected official appearing in a paid ad for a massive project of this nature, replete with so many unanswered
    questions of public interest?

    • Hi Stephan – thanks for sharing your thoughts and the question.

      I can’t really speak to what an elected official chooses to support or sponsor on their own. The mayor is the main representative for the City of Ferndale, but nothing precludes any elected official from putting their name behind a cause on their own. It’s also not something staff really deals with. The only time I can recall being involved in any of this is the mayor asking me if we had a copy of his photograph, and I believe I pointed someone to our website (I’ve provided that email to folks in a records request).

      So, forgive me, I can’t really give you an official answer from the City. I can speak to this only as someone who was a government and politics reporter for a decade.

      These aren’t new questions, of course. I think the public has asked these types of conflict of interest questions about elected officials since time immemorial. It really comes down to the relationship between that official and the voters that elect them. If they don’t like the causes that elected is backing, then they will have their chance to say so at a ballot box.

      On this issue itself, I can’t really speak for the mayor because this is his personal choice to support this. It doesn’t really have anything to do with the work I do to address issues related to Ferndale as a community. This City has no power, control, or say over that project. It’s outside our jurisdiction (by several miles). Our elected officials adopted a resolution in 2011 regarding the issue, and that’s about as close as we’ve gotten to it (again, other than the mayor’s personal support). The mayor doesn’t vote on issues (generally) and has no real power over this project, either. While I might personally have an opinion on the issue, that doesn’t matter – the opinion of voters matters.

      Frankly, I think the focus on Ferndale about this has probably been very welcome by the people who are working on this issue, because it’s probably taken a lot of the spotlight directly off them. That’s too bad, because this is an important project to our community and the civic dialogue should be on the important issues that matter.

  13. You are welcome.

    Sorry about Walter the curmudgeon.

  14. […] Gary Jensen is departing to run for Port Commissioner this year (you can find my interview with Jensen here). He asked Mutchler to run and endorsed him. Cathy Watson, another Ferndale Councilmember, has also […]


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