by Sandy Robson
Public records reveal that some of the local elected officials in Whatcom County, Washington, continue to put SSA Marine Inc. in the driver’s seat, working directly with the company’s hired public relations and advertising consultants to promote SSA Marine’s proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT); a coal export terminal, which would store, handle, and ship 48 million metric tons of coal annually at Cherry Point, located just outside the city limits of Ferndale, in Whatcom County.
The proposed facility, if permitted and built, would be the largest coal terminal in the United States, bringing with it many potentially harmful environmental and health impacts, which would then negate any of the potential benefits from the jobs or property taxes which SSA promises its project would generate.
Records obtained from the city of Lynden, which is thirteen miles northeast of Ferndale, showed that an 8th grade student in the Ferndale School District sent a May 1, 2014 email to Lynden Mayor Scott Korthuis. The student wrote Mayor Korthuis saying that her Aiming High Language Arts class was going to debate whether or not GPT should be built.
Mayor Korthuis a filter for GPT propaganda
The student explained to the mayor that she and her partner would be debating the pro-terminal side for the debate, but that she had not found much information on why it is a good idea to build GPT, so she hoped Mayor Korthuis could help her with answers to some questions about that. She listed seven questions for the mayor.
The next day Mayor Korthuis sent an email to Craig Cole, SSA Marine’s paid local spokesperson/PR consultant for the GPT project, in which the mayor forwarded the student’s May 1 email. Korthuis wrote to Cole, “I think I know the answers to the questions below, but if you could answer them, I’ll respond to the school.”
Cole replied to Korthuis about two hours later that same day, saying, “Scott—Would you like us to send them (or you) a set of issue briefs that address these issues?”
Korthuis replied to Cole:
“I think it might have more value if I send a response to their questions. It then appears more one-to-one and less propaganda (event though that is what it is).”
Thus, it appears that Mayor Korthuis understood that the information about GPT he would be delivering to an 8th grade student would, in fact, be propaganda.
On May 5, 2014, Cole sent an email to Korthuis with responses to all seven questions the student had asked. Korthuis sent a May 5 email to the student in which he simply used the entire text of the 746 word document with Cole’s responses to the seven questions. No mention was made of the fact that the source for the information provided by the mayor, was Craig Cole, SSA Marine’s paid local PR consultant for the proposed GPT.
Mayor tells student that coal dust is a non-issue
Question number 6 posed to Mayor Korthuis by the Ferndale student was: “Would there be human or animal health affected by the coal trains?” Mayor Korthuis (via SSA consultant Craig Cole) responded by saying, “In addition to coal dust being a non-issue (see answer to question #4), trains are one of the most environmentally sound ways to move freight over land.” A mayor, entrusted with serving the public, has just stated in an email to a student that coal dust is a “non-issue.”
Mayor Korthuis let SSA consultant Cole speak for him to broadcast the propaganda on behalf of SSA which wants to build, operate, and gain substantial profit from GPT. Korthuis and Cole are not physicians or scientists, yet they provided that information as fact, that coal dust is a “non-issue,” to a young student.
Coal dust from coal trains has already been identified as a serious issue. BNSF, the railroad that would be transporting the coal from the Powder River Basin to the proposed GPT at Cherry Point, was motivated to investigate the effect that coal dust from railroad cars has on railroad tracks, due to two major derailments in 2005 which had severely disrupted service.
From its own testing, BNSF determined that coal dust buildup on railroad tracks is a
problem and can cause derailments. BNSF reported, and once had stated on its website that its testing revealed that from 500 pounds to one ton of coal can escape from one loaded coal train car. Coal trains have an average of up to 125 cars. After the announcement of the proposed Pacific NW coal export terminals, BNSF removed that information from its website.
STB concludes coal dust from coal trains can harm the environment, people and communities
The Surface Transportation Board (STB) concluded in its 2011 decision in the BNSF tariff legal challenge, that coal dust from train cars is a pernicious ballast foulant; it causes harm to the environment, people and communities along the coal train routes as well.
The STB further stated, “Moreover, to the extent that coal dust poses a risk of harm to the environment, containment is the only way to protect the environment and communities along the right of way. Maintenance only addresses the harm to the ballast and does nothing to address the harms to neighboring streams, people, and communities. Furthermore, some coal dust removed in the rail bed maintenance process may also find its way back into the environment, either nearby or at disposal sites.”
Mayor coal-dust-is-a-non-issue Korthuis, has also allowed himself, as the sitting mayor of Lynden, to be used in SSA Marine’s GPT advertisements. Public records obtained from the city of Ferndale, show that Mayor Korthuis, along with Ferndale Mayor Gary Jensen, was sent a February 15, 2011 email from Gary Smith, a partner at Smith & Stark, a Seattle-based public affairs and strategic communications firm hired by SSA Marine.
In that February 15 email, Gary Smith asked mayors Jensen and Korthuis for their approval on the final copy for the GPT print ad which was slated to run on February 20, 2011, in The Bellingham Herald, a daily newspaper located in Bellingham, Washington in Whatcom County. In Smith’s email, he also asked for the mayors’ approval on the final copy for the GPT radio ad which would run that week as well, since they were featured in both ads. Gary Smith also said that he would be sending Mayor Jensen and Mayor Korthuis separate talent release forms, which he would need each of them to sign. Smith followed up the next day, sending those talent release forms in a February 16, 2011 email to both mayors Jensen and Korthuis.
Mayors agree to being used in SSA Marine’s pro-GPT advertising campaign
Email records obtained from the city of Lynden show that one day later, Mayor Korthuis sent an email to Gary Smith with his talent release form signed and dated that same day. The release allowed Smith & Stark and Copacino + Fujikado, a Seattle-based advertising agency working in tandem with them, to use Mayor Korthuis’ likeness, photograph, and voice in advertising for SSA Marine’s GPT project.
In reviewing the public records obtained from the city of Ferndale, no written communication was found showing that Mayor Jensen had sent a signed talent release form back to Gary Smith. Mayor Jensen was contacted via telephone and asked about the talent release form sent to him by Smith & Stark partner Gary Smith on February 16, 2011. When asked if he had sent a signed copy of the talent release form back to Gary Smith, Mayor Jensen indicated he gave his approval verbally when he said: “I don’t remember writing something. I probably did a verbal. I’m more of a verbal guy. They probably called and I said, ‘okay, can I do a verbal?’”
The print ad that would launch in the February 20, 2011 Bellingham Herald that Smith & Stark and Copacino + Fujikado put together for SSA Marine’s GPT project, introduced the public to the proposed project, and featured both Mayor Jensen and Mayor Korthuis speaking in support of GPT. The top of the ad read: “City mayors find hope in new shipping port.”
Mayor Jensen says we need GPT and need to support it
Korthuis was quoted in the ad saying: “Gateway Pacific Terminal is the right project at the right time for Whatcom County.” Then, Mayor Jensen added to what Korthuis had stated, saying, “We need it and we need to support it.” The ad went on to say: “Both Jensen and Korthuis are impressed with SSA Marine’s strong record of environmental responsibility.”
According to the copy for the radio ad that featured mayors Korthuis and Jensen, after each of them spoke a couple of lines in support of GPT, the script for the announcer in the radio spot read, “Both mayors support SSA Marine and its plans for the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point: A major export facility that will ship commodities to Asian markets—creating hundreds of permanent jobs and generating millions in new taxes for the region. Without harm to the shoreline or environment.”
“Without harm to the shoreline or the environment”—that’s quite a promise being attributed to the two mayors by the announcer. People might not trust a statement like that from the corporation proposing the project since it stands to profit from it, but they are more likely to believe and trust such a statement when it comes from their local mayors who they elected to represent them and safeguard their interests.
In 2012, according to email records, SSA consultant Cole sent a June 26 email to Mayor Jensen, asking him to do an interview with TVW, a Washington State public affairs network, for a series the network was doing on the GPT project. Email records showed that Jensen was interviewed by TVW for the GPT series on July 11, 2012.
Mayors Jensen and Korthuis testify at GPT scoping hearing
According to a November 27, 2012 email from Cole to both mayors Jensen and Korthuis, Cole asked the mayors to address
the media gathered for the November 29, 2012 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) scoping hearing for GPT held in Ferndale. Cole made a specific request that the mayors mention to the media, a letter from the six Whatcom County small city mayors which they would be jointly submitting as a scoping comment in support of GPT. Mayors Korthuis and Jensen also each testified at the Ferndale hearing, giving public verbal comments in support of the GPT project. Mayor Jensen was speaker number 1, and Mayor Korthuis was speaker number 4.
In December 2012, Cole sent an email to both mayors Korthuis and Jensen on the 12th, asking them if they would travel to the EIS scoping hearing scheduled on December 13 in Seattle to address the media there, speaking in support of SSA’s GPT project. In their continued dogged loyalty to SSA, the mayors made the trip to Seattle and addressed the media, expressing their support for the project.
Email records obtained from the city of Ferndale also show a December 11, 2012 email sent from Cole to Mayor Jensen, asking him to do a radio interview the next day on December 12th, with conservative talk radio host, John Carlson of Talk Radio 570 KVI, which the mayor agreed to do.
Cole’s closing to that email to Mayor Jensen: “Boy, do I owe you!”
Advertisements in newspapers, on radio, social media, and news media, aren’t the only ways that SSA Marine tries to sell its project to the public through the voices of Whatcom County’s elected officials.
PR consultants give their opinion to the mayor
In December 2012, during the scoping period for the EIS for GPT, Mayor Jensen was spoon-fed a pre-written Op-Ed for his approval by SSA’s consultant Craig Cole, and Smith & Stark, to submit to The Bellingham Herald for publication. Smith & Stark’s website points out to potential clients that, “A Smith & Stark specialty is addressing the opinion leader audience through op-eds, letters to the editor, and blogs.”
Smith & Stark partner Gary Smith, sent a December 18, 2012 email to Craig Cole (and copied SSA Sr. VP Bob Watters and SSA VP of Business Development Joe Ritzman) with the Op-Ed ready for Jensen’s review. Cole then forwarded it to Mayor Jensen a few minutes later, for the mayor to review and approve, as the supposed author of the opinion piece. The Op-Ed, entitled, “Gateway Pacific Terminal will make a great neighbor,” was published in the Herald on December 21, 2012, and the author listed was Mayor Gary Jensen.
Planting seeds early for SSA Marine’s GPT project
Starting back in 2010, Craig Cole was already busy with his efforts for SSA on its GPT proposal. He sent a June 28, 2010 email to Mayor Jensen, along with five other people; Whatcom County PUD Commissioner and President Jeff McClure; then-Mayor of Blaine, Bonnie Onyon; then-Washington State Senator for 42nd District Dale Brandland; former Bellingham mayor Tim Douglas; and then-President of the NW Washington Central Labor Council, who eventually became the Co-Chair of the Northwest Jobs Alliance Dave Warren.
In the email, Cole asked for their permission to sign them on to an attached pre-written Op-Ed he would be submitting for publication in The Bellingham Herald.
The opinion piece was a pressured appeal to Washington State’s Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark, who heads up the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR), to change language in the draft of the Cherry Point Environmental Aquatic Reserve Management Plan, which was enacted in 2000 to protect the sensitive and unique aquatic ecosystem at Cherry Point in the Strait of Georgia. The Cherry Point Reserve and its management plan is a potential roadblock to SSA Marine for its GPT project proposed at Cherry Point. The plan was being updated at that time in 2010 by the DNR, which manages state-owned aquatic lands.
The Op-Ed was published in the Herald on July 3, 2010. Craig Cole was listed as the author with this short bio: “Craig Cole of Bellingham is a businessman and regent on the Western Washington University board of trustees.” Cole’s bio did not include his association with SSA Marine for its GPT project. According to the Washington Public Disclosure Commission website, Cole is listed as a registered lobbyist from 2010-2012 for SSA Marine for its GPT project, through Gordon Thomas Honeywell Government Affairs. Since February 2013, Cole’s work for SSA Marine’s GPT project appears to be through his consulting business, Straight Talk Consulting.
After Cole’s short bio under the Herald Op-Ed, it noted that the opinion column was also endorsed by the individuals Cole had enlisted to sign onto the opinion piece: Jensen, McClure, Onyon, Brandland, Douglas, and Warren.
Aquatic Reserve Plan a doom-loop of dithering and delay?
In June 2010, those same Op-Ed signers had also signed onto a June 15, 2010 letter orchestrated by Craig Cole, that was sent to DNR’s Commissioner Goldmark. The letter expressed an immediate concern that DNR’s Draft Cherry Point Environmental Aquatic Reserve Management Plan would deny an opportunity to permit SSA’s proposed GPT project, and appealed to Goldmark asking him to remove what SSA and Cole et.al. considered to be inherent conflicts in DNR’s draft plan. They also wanted the plan language in the draft changed so that the requirement for future or on-going studies would not cause any delay in permitting and leasing decisions made by DNR on SSA’s proposed GPT, as well as modifications to current industrial facilities located at Cherry Point.
Cole had attached what he termed “information sheets” (which he said would not be included in the actual letter to DNR’s Goldmark) in his June 14, 2010 email to Mayor Jensen asking him to sign onto the Goldmark letter. The three-page “information sheets” included a header which read: “This plan is terrible for Whatcom County.” Another header read: “The ‘plan’ is actually a bureaucratic doom-loop of dithering and delay” (bolded emphasis theirs).
Cole, himself, had also signed onto the letter to DNR’s Commissioner Goldmark. The letter included short bios on the listed signers, although Cole’s bio did not disclose his association with SSA Marine and its GPT project. His bio, though, did show that he “has been an active supporter of numerous environmental causes.” Perhaps Cole believes that his past support “of numerous environmental causes,” might make up for the fact that he is working on behalf of a company wanting to build and operate the largest coal terminal ever proposed in our nation, in and around the environmentally sensitive waters of the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve.
Some of Whatcom County’s elected officials’ willingness to say the proverbial “How high” when SSA Marine, through its consultants, says, “Jump” in support of GPT, illustrates the critical importance of considering the source. The source for the information being disseminated through those elected officials is SSA Marine; a company wanting to build and operate a 48 million metric ton per year coal export terminal, in order to gain substantial profit, while degrading the environment and people’s quality of life.