Letters to the Editor

Salish Current welcomes letters to the editor from our readers. Letters should be sent with the writer’s name, address and daytime phone number via email to salishcurrent@gmail.com. Letters accepted for publication will focus on issues addressed in news articles or commentaries in Salish Current and be factual. No snark or put-downs; general nastiness will be rejected. Letters should not exceed 300 words and may be edited for length and clarity. Salish Current will publish letters sent to the editor at its sole discretion.

Vaccinated in restaurants, still exposed to unvaccinated 12 and under children

To the Editor:

I agree 100% that we should be supporting local businesses that are helping the community by assuring their employees and customers are vaccinated. I also encourage you to ask those establishments what their policies are regarding children under 12.  If those who can’t be vaccinated are served, you might as well not check anyone’s vaccination status. I have been very disappointed on a couple of occasions when families with unmasked children under the age of 12 have been seated next to my table.

— Susan Wright, Bellingham, Sept. 10, 2021

San Juan County exemplifies state’s vaccination strategy

To the Editor:

Perusing the latest data on COVID infection and vaccination rates provided in Salish Current, San Juan County has the lowest infection rate in the state at 13% and the highest vaccination rate in the state at 77%. Cause and effect or just a coincidence?

— Gene Helfman, Lopez Island, Sept. 4, 2021

Guemes water strategies are instructive for all

To the Editor:

The Elisa Claassen article regarding the fresh water challenges on Guemes Island (“Water supply on Guemes: an island paradise faces challenges,” July 27, 2021) was indeed a timely and insightful piece. Its historical content combined with the contemporary realities is a powerful reminder of what we need to heed and plan for in our use of life-sustaining natural resources. Climate change is of course the stark reminder of the limits in what the earth can absorb or provide to our benefit. As the residents of Guemes Island face their environmental challenges, their adaptations and strategies for action will surely be instructive to us wherever we live. In this case, the island provides wisdom for the mainland.

— Tony Angell, Seattle and Lopez Island, Aug. 2, 2021

Salish Current makes for good Sunday reading

To the Editor:

The Salish Current does an EXCELLENT job of covering local issues and sharing content about regional issues that is published on other news sites. I don’t get the dead-tree edition of any Sunday newspaper anymore, so I’ve come to spend some time on Sundays with your weekly emails instead. Very, very informative. Your weekly emails are concise yet packed with lots of great content. Thank you, Salish Current!

Kathy Sheehan, Bellingham, July 25, 2021

‘Water Watchers’ series details groundwater status on Lummi Island

To the Editor:

San Juan Islands’ fresh-water supply sustainability is in question” is an excellent article. I look forward to learning more about this important subject. We have been writing for the past seven months a “Water Watchers” series about Lummi Island dealing with the same situation the San Juans are.

— Mike Skehan, Lummi Island, July 24, 2021

Let others know our mail-in voting works well and support Senate Bill 1, For the People Act of 2021

To the Editor:

It’s voting time again here in Whatcom County and throughout our state. This time it is the primary election when we vote among candidates where there are more than two people running for positions in our towns and county. It is my right and responsibility to read the voters’ guide, to meet as many candidates as possible and to vote and return my ballot.

My vote should have as much (but no more) power than anyone else’s. Having met our county auditor, visited her office, observed neighbors working to confirm and validate my vote and being an authorized volunteer observer, I am confident of the honesty and reliability of our system.

But I am part of this large nation and I have lived in and voted in six states: NY, NJ, ND, IA, NM and WA. I have children and grandchildren voting in IA, KS, TX, CO, MT, CA and WA and I want them all to experience elections as well run as ours.

Join me in calling your friends and family around the country to let them know about our mail-in voting and how well it works. Ask them to call their senators to urge them to vote for Senate Bill 1, For the People Act of 2021, that would guarantee the right of qualified people to vote everywhere. 

We have weakened the voting rights law that we formerly had. There is organized scattershot legislation to making it more difficult to vote. Eligible voters throughout our land need to be welcomed as we are here. Vote. Defend democracy.

Alyce Werkema, Lynden, July 23, 2021

Willows Inn reaches out to patrons

The following message shared with Salish Current for publication was received by a past patron of The Willows Inn on Lummi Island, responding to the New York Times article of April 27, 2021, “The Island Is Idyllic. As a Workplace, It’s Toxic.” Salish Current ran a community commentary about The Willows Inn on May 20, 2021, “Trouble in paradise: Lummi Islanders react to a national expose of its famous restaurant“.

“We are so saddened by the stories from our former staff that were published by the NYT last week. It has been extremely difficult to hear these accusations and read these comments from people that we worked with so closely for years. In the past several days we have put all our time and energy into supporting our current team and our families. 

“We recognize that the culture of our workplace in the past has caused people undue stress both emotionally and physically. 

“The restaurant industry for too long has created a culture that applies an extreme amount of pressure on everyone involved to create perfection from a chaotic environment. The hours are too long, the margins are too thin and the accepted norms of behavior are too extreme. 

“While we want to defend ourselves from what we feel like is a biased mischaracterization of our team and our sourcing practices, it is much more important for us to take accountability for the past and create a better future. 

“One point that must be clarified further is that no one on our team has ever reported sexual harassment or misconduct in the workplace to our management team. The stories from this article about those behaviors are absolutely devastating and can never be tolerated. 

“In recent years we have made intentional efforts to improve our hiring practices, provide HR support for our team and maintain a supportive and creative environment. We have adapted our schedules to give employees shorter work days, more time off and better wages. 

“In addition, we will be bringing an HR representative in house to help support our team and provide them an outlet for any issues. We also plan to provide further education and training for our management team in the areas of leadership, inclusion and diversity. Moving forward we will also create a paid internship program with free housing to help create better opportunities for a wider range of backgrounds in our kitchen. This work must continue and must be the priority for all of us.

“The Willows Inn and the industry as a whole needs to rally in support of the amazing individuals that create memorable experiences every night for guests around the world. No one from any level of experience or department should be treated with anything but the utmost respect for their dedication to hospitality. 

“It is our mission to move forward with the intentional gratitude and graciousness that will make our families, colleagues and community proud.”

The Willows Inn, Lummi Island, May 4, 2021

Starlink can provide internet access to remote county areas

To the Editor:

I was pleased to see the article on improving internet access in the county [“Internet connectivity has improved in Whatcom County, but many gaps remain”]. It is unfortunate that the improvement plan does not include the 14-mile stretch of Mosquito Lake Road — many families with school-age kids, many work-from-home types.

Also, the only real hope in the next few years is the Starlink internet satellite constellation, which is now available here on a limited basis but should have 100% coverage soon. Starlink is a very serious competitor to all other ISPs. I suggest that the author of your article investigate and report, since many residents out here in the bush have put down $ deposits and are waiting for hook up.  Speeds up to 300mb down, revolutionary.

— Carl Franz, East Whatcom County, Feb. 26, 2021

How will visionary leadership work?

To the Editor:

Al Bergstein calls for visionary leadership in the Partnership bureaucracy and I wonder how that works [Community Voices / Thoughts on the Puget Sound Partnership and recovering Puget Sound].

I, too, have attended quite a few meetings over the years and he captures my observations and feelings well. I also would stress that the people involved seem dedicated and quite passionate and capable but many of the solutions seem beyond their job descriptions and organization capacities. And I have long been frustrated by the lack of simple and meaningful instructions for, and calls to action from, the millions of folks who live around the area.

Certainly some of the people I have seen have/had visionary leadership but it gets ground down as the slow wheels turn. I recall a few years ago when the Leadership Council issued a statement that riparian buffers be required to meet the Federal NOAA standards — which are quite strict — yet that has not always happened in practice because of our stresses on voluntary actions. 

— Pete Haase, Skagit County, Feb. 19, 2021

Follow up wanted on Lopez School funding

To the Editor:

Thank you very much, Hayley Day, for your excellent article about the funding shortfall facing San Juan Islands schools.

Do you have any idea why this problem has not seemed to be a priority for any of our state representatives? I read their newsletters and press releases and none of them ever even mentions it. And yet the school on Lopez is probably the single largest employer and the heart of the community. I find that curious.

Also, some of us on Lopez wonder about how the fundraising effort in 2020 to replace tax revenues with direct donations to the school went? I would love to know the rough percentage of those asked who gave, some idea of how successful that was.

Again, thank you very much for writing this article. This is a very serious issue that needs much more attention.

— Jane Ward, Lopez Island, Jan. 26, 2021

[Editor’s Note: According to School board member Chris Greacen,“We’ve been very happy with our 40th District reps, especially Alex Ramel, who went out of his way to organize a meeting with committee members in Education, Budget and Appropriations for us. No solution yet, but we’re aware this is a long-haul process.”

The Lopez Island School District reports that the District has received 222 donations totaling $69,120.21 to date.] 

McClatchy journalist thanks

To the Editor:

Kudos to the founders and writers at Salish Current for their ongoing coverage of Northwest Washington and beyond, including recent follow up on Whatcom County oil train derailment in December. As a longtime McClatchy/Gannett journalist, I thank Mike Sato for writing about unionizing efforts in McClatchy newsrooms in the Pacific Northwest.

— John Dodge, Olympia, Jan. 18, 2021

Declaiming the big lie

To the Editor:

If you are going to continue as a legitimate news organization, you must learn to self regulate. And while Ms. Sefzik is entitled to her opinion, the continuance of the big lie about the 2020 election needs to be identified as just that [ref. Community Voices / Democracy in AmericaSalish Current, Jan. 15, 2021].

A big lie that is not based in any fact. The big lie is a technique that was coined by Adolf Hitler, when he dictated his 1925 book Mein Kampf, about the use of a lie so “colossal” that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.” Her statement should have been labeled as not factually based and is in fact a big lie. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from responsibility for one’s words. The big lie, along with four years of lies have led us to this point. A seditious attack on our Capitol in an attempt to overthrow a lawfully elected President.

I understand your attempt to try to report on all sides of an issue. But giving legitimate voice to known falsehoods does not advance the cause of good reporting or the desire to reunite a divided Country. Continuing to legitimize the big lie only helps divide us more.

I am disappointed you did not at a minimum disclaim the big lie.

— Steve James, Bellingham, Jan. 15, 2021

Restore the original vision for the San Juan Islands National Monument

To the Editor:

President Obama’s 2013 proclamation of San Juan Islands National Monument specified that decisions be made in consultation with a locally constituted MAC (Management Advisory Committee) [Vulnerable lands — and creatures — of San Juan Islands National Monument await management detailsSalish Current, Dec. 4, 2020].

 Stakeholder consultation, public review and comment, and sign-off by the governor for consistency with state laws and policies are also required by the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA). Under FLPMA, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)  adopted a plan in 1990 for Iceberg Point and Point Colville on Lopez Island, which now comprise about three-fourths of the total area of the monument. 

The 1990 plan designated these coastal lands Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), focused on habitat conservation, and permitted recreation only to the extent that it does not degrade protected plant communities. As a matter of law, the 1990 ACEC plan is in force until a new FLPMA plan is adopted that supersedes it. 

A FLPMA planning process for the monument as a whole began in 2015, but the Trump Administration shifted its vision from protecting public lands to exploiting them for business. BLM began promoting tourism in the monument, and made recreation the focus of the draft Resource Management Plan that was finally opened to public comment in November 2018. Meanwhile the Trump Administration also suspended meetings of the MAC, so that local representatives were unable to participate officially in the process. The MAC did not meet again until August 2020.

Fortunately, Gov. Inslee exercised the authority accorded to him by FLPMA and sent the 2018 draft plan back to BLM for revision to accommodate state policies and Tribal concerns. BLM director William Perry Pendley, whose appointment by President Trump in July 2019 was ruled unlawful in federal court, has presided over the revision process, which is not yet complete. 

As things now stand, a revised plan is evolving somewhere in the BLM bureaucracy, but the 1990 ACEC plan is still in effect on Lopez, and general federal land and wildlife management laws such as the 1910 Antiquities Act and 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act apply to the Monument as a whole regardless. BLM does not need a new plan to protect Monument lands or wildlife.

The situation may change under a Biden-appointed BLM director, but islanders must be ready to apply political pressure through our (largely friendly) Congressional delegation to ensure that our situation with the Monument is not overlooked in 2021.

— Russel Barsh, Director of KWIAHTLopez Island, Dec. 18, 2020

Some history about San Juan conservation areas

To the Editor:

Many folks I know have weighed in on how important these unusually pristine areas are to the health and diversity of the San Juan Island ecosystem. (“Vulnerable lands — and creatures — of San Juan Islands National Monument await management details,” Salish Current, Dec. 4, 2020).

Concerns and recommendations, based on many years of experiences on and study of these areas, were registered early on when information was requested. Sadly, delays in implementing these strategies are consistent with the gross indifference the Trump administration has paid in general to our environmental heritage throughout its tenure. We must enact these recommendations and strategies for use and stewardship.

The expression of public concern for the protection of the cultural history and ecological integrity of the San Juans is of long standing. I recall 40 years ago next year being part of and listening to a very concerned public registering their hopes and expectations for many of these properties as they were to be transferred from the Bureau of Land Management [BLM] to the state. Charles Odegaard was the director of Washington State Parks at the time, and its board was seeking to develop a plan for the future uses of properties being transferred from BLM to Washington state. Of particular focus were properties at Point Colville and Iceberg Point.

One of the proposals for these properties involved opening them up for car camping. Present at this hearing were Bill Holm and David Munsell, both of whom had a first-hand and keen appreciation of the importance of these locations to First Nations peoples of Puget Sound. Their testimony made it very clear that any proposed camping use would be a serious threat to protecting, preserving and researching this singular history on Lopez Island. Other arguments were presented regarding the ecological integrity that would be threatened under such a development plan.

From that day, one moment in particular remains in my memory. Someone from the audience who clearly considered these properties as an opportunity for investment in further development along the lines of the state park plan spoke up rather emphatically. He stated that keeping these locations as natural areas and assuming that the public would explore and somehow benefit from them was naive and that the best use of them would be realized through development.

Jim Whittaker, the first American to reach the summit of Mt. Everest, was a State Parks Board member and responded directly by saying that he had some very first-hand knowledge of what the infinite lessons are that one can learn from experiences in nature. And that was that — Colville and Iceberg Points reached their current status through such early endeavors. So let’s get on with preserving this unique heritage.

— Tony Angell, Seattle and Lopez Island, Dec. 11, 2020

A call for caution when holiday socializing as COVID-19’s third wave hits

To the Editor:

Yogi Berra said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again!” As we head into this particularly uncertain holiday season, our country is in a third wave of SARS-CoV-2 infections. In Western Washington, though better than many places, we’re seeing rates that are surpassing case highs seen in the spring. 

From my career caring for chronic kidney disease patients, I know that COVID-19 poses serious challenges for them. We now know that non-elderly adults with no underlying medical conditions can develop acute kidney injury and a sudden loss of kidney function when infected with COVID-19. Kidney injury carries a high mortality rate, although with proper treatment, including dialysis in severe cases, it can be reversed. If we collectively increased our efforts to keep the virus at bay, we can help save lives and avoid a fourth and fifth wave.

COVID-19 is increasing across every age group, currently most frequently in people over the age of 80 and those between 20 and 29.

It is so important that we rethink our traditional holiday plans.  Public health and medical professionals are encouraging Washingtonians to voluntarily comply with masking and social distancing directives and gather only with those they live with.

It’s not likely we’ll go “cold turkey” on socialization, but please consider everyone’s health and well-being as you find new, safe ways to celebrate the 2020 holidays. 

This is a societal challenge of our times.

— William E. Lombard, MD, Bellingham, Nov. 16, 2020

Lack of mandated authority hinders water allocation process

To the Editor:

I agree with Eric Hirst’s assessment of the water rights issue about the Nooksack Basin’s waters (Salish Current, Oct. 9, 2020, “Whose water is it in Whatcom County? / Community Voices”).

I was directly involved with the so-called WRIA-1 (Water Resource Inventory Area) process which sought an agreed-to stakeholders’ assessment of seasonal water availability, needs and allocations to avoid the lengthy adjudication process (which was pursued in the Yakima Basin for over 25 years). That process was a testament to the political heat around water rights, which the WRIA process — initiated by Ecology —sought to avoid. 

After four years, the Whatcom stakeholders failed to agree on basic principles, a waste of time and millions in county funds.

A big problem was that Ecology has little mandated authority, responds to political pressure and must rely upon voluntary agreement by the parties involved, all of whom have strong self interests. It has been painful to see these efforts fail, although many facts were established that can certainly be used as informed, impartial guidelines. 

What any countywide process needs now is a clear incentive to settle the matter fairly, and with due regard to senior water rights. Because of Washington state’s strange organization regarding various special districts, some strong incentive is required to bring the parties to settle. Perhaps, careful, selective use of adjudication could help bring agreement closer to reality. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking ….

— John B. Watts, Bellingham, Nov. 9, 2020

Thoughts on the past, present and future of domestic aluminum production

To the Editor:

Your article “Intalco’s closure brings pain for now — what may the future bring” (Salish Current, Oct. 30, 2020) prompts me to offer a few comments from my perspective as a chemical engineer and Bellingham City Council member for nine years.

In general, the aluminum industry’s costs are one-third each for raw materials, electricity and labor.

At one time 11 smelters operated in the state of Washington, largely because of cheap Columbia River hydroelectricity from the Bonneville Power Administration.

As raw materials — like bauxite — were depleted in the U.S., foreign supply supplanted it and so did labor costs associated with the global economy.

These factors, along with economics of scale, have contributed to the demise of U.S. production, notwithstanding the strategic importance of aluminum. I can’t think of immediate solutions for this without a U.S.-government mandate to preserve local production capacity. 

Another thought is to emphasize state and/or national recycling, since this alone saves 95% of energy costs.

— John B. Watts, Bellingham, Nov. 9, 2020