Letters to the Editor, Week of Aug. 9, 2023

The jail, school board elections and Whatcom's non-abundant water
August 9, 2023 at 5:00 a.m.


Having spent a professional lifetime involved in public issues and policy, I retired in my hometown of Bellingham in 2015. At the time a measure was on the ballot calling for new taxes to pay for a new county jail. Coincidentally I visited the former St. Luke's hospital, where I had been born, a several-story building with two secure floors set aside for those with mental health and drug problems. It had two large, vacant parking lots adjacent to it. Might this be a site for a new county jail? I asked a city official about it but got a blank stare.

The jail was rejected by voters that year and again two years later. Now it is on the ballot again but without reliable cost estimates or a design. As it happens I also spend time in a central Arizona city; a conservative, law-and-order place, where voters recently have financed new city and county jails where the previous jails were much newer than the present county jail here.

Is the new jail proposal responding to a genuine need for modernization? Or does it reflect a general change in opinion climate in light of homelessness, drug use and street crime which has not existed in prior years? I have not personally seen the present country jail interior. Is it now more dangerous and insufficient than when it was built 40 years ago? We have been provided no information leading us to believe that it is. Nor, as mentioned, have we seen reliable cost estimates or a design plan.

New jails are being built because of general public unease about public safety. But are new jails the answer to that? I will vote no in November on the jail proposal. County officials then should look at need, cost, siting proposals, and an architect's design for the proposed facility. The place to start before mandating new taxes for a new jail.

Ted Van Dyk



As I read the article on the proposed jail (CDN, Aug. 6, 2023)  I was reminded of the old adage: A multifunctional tool will perform no function adequately. 

The new jail is supposed to provide for violent criminals, non-violent criminals, the mentally ill, and the drug afflicted. It can’t be done. 

I believe most voters would be willing to pay taxes to build a facility that will lock up violent criminals until they can be sentenced to prison. (Prison and jail are not synonymous.)  Likewise, most voters would be willing to have a jail to house nonviolent criminals for the short term.  But I don’t think that a jail should also be a mental health facility or a drug rehab center.   

If the voters decide that we also need a tax-funded mental health facility, let’s build one.  If they decide we need a tax-funded drug rehab center, let’s build one of those.  It must be recognized, though, that the personnel needed to run all these different types of facilities require very different training. It’s ludicrous to think that one person can handle all types of problems. 

Likewise, our police officers should not have to be either psychiatrists or drug counselors.  When they arrest someone, that person should be brought to some kind of central triage center so a determination could be made as to where they really belong. 

Thus far the “planning” for the new whatever it is has been a disaster. Many questions have been asked; none have been answered.   Until they are, nothing regarding the “jail” should be on the ballot. 

Ira Penn 



Cascadia Daily News frequently plays host to letters endorsing various candidates for office throughout Bellingham and greater Whatcom County. After seeing the primary results of the Blaine School Board election, I’m hoping one of the more than 1,000 voters who cast a ballot for Tana Perkins Reneau would be willing to retroactively write an endorsement letter in support of their candidate for the benefit of CDN’s readership. [Reneau, a former teacher, pleaded not guilty to felony charges of child rape, abuse and incest at a June hearing.]

As one of those readers, perhaps I’m missing some perspective that could serve as a learning opportunity beyond what this paper has already written about the candidate in other contexts.

Useful details would include why the voter valued this candidacy, and how they hoped Ms. Reneau’s leadership would benefit the children of Blaine when the accusations against her seem to indicate there had been little benefit to her involvement with her own children.

Chris Resor

Vancouver, WA


Kudos to [Cascadia Daily News reporter] Ralph Schwartz for his series on the jail. It was well-written and clearly well-researched. The scope of both the problems and the possible solutions is bigger than I previously understood. Thanks for opening my eyes a little wider. 

Bill Dowe



Has the Washington Department of Ecology forgotten its mission? At the same time that Ecology declared a drought in Whatcom County, the department largely ignored a blatant theft of water by a farmer who illegally irrigated 40 acres for two years. Although being offered “technical assistance multiple times, and being issued a cease-and-desist order,” the farmer continued to irrigate

Given this outrageous violation of state water law, Ecology fined the farmer $12,000, equivalent to about $120/acre-foot. This puny fine doesn’t even cover the likely market price of water in Whatcom County and certainly not the value of water. And it isn’t much of a fine, more a modest cost of doing business.

If Whatcom water supplies were abundant, salmon were thriving, and orca were well fed, this Ecology action might make sense. But given the realities of climate change and its adverse effects on our local water resources, Ecology’s measly fine is an insult to law-abiding citizens and the environment.

Eric Hirst



One comment about the present-day Republican party, locally and nationally, cannot be repeated or emphasized enough. That is their total lack of shame at their leading candidate's behavior or at best their unwillingness to call out those in their party who seek to erase hundreds of years of progress in the pursuit of a more perfect union. Further, just calling them out is not enough, they need to be unelected and many never allowed to run for office again. 

This weak-kneed approach to saying they do not agree with the likes of Trump and his swarm of vermin, and then when they get in the privacy of the voting act, vote for him and his consummately either addled or downright evil ilk, does no honor to our country's history or that of the GOP.

And in what twisted life, religion, or world view does making progress as a nation, or being enlightened and awakened to the false history and poor excuses for behaving as fascists and fools, somehow become a pursuit worthy of criticizing?

Obfuscations, denial, self-delusion, cluelessness, or obliviousness, do not do Republican views any manner of justice ... and only emphasize how far astray from their own principals and integrity they have strayed. 

Though in my life I have often disagreed with many of their stances and conclusions, I remember a time when they at least behaved as adults and people of intellect and compassion. Please bring that back and cease all this nonsense that strives to turn us into something we are not, nor have ever been.

Michael Waite



An article about proposed changes to the Skagit agritourism code (CDN, Aug. 2, 2023) raised a nagging red flag for me, and so I am passing it along to my much loved and deeply appreciated Cascadia Daily News. The article reports on the conflict generated by a proposed code change, but fails to say anything substantive about the underlying issue. One side claims that without the changes, “Agriculture in Skagit County, as we know it, will be gone forever.” Another says the changes “…would devastate the local economy.”

I cherish the local farms and value the local economy, but I haven’t got a clue, based on the article, what problem the code changes are intended to solve. Apparently, it has something to do with how farm buildings are used, but is it a public health concern? A taxation issue? Unfair business practices? An insensitivity to the gender identity of cows? I suppose it’s always news when people are fighting, but let’s also try to find room for what they are fighting about.

Scott Miller



I enjoyed seeing an article in CDN about cycling. I was somewhat disappointed it was written partially from the "you can drive and then park here to ride your bike" perspective. I and many are trying to encourage folks to ride for errands, get places for leisure such as the gym, yoga, seeing friends, whatever the case may be. This is to decrease the number of cars on the road, increase the quality of life (ah, fresh air and not in battle mode in a car), and general health.

If you're ever looking for a feature idea, I'd recommend talking to Whatcom County Smart Trips, the Walk and Roll citizens group, Whatcom County Bike/Pedestrian Advisory Committee, and maybe Bellingham Greenways. I think it would be worthwhile to try to inform readers about cycling as a mode of transportation. After all, many CDN readers live within a couple of miles of some of the trails that were mentioned in the current story and really don't need to drive to ride their bikes. 

Smart Trips offers multiple free classes, such as Confident City Cycling 1 and 2, Teen Lifetime travel class and bike maintenance. They offer ride-alongs to give people tips. They offer phone consultations. They will come to places of employment and schools to give group classes. They've been around for about 12 years and are funded by the City of Bellingham, Whatcom Council of Governments, and state and national funding and grants. A good contact is Michelle Grandy. 

Walk and Roll is new, spearheaded by a few dedicated folks trying to expand active transportation through education, super easy, fun no-pressure group rides (Thursday Slow Rolls) and infrastructure. They are actively helping to guide the city's active transportation master plans. A good contact is Laura Weiss or Robin Thomas.

The county's bike/pedestrian advisory committee (of which I'm a member) is similar to Walk and Roll in that we seek to improve bikeability and walkability outside of the city limits via infrastructure and education. We advise the county on projects and recommendations. We have a priority list of projects and are working on county-wide route maps. Good contacts are the co-chairs: Sonja Max and Stephen Zylstra.

Pete Sharp



Have you had enough?

Are you mad as hell ... and not going to take it anymore?

Do you suffer from protracted PTSD (Psychopathic Trump Stress Disorder)?

Has the rancorous cacophony, drowning out basic civility and reasonable and rational discourse, filled you with a profound sense of despair?

Then this is a direct and urgent appeal to you, my fellow men and women of goodwill to summon the Better Angels of our nature.

Our task: to mobilize the middle to vote ... to preserve and protect our democratic ideals.

That quiescent, often silent, 40 percent middle demographic, straddling the two polar extremes, open to reasonable, civil debate on a shared set of facts and truths. 

We are at an inflection point in America … at the crossroads of the survival of democracy and by extension, the planet, racing toward the precipice of the Seventh Mass Extinction of civilization.

Do we choose the light of hope, civility and inclusivity over the darkness of divisiveness, cynicism, violence, and anarchy?

Do we resolve our differences through cold civil debate...or violent hot civil war? 

But the history of social justice inspires that the uncommon courage of common, but not ordinary folks ... just like yourself, reminds us to never forget the sage words of anthropologist Margaret Mead: 

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” 

Michael Kominsky


Letters to the Editor are published online Wednesdays and a selection is published in print Fridays. Send Letters to the Editor to letters@cascadiadaily.com, due Tuesdays at 10 a.m. Rules: Maximum 250 words, have a point and make it clearly. CDN reserves the right to edit letters for length, clarity, grammar and style, and personal attacks or offensive content. Letters should be submitted with an address/phone number to verify the writer's identity (not for publication).

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