Guest editorial: SSA still getting it wrong

Published on Wed, Dec 18, 2013 by Sandy Robson

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Our group, Save Birch Bay, takes issue with some of the information in SSA Marine’s Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) advertisement in our local newspapers titled, “Report to the Community, Volume 4.”

We believe SSA’s ad was misleading when it stated, “Whatcom County was one of 11 Washington counties whose job creation was rated as ‘slipping’ (Source: Washington Regional Economic Analysis Project).” 

Save Birch Bay contacted Gary Smith, a former Washington State University economics professor and the director and president of the Pacific Northwest Regional Economic Analysis Project (PNREAP) and asked him about this statistic used in SSA’s ad.

Dr. Smith explained that actually “Whatcom County, in the long-term (from 2002 to 2011), is ranked fifth out of all the counties [39] in Washington state.” He also said, “In 2011, Whatcom County employment was ranked 13th in terms of employment growth out of all the counties in the state.” 

Dr. Smith said that it appeared that SSA pulled out the word “slipping” from the careful analytics of the study, thereby exploiting the intent of the PNREAP findings, in “SSA’s attempt at a positional statement in their ad, rather than sharing what is really in the results; sound analysis and honest scholarship.” 

SSA’s ad also talked about the 15.2 percent poverty level rate in Whatcom County, and attempts to sell the idea that GPT’s generated jobs would be a good way to address our county’s poverty issue. However, a 2011 survey entitled, “The Whatcom Prosperity Project,” conducted by the Opportunity Council in Whatcom County, found that of those living in poverty in Whatcom County who responded to the survey, 73 percent were women. 

Additionally, 60 percent of the survey respondents reported that a disability or lack of skills kept them from steady work. We believe it is unlikely that women, who make up the bulk of the survey respondents living in poverty, along with those with disabilities that may prevent them from working, plus those lacking necessary trade skills to work skilled construction and terminal jobs, would be the ones hired at GPT in any noticeable percentage to reduce the county’s poverty level in any significant way.

The Whatcom Prosperity Project reported that one of the major challenges for the individuals living in poverty is housing cost issues. Save Birch Bay looked at examples of communities that had a big project come into their area such as GPT, which would bring additional temporary construction workers to our area. The influx of those additional workers caused a greater difficulty in finding housing and drove up housing costs significantly. It’s actually more likely that the proposed GPT would worsen the already bad situation for those living in poverty because they already can barely afford their housing costs; most of them will not be the ones hired to work those construction jobs, and the influx of the temporary construction workers would likely cause housing costs to rise because of the increased demand. Ultimately, this would likely cause greater hardship for those at poverty level.

SSA’s ad references Western Washington University (WWU) professor of international business, Dr. Steve Globerman, who was paid by the Washington State Farm Bureau to produce a report on economic implications of coal export terminal expansion to other industries. In his report, Dr. Globerman said that “initially” the proposed terminals would be used to export primarily coal, and then would provide infrastructure for exports of other bulk commodities like grain, wheat and other agricultural products. What Globerman failed to include in his report is that the permit application for GPT states that in the first 10 years of terminal operation it would handle and export only coal, and possibly calcined coke and Canadian potash. If grain, etc. would ever be shipped through GPT, it would likely be after the first 10 years in operation.

Dr. Globerman is also quoted in SSA’s ad talking about upstream benefits of expanded port capacity that are “substantial and fairly widespread throughout the state’s economy.” SSA’s ad left out an important part of that concept, which Globerman also wrote in his report. “The upstream economic activity encouraged by the addition of efficient port capacity in Washington state will obviously benefit employees and shareholders of coal companies, as well as employees and shareholders of companies that supply inputs and services to coal producers,” and it’s important to note, “Few of those employees and shareholders are likely residents of Washington state.”

SSA’s ad also mentions the job number estimates from an analysis conducted by Martin Associates [paid for by SSA], and says those estimates were “vetted” by three WWU affiliated economists (Jed Brewer, Hart Hodges and David Nelson, who were paid by SSA Marine). Save Birch Bay questions the fact that these three consultants concluded that the Martin Associates economic impact findings were reasonable, when in fact they had found that the induced and indirect temporary construction job number estimate was 45.7 percent lower than Martin Associates’ original estimate. A 45.7 percent difference in the estimates does not seem “reasonable.”

SSA Marine and its hired PR firms continue to seemingly mislead the public with their advertisements while trying to paint a bleak picture for Whatcom County if a 48-million-ton coal terminal is not permitted and built. SSA attempts the message that GPT is the salvation for our county, when actually we believe the real bleak future would result if the Gateway Pacific coal terminal were to be permitted and built.

Sandy Robson is the communications director for Save Birch Bay. Save Birch Bay is a group dedicated to educating Birch Bay residents, and the general public, about the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal.

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