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Editorial: Fear prevents crude oil export supporters from being vocal

Two weeks ago, I put out a call to supporters of the crude oil export facilities.

I found it fascinating that I had been to several forums regarding the potential export facilities, but had found the vocal opponents have far out-voiced and, sometimes, even out-shouted the supporters. Sometimes, there’s been absolutely no supporters at an event — or maybe just one guy.

On my letters to the editor page, rarely have I ever received comments from those in support of the facility. I have received dozens, if not hundreds of letters, emails and opinions from the folks challenging the facilities or concerned with the recent derailments. Once, last year, after seeing so much coverage against the facilities, I went begging for someone to write a favorable column. When no one at the Port would, I snagged a small chunk out of the Port’s newsletter and ran that.

For the most part, the folks in support of these facilities appear to be connected with the rail line, the export facilities themselves or the Port of Grays Harbor. In other words, the folks who reckon to make the money have been the ones in support of the facilities.

Yes, the Greater Grays Harbor Inc. economic development group endorsed the projects in April of last year. But even the membership at that group noted that the support has been rather dim at the public scoping events.

In response to my request, I have received several letters. All of them arrived unsigned. All of them state that they are in support of the projects, but that they are afraid of coming forward. Our letters to the editor policy prevents me from running unsigned letters. But I was fascinated by the opinions that I thought I should at least mention their reasoning.

“Lots of people are for oil shipments,” one person wrote to me. “My whole family of about eight living here and all of my friends, who are many. But why should I go and argue and make mad those who protest everything? The prison, the Walmart, oil, golf courses, anything that speaks of jobs or opportunity. … I have a business with 60 employees counting on me, not spending my time with these folks.”

Another person wrote to me that he was afraid his business would be picketed. He can’t stand to lose business based on his personal opinions.

A third person wrote to me a rather lengthy letter explaining that the Friends of Grays Harbor, the Audubon Society and the Quinaults — all who have challenged the crude oil export facilities — have the power to “destroy” him.

“You don’t think they can destroy you?” he wrote. “Look at what happened in Westport. One poor developer took them on and lost everything he worked his entire life for. … You will never get me or my friends, or 98 percent of the silent majority to admit this publicly out of fear. The people opposed to oil want to protect their own little world. They already have their future financially secure. They could care less about the rest of us trying to make a living in a county where there are no jobs like there used to be. Loggers are mostly gone. All of the cedar mills are gone. There is no more paper mill, no lumber mills and every block has empty store fronts. … Grays Harbor is dying. We need jobs. Look at the booming economies in North Dakota, Montana and Texas. These places are trying to ensure their future.

“Supply and demand — let it work, quit throwing up roadblocks every step of the way,” the letter writer wrote. “Be progressive and let free enterprise work.”

Fear. That’s what’s keeping people from going to the forums, writing to city leaders or voicing opinions at city council meetings.

Ray Brown of Westport has sometimes been the only guy in favor of these projects at forums. He was the only one who stood up at a forum I moderated in Elma recently. In fact, not even the folks who would economically benefit showed up at that forum.

Brown says he’s not surprised at the reaction I’ve received from supporters, who are afraid to be named.

“And they have a right to be afraid,” Brown told me in a recent telephone interview. “I know people who have been threatened with boycotts and loss of business and sometimes they have even had it carried out.”

Brown said he attended a luncheon recently and was congratulated by Port Commissioner Chuck Caldwell for sticking his neck out in support of the projects.

“For me, I don’t care what they’ll do,” Brown said. “I don’t have kids in school here. I hate these bastards. They are destroying everything.”

Brown is also among those going online calling out suspicion that the recent derailments — three here on the Harbor in two weeks — may have been caused by sabotage. The rail line says there’s no evidence to that effect. But Brown hopes a recent investigation by the Federal Railroad Administration will put the matter to rest.

Last year, County Commissioner Herb Welch tried to convince his fellow commissioners to take a stance in support of the crude oil exports. But Welch’s push didn’t go anywhere.

Fellow Commissioner Frank Gordon adamantly opposes the projects, while Commissioner Wes Cormier has tried to take a neutral point of view. On the opposite side of the coin, Cormier and Welch teamed up to defeat a resolution last month that would have had the county oppose the projects.

Welch says that “real or imagined, the fear is real among those who support these projects.”

“We do know the opposition is very radical in what they’re saying and they don’t really have to put their hands on a Bible if what they’re saying is actually true,” Welch said. “I was in the sales business for a number of years and it’s an established fact that people don’t buy on facts, they buy on emotion and that is what the opposition is selling. They’re saying, if you allow this, everybody is going to die.”

LeRoy Tipton, the retired Grays Harbor Chamber director, says that he’s had a few business owners talk to him about not wanting to be too public about their support, as well.

Tipton does support the crude oil exports, but says he only does so if the tracks are improved and problem rail cars aren’t used.

“I sure don’t support anoymous letters,” Tipton said. “We need people to put their names on these letters and tell people why this could be a good idea. ... I am not afraid of the opposition. They have tremendous organization skills and they have really pulled together their letter writers and have done just a great job of getting their side out every time there’s a hearing of any kind.”

A couple letter writers referred to last year’s port commissioner election between Ron Figlar-Barnes and Chuck Caldwell.

Caldwell, who supports the exports, won with 70.3 percent of the vote. Figlar-Barnes opposed it. I know several notable people who voted for Caldwell and still oppose the crude oil exports, frankly, because he’s a quality guy with a breadth of experience. I’m not so sure the election was a public up-or-down vote of the crude oil export facilities.

“People in support of businesses and yes, oil, are afraid to speak out,” one writer notes. “They are afraid of the opposition. The opposition can put anyone of us out of business. They are, for the most part, a vocal group who don’t have to worry about where their next paycheck comes from.”

What do you think? Are they right? Let me know. And sign your letters this time.

Steven Friederich is editor of The Vidette. Contact him at editor@thevidette.com