TWA members and others are talking to writer Sharon Babcock about enduring inspirations, life lessons, and perspectives from their experiences on the working waterfront.
This month’s feature: Karen Gogins, policy and technical project manager for Citizens for a Healthy Bay and TWA vice president.
As the policy and technical project manager for Citizens for a Healthy Bay, Karen Gogins facilitates the organization’s expert panel to probe issues affecting the health of the bay and submits, with input from this committee, letters of public comment on behalf of area citizens on critical issues that arise from time to time.
She is also serving in her second term as vice president of the Tacoma Waterfront Association and sits on the steering committee of the environmental education committee of interest for the Puyallup Watershed Initiative.
Q: What has been the biggest surprise for you in taking this new position?
A: How complicated the regulatory environment is. This has been like drinking from a fire hose for me, discovering who the players are and where Citizens for a Healthy Bay fits in.
I came to the organization as an AmeriCorps (often seen as a domestic Peace Corps) staffer and then served as community and partnerships manager. Though the learning curve is huge, I have learned over the year that this area of environmental law, policy, regulations, and the big picture view of problems we now need to solve, are where I have the most impact. I have found here the field I was meant to be engaged in.
Q: What have been critical moments in your work so far?
A: The recent Tacoma methanol controversy caused the community to take a deep dive into a passionate community debate. I had never been a part of something like that before. I learned how social movements play out and how grassroots organizing/power works. This debate has provided Tacoma with time to step back and look at its intentions for the future. One particular moment for me was testifying at the first public hearing in front of 2,000-plus people. It was a tense and environmentally charged atmosphere, and I learned a lot. Tacoma’s mayor has gathered people to discuss the sub-area plan for the future of the tideflats, and I am fortunate to be a part of that.
Q: What did Tacoma learn from that debate?
A: That the citizens of Tacoma want a more transparent decision-making process regarding what kind of industry is best for the community in the future. That there needs to be a dialogue among the many entities involved (people who live and work in the area) and a safe space for that process to happen.
Q: In your view, what is your biggest challenge today?
A: We are looking at how to bridge the gap between the average lay person’s interests and those of experts who know the technical jargon and abbreviations and have used them for a lifetime. For the future use of industrial sites, we would like to see a decision-making process that engages a wide range of people to set up the vision for moving forward.
Q: Who are the other major environmental organizations in Tacoma and its environs that play a role in developments for the future?
A: Locally, Tahoma Audubon Society and the local chapter of the Sierra Club. Regionally, the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, the Washington Environmental Council, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the State Department of Ecology.
Q What does success look like for you?
A: Storm water runoff is our biggest threat to Commencement Bay. Water pollution is difficult because people have a hard time engaging with a problem they can’t see. Success would be an improved relationship between citizens and the shoreline—one that citizens can access it, enjoy, project, and feel an ownership of.