Whatcom Watch Online
August 2001
Volume 10, Issue 8

Cover Story

State Rejects Attempts to Weaken Protection of Lake Whatcom

Introduction by Tim Paxton

Tim Paxton is a board member of the Clean Water Alliance. The alliance is a group of Bellingham citizens who are concerned about our water resources in Whatcom County.

Lake Whatcom water quality is under attack again. This time the group trying to undermine science and public health in the watershed is our own Whatcom County Water District #10. A June 5, 2001 letter (reproduced on page 12) written by the president of the water district board exposed the irresponsible stance of the water district.

The letter is a reaction to Washington State Department of Ecology listing Lake Whatcom as a candidate for their year 2002 “Cleanup Plan.” Lake Whatcom was placed on the Department of Ecology 303(d) list as an impaired waterway for oxygen depletion in 1998 and is soon to be listed a second time for phosphorus.

Lake Whatcom Cleanup Rates Low Priority

Water District #10 proposed that Washington State Department of Ecology not perform a Total Maximum Daily Loading (TMDL) study on Lake Whatcom. The board of commissioners president Blair Ford states in the letter, “In fact, we recommend that Ecology reconsider the 303(d) listing altogether.”

On June 29, 2001, the Department of Ecology responded (letter reproduced on page 13) sternly to Water District #10 with, “Ecology’s Northwest Region ranked Lake Whatcom as its top priority for a TMDL to commence in July 2001.”

What Is Total Maximum Daily Loading (TMDL)?

In May of 2001, the State Department of Ecology called for public comments on their plan to finally implement scientific studies in Lake Whatcom. These studies are called Total Maximum Daily Loading (TMDL) studies.

Basically, the study looks at a single pollutant in the reservoir and tries to measure over time if the lake can “handle” the amount currently being dumped into the lake. If the study determines that the lake is subject to water quality deterioration due to an overloading of this pollutant, then cleanup and remediation steps must be taken.

TMDL studies are required under federal Clean Water Act law for waterways that are listed on the 303(d) list as polluted and failed waterways. Lake Whatcom reservoir is listed as a polluted waterway under the Clean Water Act. The federal government funds the state Department of Ecology to do these studies.

Fines Could Reverse Water Quality Degradation

The Department of Ecology proposes to scientifically study the dissolved oxygen and phosphorus levels in the lake. Previous studies have shown the lake is already showing signs that it cannot handle the degradation in water quality.

If the TMDL study shows a problem, then DOE must take steps to reverse the situation. DOE can impose fines of up to $10,000 per day to force Whatcom County, City of Bellingham, and Water District #10 to clean up their storm water runoff, for example.

Lake Mismanagement?

Water District #10 is a member of the joint Lake Whatcom Reservoir Management team along with the City of Bellingham and Whatcom County. In this letter, Water District #10 exposes its lack of concern for water quality, public health and science, and its determination to promote more development at all costs.

The question we need to ask is: why does Water District #10 not want a TMDL study? The costs are paid by DOE, so the reason is not budgetary. Perhaps Water District #10 fears the study will show that the Lake Whatcom watershed is already over-urbanized. This TMDL study may put a halt of further development in our drinking water reservoir.

City and County Are Curiously Silent

Interestingly, neither the city nor county objected to the Water District #10 position. Does their silence mean consent to ignore science and public health as they continue to promote more development in the watershed? The city and county are implicated by DOE’s assertion that “Šwe have not seen evidence of actions at the local level that will adequately address the phosphorus problem within the time frame required.”

Department of Ecology Finally Worried About Lake Whatcom

The Washington State Department of Ecology strongly rejected the Water District #10 proposal. After years of avoiding enforcement of water pollution laws in our watershed, DOE is now very worried about the vulnerability of the reservoir regarding pollutants related to dissolved oxygen and phosphorus.

Editor’s Note: This is the letter from Whatcom County Water District #10 to the Washington State Department of Ecology questioning the need for a TMDL study of Lake Whatcom. The lake is listed as a polluted waterway under the Clean Water Act. TMDL studies are required under federal legislation for waterways listed as polluted and failed.

Whatcom County Water District 10
1010 Lakeview Street
Bellingham Washington 98226
June 5, 2001


Ron McBride
Department of Ecology
PO Box 47600
Olympia, WA 98504-7600

Subject: Waterbodies Proposed for Cleanup Plans

Reference: (a) May 2001 Department of Ecology “Focus” Sheet

Dear Mr McBride:

Thank you for soliciting comments on Ecology’s tentative list of “Waterbodies Proposed for Cleanup Plans” for FY2002. The five-member Board of Commissioners of the District are concerned that Lake Whatcom is inappropriately a candidate for a clean-up plan, based upon the inaccurate perception of dissolved oxygen problems. Due to scientific and practical issues associated with the original 303(d) listing, we believe that at the very least Lake Whatcom should be considered a low priority for TMDL assessment. In fact, we recommend that Ecology reconsider the listing altogether.

Scientific Issues

The original listing of Lake Whatcom for dissolved oxygen problems was based on calculations of Hypolimnetic Oxygen Depletion Rates (HODR) performed by Ecology. These calculations indicated there was an increasing trend in the depletion rate, however, the trend was acknowledged as being statistically weak. Unfortunately, the methodology used by Ecology did not follow the methodology described in the literature for assessing HODR. When this methodology was followed, no evidence of a change in oxygen conditions was apparent. A third party review of both assessment techniques supported the later conclusion (Entranco, 1999; pages 35-37). A copy of this report is enclosed for your information.

Since Ecology’s work of three years ago, we have continued to monitor and assess the oxygen condition in the lake. These more recent efforts and calculations of HODR continue to indicate that there is no deteriorating trend in oxygen concentrations or depletion rates. As evidence of this, please see Figure 2-4 on page 2-4 of the enclosed April 2001 Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS) prepared for the District by Adolfson Associates, Inc.

In addition to these serious concerns about methodology, HODR calculations in themselves are not considered to be a reliable tool for assessing changes in lake condition. It is recommended that they always be used in combination with other assessment tools. This is supported by the following quote by Dr. Robert Wetzel: “Hypolimnetic oxygen deficits are but one index and must be used with great caution....”

None of the criteria listed in Ecology’s Focus Sheet refers to the original intent of the Clean Water Act and 303(d) listing. This is that the identified or perceived water quality problem should be human caused. As stated previously, low dissolved oxygen conditions have existed in Basin 1 for the 30 year period of record. Any trend observed three years ago was acknowledged to be weak. No trend was calculated using the standard HODR methodology. No trend is apparent from more recent monitoring results. Thus, there is no reason to believe that the condition is not natural.

In summary, the inclusion of Lake Whatcom in the 303(d) list is not scientifically defensible, and the development of an accurate, reliable TMDL for Lake Whatcom would be expensive and wrought with controversy. It would not likely result in any change in planning or implementation activities beyond what is currently being done in our watershed. It is our strong belief that there are many waterbodies in Washington State that better meet your stated prioritization criteria.

Blair E. Ford
For the Board of Commissioners

Editor’s Note: This is Washington State Department of Ecology’s response. Ecology ranked Lake Whatcom as its top priority for a TMDL study to commence in July 2001.

State Of Washington
Department Of Ecology
Whatcom County
P.O. Box 47600
Olympia, Washington 98504-7600

June 29, 2001
The Honorable Blair E. Ford, President
Board of Commissioners
Whatcom County Water District 10
1010 Lakeview Street
Bellingham, W A 98226

Dear Commissioner Ford:

Tom Fitzsimmons [director of the Department of Ecology] has asked me to respond to your recent letter regarding Lake Whatcom. I appreciate your continued interest in protecting the lake. In your letter, you asked two questions related to the Washington Department of Ecology’s regulatory responsibilities in protecting Lake Whatcom. Responses to those questions are provided below.

Regarding whether Lake Whatcom should be placed on the list of impaired waterbodies as required under section 303(d) of the federal Clean Water Act: Lake Whatcom is currently listed for dissolved oxygen (DO). The state water quality standard for DO is “no measurable decrease from natural conditions.” This criterion is set in consideration of the sensitivity of lakes to nutrient inputs. Lower levels of dissolved oxygen can lead to greater levels of internal phosphorus loading.

The reports cited in your letter identify, that the trophic state of the lake has not changed in several years. Importantly, that is not the criterion by which impairment or a lake is judged. By the time that the trophic state has changed it may be too late to clean up the lake. Ecology and U.S. EPA concur with the report by Greg Pelletier of Ecology that demonstrates a measurable decrease in dissolved oxygen, using analytical tools appropriate for Lake Whatcom.

Since the mid-1990s, Ecology considered listing Lake Whatcom for phosphorus. In 1996 and 1998, the lake was not listed for phosphorus, given the assurances by local water resources managers that phosphorus would be adequately addressed through implementation of the Lake Whatcom Management Plan.

However, the most recent regulations implementing the Clean Water Act require that water cleanup plans must assure compliance with all water quality standards before the next “listing cycle.” Toward that end, we have not seen evidence of actions at the local level that will adequately address the phosphorus problem within the time frame required. Therefore, Ecology will begin to address the phosphorus impairment through a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) in anticipation of the lake being listed for phosphorus in 2002. In the course of establishing a TMDL for Lake Whatcom, the extent of the lake that is impaired and the extent of the watershed that affects impairment will need to be evaluated.

The second issue you raised regards how Ecology sets TMDL priorities: The memorandum of agreement between Ecology and EPA (which can be found online at www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wq/tmdl/303moa12.pdf) establishes our priority scheme.

The first factor is vulnerability to degradation. As indicated above, lakes can be very sensitive to nutrient inputs. In the last two years, a build-up of hydrogen sulfide has been detected in late summer, indicating more severe anoxic conditions. For this reason, Lake Whatcom scored high on the vulnerability factor.

The second factor considers risks to public health, aquatic life and other water-dependent wildlife. As Lake Whatcom is the drinking water source for all of the area served by not only Water District 10 but by the City of Bellingham, it has significant public health implications. Recent studies have identified mercury in fish tissue. Dissolved oxygen may be a factor in converting mercury to the form most easily taken up by fish. For these reasons, Ecology’s Northwest Region ranked Lake Whatcom as its top priority for a TMDL to commence in July 2001.

Again, I appreciate your continued interest in cleaning up and protecting Lake Whatcom. If you have additional questions or comments, I urge you to contact Richard Grout, manager of the Bellingham Field Office, or Steve Hood, manager of the Lake Whatcom TMDL. They can be reached at 738-6250. You may also call me at (360) 407-6405.

Megan White P.E., Manager
Water Quality Program


You, Me and the Bay: How We Can Save the Salish Sea

by Robyn duPre

Robyn duPre is the north sound baykeeper for the environmental organization RE Sources. As baykeeper, she is an advocate and educator for marine water quality.

I was recently asked to give the League of Women Voters a talk about water quality and the state. I intended to simply talk about various indicators of ecosystem health, such as plummeting herring populations, contaminated Orca whales, and loss of spawning habitat for forage fish.

But, as I sat to write my notes for the talk, it morphed. I think I may have caught a few of the women at the league a bit off-guard. I may even have shocked one or two of them, but that’s whats needed these days. We must start to stand up and be willing to talk about what we see happening around us, even if that means that we shock someone or get labeled as “not nice.”

Some of the women at the league asked me to get my talk to a wider audience. So here is my update on the state of the bay, modified for publication and to make note of recent events.

Five Million Gallons of Wastewater Per Day

The state of Bellingham Bay may be changing, given the recent closure of the Georgia-Pacific pulp mill. The mill once discharged approximately 29 million gallons of wastewater into the bay each day. Now it discharges five million gallons per day. The nature of the discharge is less toxic, too, as there are little to no chlorinated compounds being used at the mill. That means no more dioxin, no more furans, no more chloroform.

Ambient water quality in the bay is relatively good. Because of the influence of the Nooksack River, a lot of fresh water is carried into the bay, mixing with marine waters coming in from Rosario Strait at the mouth of the bay.

The relatively clean marine water does dilute pollutants entering the bay directly, through industrial discharges and stormwater, and those that are borne into the bay in the waters of the Nooksack, Little Squalicum, Squalicum, Whatcom, and Padden Creeks.

Nooksack River Sediments Interrupt Navigation

The Nooksack River is a very important influence on the bay, as it brings high volumes of fresh water as well as another influence: sediments. Each year, the river deposits an estimated 526,000 cubic yards of sediment into the bay. This, of course, has enormous impacts, not only for the biology of the bay, but also for the human economy that depends upon shipping channels for commerce.

The sediments deposited by the Nooksack River are now shoaling in the Whatcom Waterway, and they are beginning to interrupt navigation. This, of course, leads to the issue that has galvanized public and government agency attention for the past four years. If we are to maintain our federal navigation channels, they must be dredged.

Mercury is Toxic Legacy

But there is a toxic legacy lurking in the old marine sediments: approximately 26,000 pounds of mercury lie at the bottom of our bay. So, an army of local, state, and federal agencies are working to develop a plan for how to dredge and dispose of these sediments. I will not belabor you with another re-telling of my concerns about this process.

It should be pointed out that the vast majority of these contaminated sediment sites are historic legacies. Indeed, Georgia-Pacific did finally stop discharging mercury into our bay after a mere 33 years of privatizing profits while socializing costs. With the recent closure of the mill’s pulping operation, now more than ever, the issues surrounding the toxicity of its discharges are relegated to the realm of past practice. Now we are left to containment and remediation strategies.

Continuing Threats to Marine Ecosystem

And we are left looking at the other impacts to the marine ecosystem that are on-going. What are the greatest threats to the marine ecosystem that are occurring now? That, in 30, 50 or 100 years, we will look to, shaking our heads with remorse?

Sadly, there are many such threats. But I think that for now, I’ll choose to explore the issue of the large volume of contaminated stormwater issuing from homes, businesses, industries, farms, logging sites, roads, shopping malls, and their acres of parking lots.

Nonpoint Pollution

Stormwater pollution, what a funny name–it sounds as if the storms rain down pollution. Another name for it is nonpoint pollution. That’s an odd name too, when you consider the fact that there is a point, or a source, for every drop of pollution. It comes from my car, from your lawn, from that parking lot.

I comment on every pollution discharge permit granted to facilities in Whatcom and Skagit counties. And there are a lot of them–over a hundred in just these two counties, and almost a thousand for the state. But all of these facilities added together do not contribute as much pollution to Puget Sound as you and I.

It is individuals, with their cars and the miles and miles of pavement that they require. It is the aphid death that we spray on our roses and the slug bait we put out to protect our strawberries. It is the slavish devotion to our lawns. It is our mindlessly driving our cars when a bicycle would do.

The Enemy Is Us

It is our need to drive to a shopping mall to buy new baubles whenever we do not feel fulfilled. It is the trail of pollution that we leave behind ourselves each time that we drive, or buy, or spray, or flush. That is the real challenge facing Puget Sound, facing the natural world. We have met the enemy, and she is us.

Our population is forever growing. This means more houses, more cars, more roads for these cars, more oil drilling to support the cars, more lawns, more pesticides to keep those lawns weed-free, more office buildings, more dams and perhaps even nuclear power plants to power those office buildings, and what seems to me to be an ever increasing number of places to buy the same pointless gew gaws.

Culture of Consumption

All of this is, of course, driven by the culture of consumption to which we abdicate our personal power. It is driven by ever hungrier corporations and their perfect tool–television. These days, many companies point to their environmental record to show that they are good neighbors, good stewards of the environment.

And certainly, many corporations have substantially cleaned up their act, in this country at least. But, in many ways this is a facade covering the real issue–that corporations make their way in the world by encouraging practices that are fundamentally unsustainable.

The corporations that are consolidating their grip of power over economy, culture, environment, and freedom make their riches by making and selling things that we consume. That might be a product, a service, information, or most disturbingly, culture.

We no longer make our own culture, we no longer enjoy some of the most fundamental aspects of humanity, such as deeply connecting with others, engaging in the creative process, making music, thinking, or embarking on profound spiritual exploration. Instead, we sit back and let the corporations fill our ever-hungry maws with more and more empty calories.

American Attitude Exported by Corporate Media

Of course, this is the perfect system because all of the baubles that we could ever buy will not satisfy our cravings for connection, for quality, for an authentic relationship with ourselves, with others, with the natural world. I have a friend that believes that government is preparing a police state and if we are not careful, there will be tanks in the streets. I tell him: that is not necessary, because our culture has developed the perfect system of societal control–the twin devils of television and consumerism.

It is not necessarily what comes out of the discharge pipe that is causing the degradation of marine ecosystems–it is the culture of consumerism. It is the expectation that we must all have big houses, big cars, televisions in every room, meat on our plate every day, and the ability to buy whatever we want, whenever we want.

And this very American attitude is being exported by the corporate media, because it is the only way they can continue their ever expanding corporate growth. The American way is not about truth and freedom; it is the cultural ideology of consumerism. Anyone who has traveled to other places in the world knows how absurd this is. Our appetites are so much bigger than those of any other country.

Americans Gobble Natural Resources

In this country, for example, we consume 30 percent more electricity than any other country in the world. We gobble many times the natural resources per capita than any other nation. And to think that we can export these appetites without extreme consequences for the environment (or for ourselves) is akin to hiding our heads in the contaminated sand.

Community Discourse Devoid of Respect

Not only do we see the consequences of our consumption in the form of environmental and cultural degradation, but we also see it in our community discourse and politics. I attend a lot of community meetings. I often don’t say much, but observe the way my fellow community members express their concerns and values. Increasingly, what I see is a community discourse that is devoid of respect.

Often, I see young people express their concerns in a manner that is not particularly factually correct or that asks larger questions, such as those surrounding the tradeoff between profit and health. Many other community members chuckle and shake their heads, or try to discount or invalidate the young people.

For their part, more conservative community members spout the same tired rhetoric, which causes the “liberals” to scoff. No one is trying to hear beneath the rhetoric. Many of the people that are judged as being antigrowth are simply expressing a profound unease that perhaps even they do not fully understand. They see the degradation and they feel the disconnection and are sometimes at a loss to express this articulately or in a manner that the more conservative elements of the community can hear and understand.

Conservative Fear: Get Last Piece of Over-Allocated Pie

The conservative element relies on that tired rhetoric because they also have fear. Their fear is that perhaps we really have been sold bill of goods. That maybe it is true that each generation cannot be better off than the last. That land is finite, that the natural world is finite and grudgingly surrenders its treasures for us to squander. And if this is true, they reason, they had best get their piece of the pie for themselves and their children before everyone realizes that this bitter pie has been over allocated.

The issue of stormwater itself may not be the greatest threat to Puget Sound, but I think that it is emblematic of the larger issue of corporate control and the loss of authentic culture. These are the greatest threats to environmental integrity that I see. And, until we seriously address this issue, we will be, as a friend used to say, “polishing the bright work while the ship burns down.”

This may seem like a gloomy interpretation of today’s state of affairs, but in a way, this view also provides the promise. Because, we can change this. We can save Puget Sound. We can save the last remaining tall grass prairies. We can save our oceans and our rain forests. We can save what is authentic and good about our culture and the cultures of the world.

Just Say No

All we have to do is say no. All we have to do is turn off the television and say no to the corporate-created culture. We can simply stop buying what we don’t need, stop participating in the rape and pillage of the precious and finite natural world, and stop giving permission for the rape and pillage of our own minds and souls. And then, we can engage in the empowering exercise of working to put it back.

We can restore our streams, carve out new wetlands, rebuild a natural shoreline, rebuild community and make our own culture rather than accepting the flimsy placebo prescribed by institutionalized global capitalism. The answer to our water quality problems is a close as our own minds.

We can take back our minds, empty them of the garbage that has been dumped into them, like so many contaminated disposal sites, fill them with art, culture, community and the natural world, and to a great extent, the Salish Sea will take care of itself.


Mariner Reflects on Days Gone By

by Ron Ware

Ron Ware, author of “Seven Thunders,” has been a Bellingham resident for over fifty years and has fished the north coast since 1954.

'Tis been said that if we want to gain an understanding of what the future might be, we must return to the past and try to better understand the events and situations that have lead us to where we are today.

Bellingham Citizens Might Foot Bill

Because this has been said with much conviction by people who were much more intelligent than me, I thought that perhaps this is what I should do, for there is something happening in the present, right here in Bellingham, that troubles me, and I want you to know about it. We, as citizens in this city, might end up footing the astronomical bill for the unrealistic port renovation.

I first came to the waterfront of Bellingham about fifty years ago, and because I spent much of my time with my good friend Richard, I received my first job aboard a fishing vessel in 1954. This was because his father was the owner and operator of the purse seine vessel, Sunlight. I have been involved in some way in the fishing business from that time until this very day.

History of the Waterfront

This story is not about me, but is about examining the history of our waterfront and the things I did see. I travel back in time, to that first year when the web lockers were new, having been built to replace the web shed that burned to the ground in Fairhaven.

It was a time of expansion, for it was decided by the powers that were, to build the Port of Bellingham in such a way that the needs of the fishermen would be met. I say this for the breakwater was to be constructed to protect the port, which contained many individual berths for fishing vessels, as well as the main dock where nets could be loaded and unloaded.

At this time, there were many purse seine vessels moored in Bellingham and most of them were locally owned and many were family affairs that were passed down from one generation to the next. I can remember well-known boats such as the Louis G. and the Editor, the Sweet Home, and the Avalon.

Left on the Winds of Time

The Crusader, and the Tajlum, the Red Feather and the New Moon, and the Yankee and the Yankee Girl, and then there was the Admiral and the Valiant Lady. I can remember the Uncle Sam and the Glory, and the Shorty Mae, as well. I can remember when the harbor was filled with fishing boats. I tell you these things for they are not there any more but are gone, having left on the winds of time.

I can remember when there were only two web lockers, but both were filled with the nets and fishing gear of many different boats. In the spring of the year the crews would come to make ready for the coming season, many; came from the docks of California, for the harvesting of Puget Sound salmon was a very lucrative business.

In those days the crews were rather large, usually consisting of six or seven men, and they would work daily, lacing the individual strips of net together and then fasten the web to the lead line and to the cork line. This process was known as “hanging the seine” and it took a week and sometimes two, to prepare the net for fishing and to load it aboard the boat.

Harbor House Restaurant and Lounge

Now in those days, though a few of the crews did eat their lunch aboard their boats, many of the skippers would take their crews to the restaurant to eat the midday meal. The main restaurant at the harbor was the Harbor House Restaurant and Lounge; their seafood was so delicious that the uptown crowd would come there in large numbers each day, and there was not enough room to accommodate the hungry fishermen.

Because of this crowded situation, many of the skippers began to take their crews to old town to eat at Matt and Millie’s Cafe, which catered to working men by providing wholesome food at affordable prices. Some traveled to Marine Drive and ate at the Two by Four Caf&#eacute;, which also catered to the working men. I can remember when my friend Von would take us to the small eating place located within the plywood mill, where his mother worked and the food was so very good and tasty.

Restaurants Only a Memory

I have mentioned these eating places for now they are only a memory, having left on the winds of time. Oh, I know there are other restaurants now to take their place, but it just isn’t the same. I still remember those hot beef sandwiches, with a generous amount of beef, a large mound of real mashed potatoes and swimming in dark brown and rich beef gravy.

There were hot turkey sandwiches with sliced turkey stacked high, with mashed potatoes and dressing and gravy and a vegetable as well as cranberry sauce. Some days there were hot pork sandwiches served much the same way, and they were served with sage dressing and a cup of apple sauce. Why have I bothered to mention all of these things, you might be wondering.

It is because I am trying to paint a picture of days gone by, when the waterfront of Bellingham was a very busy place and many people worked to earn a living and the people who fed them worked as well.

Bottom Fish Business

I remember how important the bottom fish business once was to Bellingham. There was Dahl Fish, which is gone, and Bornstein Seafood, which is still with us. However, the volume of business is only a shadow of what it once was. I can remember when there must have been at least fifteen or twenty boats, oceangoing trawlers, that would unload here each month. A large number of people were hired to process the catch.

I remember such names as the Hekla and the Dakota, and the New Washington, the Windjammer, and the schooners Kodiak and Torgenskold. I also remember the Nick C. II as well as the Excell II and the Lemes II. Of course, I remember many more, for I was once a crew member aboard the Saint Michael and the Soupfin, as well.

These were the seaworthy vessels that carried the men who labored to bring many thousand of tons of fish to be processed in Bellingham. The fish was then delivered to stores across this nation.

Lumber Industry

How many of you can remember when there were many logging trucks, laboring under a heavy load of logs, shifting gears as they came up the Y Road hill on the Mount Baker Highway? Those logging trucks would then turn onto James Street and then onto State Street and travel right through downtown Bellingham on their way to the mills near here.

There was the York Ellis mill almost in the downtown area as well as Bay Shore lumber on the waterfront. A great many logs became “peelers” when they were unloaded at the two plywood mills located in Bellingham, one in Fairhaven, and one at the north end of the Bellingham waterfront.

I can remember the log booms in south Bellingham and I remember the men who worked there, who pushed the logs with their pike poles and brought them under the big saw that would cut them to the proper length to make plywood out of them.

Many People Earned Living at Port

A little further to the south were the piers of Pacific American Fisheries where freighters would unload canned salmon from Alaska and where crews waited to label the cans and prepare them for shipment to many parts of the world. At this point in time, the waterfront of Bellingham was a very busy place and a great many people earned their livings there.

I can also remember when many trucks loaded with carrots, as well as corn and green beans, delivered the vegetables daily to Bellingham Cold Storage fresh from the farmers’ fields. These vegetables were to be processed and frozen, to feed the people of our country.

As I recall, there were also large flocks of pigeons that waited patiently to feast upon the leftovers of such succulent and tasty vegetarian fare. It is rather sad that the companies that once processed the vegetables grown in Whatcom County, no longer are in business here. Out along the Slater road, where the fat and tasty carrots once grew, there are many acres of trees which produce each spring the fluffy cotton that blows about on the wind and testifies as to what kind of trees they are.

Waterfront in State of Economic Decline

To be honest with you, I much preferred the carrots and the corn, as well as the green beans. Oh yes, so much has disappeared on the winds of time. I believe that almost anyone could very plainly see that as far as the waterfront is concerned, we are in a state of economic decline.

Having now taken a look at what once was, we must now examine where we are today, as it concerns the waterfront of Bellingham and the people who do business here. The entire face of the waterfront has been changed and in appearance it looks nothing like it used to.

Instead, there is a massive project afoot to completely remodel and expand the waterfront such as Bellingham has never seen before. When you take a close look at what once was and compare it with what now is, it is enough to boggle your mind.

Fishing Fleet Has Shrunk

The fishing fleet has shrunk to an all-time low with only a few boats remaining that are still active in fishing. There remains a small handful of boats that get ready and sail away to fish Alaskan waters each season, and return here at the end of the summer.

There are even less boats that will remain and participate in the Puget Sound fisheries. Many would say this is because the runs of fish have declined to the point there is no longer any profit in fishing. Of course, there is some truth in this but it is not all the truth, for there is more to this story that we should make known.

At the very time when the fishing industry is experiencing extreme economic hardship, the powers that be (port commission) have raised the cost of moorage to the highest rate in history. The high cost of moorage is like a thorn in the flesh of many fishermen and, for some, it is a nail in their coffins.

High Cost of Moorage in Bellingham

The port justifies the ever-increasing cost of moorage by claiming that its rates are not really higher than developing ports in California and the increase is necessary in order to make the port a beautiful place.

Quite a few boat owners have found it much less expensive to leave their boats in Alaska over the winter and some have chosen ports along the coast of Washington where moorage is much less than in Bellingham.

I have been told that some purse seiners have even found it less expensive in Seattle, for they have moved their boats there, seeking relief from the very high cost of moorage in Bellingham.

This high cost of unchecked expansion when passed on to the customers of the port does not end with the commercial customers. There were once many small pleasure boats that were owned and operated by local people, some of whom had retired and enjoyed sport fishing as well as cruising and island-hopping from one scenic harbor to the next.

A great many were forced to sell their boats and have given up boating altogether because of the high price of doing business with the Port of Bellingham.

Government Purchasing Licenses From Fishermen

I continue to work down at the waterfront and I mend many nets; it seems as though there aren’t many of us left who perform this kind of work. As I work away, mending the nets of numerous gill-netters, I am aware of the activity going on about me. Not many fishermen are here at this present time, but there is always a small handful getting ready for the season in Alaska. A few local boats with ever smaller crews prepare for the coming season.

The government has entered the picture, having decided to purchase the licenses from individual fishermen, thus bringing to an end their way of life. Soon, we will be so rare that we will be considered a bit odd for attempting to make a living by catching fish. Sometimes people from far away places stop and watch me work, and ask, how long did it take you to learn to do that?

I usually answer them by saying that I am still learning and I hope I will continue to learn until the day I die.

Port Users Decreasing in Numbers

About the only people I see working on the waterfront, besides the handful of fishermen, are the maintenance workers for the Port of Bellingham. One woman waters and fertilizes the many hanging baskets of flowers, perhaps one flower basket hanging from almost every light pole.

Another man checks the sprinklers on the automated sprinkling system and a truck comes by with a load of beauty bark for the flower beds.

Now, besides the people who are employed by the port, there are some who walk their dogs along the nice sidewalks and a few who skate back and forth. Still, others walk for their health and the port has provided a very nice place for such activities and I find no fault in that.

Who’s Going to Pay?

Where, then, is my concern, you might wonder? Simply put: who is going to pay for all of this? Yes, there are quite a few nice yachts that I suspect have come from other places, but are they enough to pay for the cost of the construction and the ongoing cost of maintenance?

As we look at it today, the new Port of Bellingham is very large and it has many new buildings that were built where good buildings were removed to make room for customers that do not exist.

At one time, there were a great many people who worked at the port and, because of the taxes they paid, contributed to the cost of operating and maintaining the port. In those days, there were port commissioners who tried to keep the costs under control and expansion in check.

I believe this is no longer the case and therein lies my concern. Who is going to pay for a port that is designed and built for customers who no longer exist? Not I, for I have been paying for almost fifty years and the time has come when I must retire.

Tourist Industry Will Be Sole Support

No, it will soon be someone else’s problem, a great and beautiful port with many flower beds and hanging baskets of flowers, with many empty moorage berths (for few can afford them), and nothing but the tourist industry to support it.

I invite you to visit the Port of Bellingham and maybe you should visit the Port of Blaine, as well. Remember all of the men and women who once made their living working down at the waterfront and look very carefully to see how many are working there now. Where is the money to come from, to pay for all you see? Where is the economic base that will support our ports for the next twenty years?

Is this the legacy you would leave for your children?


All About Getting Involved in Whatcom County Politics

by Lisa McShane

Lisa McShane lives in a 110-year-old house with her husband Dan, a current member of the Whatcom County Council, two children and their dog Sam. She is on the leadership council of the Community Health Partnership, is vice president of the York Neighborhood Association and attends Assumption Catholic Church. Lisa is currently employed as director of community relations at the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance.

I can’t help myself. I’m going to write about local politics.

This wasn’t an easy choice to make because writing an article, any article, unnerves me. I become as perplexed by my choices as I am at the Mt. Bakery. (“The chocolate torte looks good. But then again, you don’t see crepes on the menu often.”) I worry about the article for months with friends and family. (“Should I write about organic rose gardening? What do you think?”) And I picture you, the reader, either pushing this aside (“booorrring...” Or, more likely: “Good grief, is this what her husband thinks too?”)

So, I considered writing a delightful, informative piece about the work I do, reforming management of state trust lands. Or calling attention to critical Lake Whatcom issues that seem to have escaped everyone’s notice (do you really want watershed land re-zoned for an illegal motorcycle repair shop? Hello! Speak up!) Or I can rant about nutty people buying garden poisons at Fred Meyer. (Don’t they care about their kids?)

Need for Enlightened Candidates

These things–good forestry practices, clean drinking water, productive farms, less pollution–these are the nuts and bolts that comprise our future and they all boil down to this: we need to elect people to office who will be well-informed on complicated issues and put good policies in place.

You and I can attend 100 meetings on Lake Whatcom, but if we don’t have a County Council with a long-term vision, we will have a polluted lake. It’s really that simple. With a polluted lake, property values and our economy will decline, the lake will be smelly and foul, and we’ll pay through our collective noses for drinking water that tastes bad.

Hard Work, People, and Money

Without long-term vision, without council members willing to take positions on tough issues, we will lose control over where we mine for gravel and we will lose farming as a strong, viable industry in this county. We can form all the supportive committees we want–it means little without a council to implement good policy.

We need folks on the County Council who will work for the people of Whatcom County. But good people don’t get elected to the County Council by magic. It takes two things: people and money. And, like most things worth having, it’s hard work. Weighing in for the plus column is this list: getting someone elected is fun, it’s over in November and the rewards are great.

Reward is Healthy Environment and Economy

In this case the reward is a county that’s not dividied up by land speculators, but a county that continues to look, not like Snohomish County or King County, but like our county. We will have government with the good sense to not increase development in the watershed. Government that understands that a healthy environment is essential to a healthy economy, and that it’s cheaper and more effective to prevent pollution than to clean it up later.

It takes money to get good people elected. Candidates willing to work for the public good don’t get large donations from land speculators. The Building Industry Association doesn’t weigh in with big checks for those who work for the community. Good candidates need a donation from everyone who cares about Lake Whatcom, shorelines, or farming. Fewer than one percent of Americans donate to political campaigns. (Editor’s Note: 58 percent of the respondents to a 1998 Whatcom Watch survey said they had contributed to a political campaign in the past year.)

We can do better. A successful County Council campaign can cost from $15,000 to $20,000. For the campaigns I’ve worked on, that money comes in as personal checks come in from $5 to $200. Hundreds of personal checks from all kinds of people, people just like you and me.

Opportunities Abound for Everyone

It takes people to get good people elected. Consider this article a personal request: please call me and offer to help on campaigns this election season. There’s a wide variety of work to be done. For introverts, there are labels to put on mailers, data to type into computers and yard signs to pound into the ground (a remarkably satisfying job.)

For extroverts, you can join the fun handing out flyers door to door (don’t worry, no one ever asks about the issues), or you can make phone calls. If you’re in between introvert and extrovert, you can help organize others. If you can write a check, I’ll tell you where to mail it; if you can cook, you can help provide food for events. There’s a place for everyone’s talents come campaign time.

In a recent National Geographic article on sprawl, Al Norman, founder of Sprawl Busters was quoted as saying: “Short-term we get cheap underwear at Wal-Mart. But in the long run we raise our taxes and hurt our local economy and community. Everything you buy is an investment in something.” I would add that everything you do is an investment in something.

Important County Council Election

The County Council races this year could not be more important, the contrast between candidates more striking and the need for campaign help more compelling. If everyone who cares about good planning and clean water invests four hours a month to a campaign for local office, we will have a government that looks to the long-term health of our community. I’ve heard it said that we get the government we deserve. This year, let’s work together so that our reward is a better County Council.


Garden Foundations: Native Shrubs

by Veronica Wisniewski

Veronica Wisniewski is co-owner of Wildside Growers & Landscaping. The nursery specializes in Pacific Northwest native wildflowers and shrubs.

Shrubs are an essential foundation of any garden providing a focal point, a screen or definition to a small yard. Where many northwest tree species are too large for a small yard, many native shrub species are ideally sized to fill this niche.

Food for wildlife or personal consumption, fragrance and color to delight the senses can be found in the wide array of native shrubs available and deserving of wider spread use in the garden setting. A description of nine native shrubs of various sizes meeting different horticultural conditions follows.

Manzanita Deserves Reintroduction to Former Range

Manzanita (Arctostaphylos columbiana): evergreen, up to 10 feet tall, drought tolerant.

An evergreen plant of rocky outcroppings and sunny well-drained meadows, manzanita is at home in a sunny rockery or well-drained garden bed. Not seen much in the wild due to habitat loss to development and encroaching forests, manzanita deserves reintroduction to its former range.

With blue-green foliage and twisted peeling red bark reminiscent of its cousin madrone, manzanita makes a striking focal point in the garden setting, open pruned to display its lovely branches. Unfortunately, for those of us in the northwestern portion of the county, manzanita does not tolerate the winter northeast winds.

Blueblossom Is Fragrant Rapid Grower

Blueblossom (Ceanothus thrysiflorus): evergreen, up to 15 feet tall, drought tolerant.

From the family referred to by some as wild lilac, this delightfully fragrant shrub sports clusters of tiny sky-blue blossoms against glossy forest- green leaves. A rapid grower, blueblossom should be given ample space in sun to part-shade where drainage is good.

Not strictly a plant of the Pacific Northwest, blueblossom heralds from northern California and may be found gracing gardens as far north as Saltspring Island. This shrub may be grown in the county if given protection from direct northeast winds. It blooms late June to July providing color after the spring bloom has passed.

Buckbrush Needs Space

Buckbrush (Ceanothus sanguineus): deciduous, three feet to 15 feet tall, drought tolerant.

Glossy green leaves studding red stems capped by clusters of small white, fragrant flowers describe this shrub which is found in dry forest openings to talus slopes in the wild.

This is a good choice for the rockery or well-drained garden bed or slope. Buckbrush is a good plant for the south hill garden with a little extra space. It is not seen around nearly enough.

Highbush Cranberry Has Edible Berries

Highbush cranberry (Viburnum edule): deciduous, two feet to 12 feet tall, moist shady areas.

For lightly shaded to shady sites moist well into summer, highbush cranberry brightens the surroundings with its clusters of white blossoms, brilliant red edible berries and crimson turning leaves in the fall.

Persisting on the shrubs well into winter, highbush cranberries provide food for wildlife at an important time. Thicket forming, highbush cranberry should be planted in a spacious part of the garden.

Indian Plum Favored by Birds

Indian plum, Osoberry (Oemlaria cerasiformis): deciduous, five feet to 10 feet tall, moist to drought tolerant.

The harbinger of spring with its pendant of white bell-shaped flowers, Indian plum is the first plant to bud out and bloom in the northwest forest. While it seems most at home in moist shade to part shade, Indian plum grows happily on a dry, sunny site.

The open-growth habit displayed in the shade gives way to dense growth in the open. The inch-long plum-shaped fruits which change from green to yellow to peach and then deep purple are favored by birds.

Ocean Spray Ideal Carefree Shrub

Ocean spray (Holodiscus discolor): deciduous, up to 15 feet tall, dry to moist soil.

Generally underrated, given a feature spot in the garden, ocean spray delivers a dramatic display of dense pyramidal clusters of white flowers after most other shrubs have done their thing.

The seed clusters are attractive to birds during the winter when the shrub can come alive with pine siskins hanging upside down from the branches while munching down seed. Ocean spray is carefree to grow and tolerant of most garden conditions making it an ideal choice for a busy gardener.

Serviceberry Combines Beauty and Food Production

Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia): deciduous, up to 20 feet tall, dry to moist soil.

For the gardener interested in attracting wildlife, serviceberry combines beauty and food production admirably. The white flowers appearing in mid-spring cover the shrub in a white haze that is transformed to a mass of blueberry-like edible fruits.

Esteemed by people, as well as wildlife, for their fine flavor, serviceberries do not stay ripe on the shrub for long. Planted in two rows and pruned to encourage the vase shaped growth habit, serviceberry can be trained to make a lovely stroll through an arbor.

Subalpine Spirea Found on Moist Stream Banks

Subalpine spirea (Spirea densiflora): deciduous, up to three feet tall, good drainage.

A smaller shrub for the sunny garden, subalpine spirea is found on moist stream banks to open rocky slopes. This compact shrub covered in small serrated blue-green leaves is striking when topped by flat sprays of tiny pink flowers that appear in May.

Birch-leaved spirea (Spirea betulifolia), a similar white-flowered species found at lower elevations, may be paired with subalpine spirea to fine effect in the perennial border.

Looking for something unusual, it isn’t necessary to look far for an unusual specimen shrub for the garden–manzanita, buckbrush and subalpine spirea are seldom seen in garden designs. An interesting landscape is as much about how you use the plants as what may be found within its borders.

Air Pollution

SE2 Problem Should Have Ended With the Significant Ruling

by Marian Beddill

Marian Beddill is a retired civil engineer and consultant on land and water development and has lived in Bellingham since 1991.

The NESCO corporation wants to build a large natural-gas-fired power plant known as Sumas Energy 2, SE2, or S2GF in the city of Sumas. There are many factors and reasons to conclude that this proposal is a bad one.

Air Pollution Concerns

Principal among the reasons to object to this proposal is the pollution caused by the various discharges from the jet engines which are the operating heart of the proposed plant. Following are some of the specific air pollution concerns:

1. The turbines emit tons of toxic and hazardous gasses into the air.

2. The air quality around Sumas and Abbottsford, British Columbia is especially sensitive and more subject to air pollution than other locations, because of these main circumstances:

•the mountain valley geography/topography traps the smog in the valley most of the year (like Los Angeles became infamous for, many decades ago);

•the air pollutant load already being put into this air shed from urban and industrial discharges on both sides of the border is large; and

•the harm to human health from such an increased air pollution load will be high, with greater suffering and medical costs as a consequence.

Other concerns and worries also have been identified. Water consumption and management, earthquake (seismic) risks because the proposed site sits atop an identified geologic fault, noise, various hazardous and toxic chemicals at risk of escape, rank among the concerns.

History of Power Plant Siting

The state of Washington has an agency which controls the permits for large energy facilities (pipelines and power plants)–“large power plant” means bigger than 249 megawatts (MW) of power generated. In 2001, the legislature increased that to 349 megawatts. Their work answers the basic question: Is this an okay location for the project?

The agency is called EFSEC (Energy Facility Siting Evaluation Council), and it works much like judges in a court of law, without a jury but with formal witnesses, called “the applicant” and “intervenors.” EFSEC receives applications, conducts formal hearings according to the rules of law, and issues a decision, much like judges do. “Quasi-judiciary” is the formal term. It’s decision is a recommendation to the Governor, who has the final say.

Big plants, 350-plus megawatts, get their permit recommendation approved or denied by EFSEC. Small plants, 349-minus megawatts, get permitted or denied by the county or city in which they will be sited. EFSEC should be implementing the state’s energy policy. But does Washington state really have an energy program? Ask your legislators. I don’t think so.

Before the Application for SE2

Natural gas is found in the fossil-fuel petroleum deposits in central Canada. These deposits would be called the “supply.” The urban centers of the West Coast want to use this natural gas to burn directly for heat and to burn in electrical energy generating power plants. This is the “demand.”

Supply and demand are the driving forces of business – see what people want (demand); make it or find a source for it, and get it to them (supply). The usual and cheapest way to get the gas from the source to the consumer is with pipelines.

The usual and cheapest place to build such pipelines in our region is through the Cascade Range mountain pass and the Fraser River Valley in southeastern British Columbia. There have been several such pipelines along this corridor for years and more are planned.

Sumas Natural Spot for Pipelines Crossing Border

The city of Sumas sits right where the Fraser Valley leaves the Cascades and reaches the flatter coastal lands. It’s the natural spot for pipelines to cross the Canada-U.S. border. That’s where engineering economics says it’s the cheapest, and so best, place for a pipeline leaving the valley to turn south.

In 1990, the same company applied for a permit for a natural-gas-fired power plant, Sumas Energy 1 or SE1, in the city of Sumas. At about 120 megawatts, it is smaller than the size for EFSEC regulation, so the city had the authority to manage the permitting. They issued a permit, SE1 was built, and it has been running since then. It is a highly profitable power plant for NESCO.

SE2 Permit Application

In January 1999, NESCO applied to EFSEC for a permit to build SE2 as a 660-megawatt power plant within the city of Sumas. A number of irregularities and circumstances arose, leading them to modify and resubmit the proposal in January 2000.

Then, the many steps of review, public meetings, legal testimony, study and reports were done under the rules of the EFSEC. While that was going on, an independent survey of Sumas residents was conducted. A large number of residents were against the proposal.

Citizen Opposition Group Formed

The citizen group, GASP (Generations Affected by Senseless Power), was formed. Among the things it did was establish ways to communicate with the populace, set up a web site, and create an informative email announcement list. Immediately, GASP began collecting signatures on a petition opposing the SE2 power plant.

As of early July 2001, there were 90,000 signatures on the petition, ready to be sent to Governor Locke if there is ever a transmittal to him for his ruling about the proposal. And 90,000 is an impressive number of people saying no–they are from many localities, U.S. and Canadian!

The citizens and jurisdictions who objected to the proposal were indeed heard, and on February 16, 2001, the EFSEC met in Bellingham and voted 11-0 to deny the application, citing numerous environmental and economic negatives as the basis of their ruling.

Story Should Have Ended with Significant Ruling

That should have ended the story–NESCO had asked permission and got told no, unanimously, 11-to-0! This was also a significant ruling because it was the first time (in decades, maybe, ever) that EFSEC had said no to a power plant.

But NESCO seems to be persistent. Maybe it’s the profit? They immediately called for a “reconsideration” of the ruling against them, in plain language saying even though EFSEC said “no,” how about having another meeting and just saying “yes.”

That didn’t fly! So, now there have been two applications and an appeal for reconsideration which have gone against them. Seems like it might be time to throw in the towel. But...

Second Revision of the SE2 Proposal

Not so. Even having failed three times, NESCO now is trying again. On June 29, 2001, they submitted another revision of the SE2 proposal to EFSEC. Immediately, the British Columbia Government wants to be allowed to officially say no on the record (“...intent to seek intervenor status...”), in a letter to EFSEC on June 29, 2001. See “B.C. to fight power plant, ” a front page article in the July 3 issue of The Bellingham Herald.

The British Columbia Chamber of Commerce, during its annual meeting on May 25, 2001, passed a resolution of the body opposing SE2. The one-page document (BCChamberres.pdf) may be read on the GASP web site.

Status of Revised Second SE2 Proposal

EFSEC has accepted the revised proposal by NESCO and will soon schedule whatever activities that are necessary. This circumstance is unprecedented (EFSEC had never turned a power plant down, so they’d never had to deal with them coming back again!)

What to do? It’s uncharted territory. How many steps of the regular process have to happen, and can some steps be skipped because they happened once and now don’t matter? What makes each step matter? Who decides? Nobody really knew before, and we still may not know.

Conditions Have Changed

Dozens of questions have arisen, trying to balance and be fair to both sides, the company versus concerned citizens. It has now been three years since NESCO started the permit application process, and conditions change.

New discoveries have been made and new conditions come into play, namely:

1. the previously vague geologic fault and its earthquake hazard,

2. the costs and prices for natural gas and electric energy,

3. the population and land use near the project site,

4. the understanding of other natural resources like water supply and sewerage treatment,

5. appreciation of the harmful health effects of specific air pollution components and factors, like PM2.5 in your lungs instead of PM10, and

6. rules and regulations at local, state and national levels.


The EFSEC exists due to its essential mission. This is its legislative mandate; the mission statement is as follows:

The council was created in 1970 to provide “one stop” licensing for large energy projects. By establishing the Council, the State Legislature centralized the evaluation and oversight of large energy facilities in a single location within state government. The Legislature called for “balancing” demand for new energy facilities with the broad interests of the public. As part of the balancing process, protection of environmental quality, safety of energy facilities, and concern for energy availability are all to be taken into account by the Council.

Anywhere there might be doubt, and if there are other energy sources capable of meeting our need, the balance must go in favor of the citizens, the people. Check out the EFSEC web site at www.efsec.wa.gov.

The Solution

You can concentrate on.....

•convincing the EFSEC to hold new public hearings, and to do them all in Whatcom County;

•convincing the city of Sumas to just say no.

NESCO filed their new and revised documents with EFSEC on Friday, June 29, 2001. The documents are available in digital format as about two-dozen PDF files at the EFSEC web site; and those we have looked at are color-and-strikeout edits of the prior submission.

We still don’t know how it will be managed; “revised” or “modified” or “new” or some other slip-through-the-cracks phrase. But the steps should be laid out in August.

Links within GASP Web Site


Links outside of the GASP Web Site





E-Mail Addresses

EFSEC: IrinaM@ep.cted.wa.gov, and send copy to: se2gasp@nas.com


SUMAS CITY: sumas@gte.net, and send copy to: se2gasp@nas.com


E-Mail Information List

Subscribe. Send a ‘blank’ message to:


How Can You Help?

Get on our low-volume GASP announcement list–before you miss out. Send a blank message to: GASP-NoSE2-subscribe@ topica.com.

•Be informed: Visit the web site: se2-gasp.org. Understand the issues and the harm this plant will do to our air quality, and to international relations between the U.S. and our Canadian neighbors.

•Visit, call or write the newspapers. The SE2 proposal is back to a procedural mode, and people still read the papers.

•Write letters to the editors and emphasize the facts–now–while it is again news.

•Sign the petition (now over 90,000). It can be downloaded and printed from the GASP web site.

•Join GASP: GASP is a nonprofit organization that was formed to oppose Sumas Energy 2, a 660-megawatt power plant proposed for the city of Sumas, Washington. It consists of a board of directors, and hundreds of members, and has a sliding-scale membership rate. E-Mail GASP at: se2gasp@nas.com.

This is the thirteenth in a series examining Bellingham’s parks. It is based on the book “A History of Bellingham’s Parks,” available at the Whatcom Museum store and Henderson’s Books.

Local History

Boulevard Park: Bellingham’s Largest Waterfront Park

by Aaron Joy

Aaron M. Joy, a recent sociology graduate of WWU, is employed as the part-time librarian for The Bellingham Herald and his hobbies include Bellingham history, art, music, writing and theater.

Boulevard Park
Created: 1980
Location: S. State Street and Bayview Drive
Area: 14 acres

Once overlooking Bellingham Bay and situated adjacent to the Boulevard leading to Fairhaven, was the E. K. Wood Lumber Mill. The Bellingham Bay Gas Company was perched on the cliff above it.

Incorporated in 1890, the Bellingham Bay Gas Company used coal to produce coal gas, which was distributed to homes and businesses throughout Whatcom County until 1946 when the company closed due to the decline in the demand for coal gas. One of the steel processing tanks still remains on the bluff (as an observation deck), the sole remnant of a now forgotten industry, with its companion having been scrapped during World War II. (Editor’s Note: Boulevard Park is an active Superfund site. The remaining tank is leaking toxic chemicals into the soil and Bellingham Bay. See Whatcom Watch, September 2000, page 15.)

Sawmill Destroyed by Fire

The E. K. Wood Lumber Mill, nicknamed the Red Mill for its red brick buildings, was incorporated in Wisconsin in 1895 by E. K. Wood. While looking for possible locations to expand his operations, Wood sent his 31-year-old son, Fred (1869-1937), to Bellingham Bay and a new mill followed in 1900. Fred Wood took over the business upon his father’s death in 1914. The Dillingham Corporation of Hawaii eventually purchased the company.

The mill’s sawmill was destroyed by fire on September 22, 1925–it was caused by a spark from a railroad hot box in the green planing mill that had become overheated from excessive friction. Reports that year recall that by the time the fire department arrived “the sawmill proper was all ablaze and beyond hope.”

Thirty volunteer firemen and hundreds of others, including a steamship equipped with fire-fighting apparatus, assisted in controlling the spread of the fire. The alarm was given a little after five p.m. and by midnight the fire was extinguished. The sawmill and green planing mill were completely destroyed.

The Red Mill was taken out of commission, with the remaining buildings slowly demolished over the next decade and the land sold to different buyers around the county. The only remains of the mill are wooden pilings along the shoreline.

Boat Launch Opposed

In 1967, the Whatcom County Park Board authorized the formation of a committee, composed of city, county and port representatives, to study possible locations for a boat launching facility on Bellingham Bay. After study of numerous locations, the E. K. Wood Lumber Mill site was unanimously agreed upon as the number one choice.

Blueprints drawn up the next year for a boat launch and park included a concession building, boat trailer parking, a snack and view deck, and a log boom out in the bay to assist incoming and outgoing boats. But, further development floundered in committees for the next couple years due to varying amounts of opposition.

Mayor Reg Williams publicly opposed the chosen site, feeling that it was generally too small and liable to interfere with Bellingham’s log boom operations. The site was also rejected by the Bellingham Boom Company and various members of the board of public works, citing liability concerns, odd street curvature, public access to private property, the railroad crossing, and type of development plan.

“Don’t Lose Ground” New Slogan

Disappointment over the slow progress of the park’s development spurred public concern for the site’s future. “Don’t Lose Ground” was the slogan of one group that felt a waterfront park and boat launch at that location was an asset too important not to be developed. This would be Bellingham’s second and largest waterfront park and the first owned by the city (Marine Park had been opened in 1971 but was under port jurisdiction).

In 1971, students from Western Washington State College’s (Western Washington University after 1977) technology department created a proposal for a 35-acre bay side park, which was presented to the city planning commission and the park board the following year. The proposal consisted of an eight-foot long model of the proposed park and an accompanying photo essay of the site.

The model and photo essay were displayed around town by supportive businesses. The proposed park included a recreation building, sports pavilion, parking garage, indoor picnic shelters, and bicycle and walking trails. The proposal was more extensive than was feasibly probable with the available budget, but it helped in spearheading the progress of the park’s development and creation.

Boulevard Park Dedicated in 1980

On August 1, 1979, the first shovels of earth were finally turned on the site at a much anticipated and desired groundbreaking. The following year, on June 14, the new Boulevard Park was dedicated and quickly became one of Bellingham’s most popular and frequented parks. A wooden sky bridge was built over the railroad track connecting the bluff (where a Bellingham Bay Gas Company processing tank was converted to a picnic area/observation deck) to the lower part of the park.

An existing railroad trestle was recycled into the saltwater walk, connecting the southern tip of the park with the rest of the property. In 1990, the park received the addition of a half-acre of land near the Taylor Avenue dock which became a southern entrance to the park known as South Boulevard Park. The land was purchased from Haggens, Inc., which had purchased the property in 1975 for the possible construction of a restaurant.

Plans are currently under negotiation to build a public crossing over the railroad track on the northern end of the park to ease crossing over the tracks for pedestrians, bicyclists, and eventually wheelchairs. The plan is to remove all barriers that would prevent someone from crossing the railroad track, regardless of his or her mode of transportation.

Ceramics Classes Began at Park in 1972

In 1969, Whatcom Community College arts instructor Kathryn Roe began teaching ceramics classes in a building near the Whatcom Museum of History and Art, under the financial support of the museum. This was before Whatcom Community College had a large accommodating campus; in those days, classes were held at different locations throughout the county. Students used a small electric kiln, but Roe wanted a larger building where a gas-fired kiln could be installed.

Pat Fleeson, a Whatcom Museum official, suggested a waterfront building that had housed a steam turbine for the E. K. Wood Lumber Mill and was then being used as storage for oil-spill cleanup equipment. Though weeds engulfed the waterfront building, and it lacked heat and running water, Roe moved her ceramics classes into the building in 1972.

Artists Saved Ceramics Studio

It was planned only as a temporary location, but artists soon became enamored with the building and made the situation permanent. Though its dilapidated condition cried out for extensive upgrading or demolition, the studio was cherished by Roe and potters due to its waterfront view, seclusion, and sufficient kiln space.

When construction of the park began, city officials ordered the building’s demolition, but local artists presented a petition of over 1,400 signatures to the Bellingham City Council. This spur of activism and debate, and its unifying influence on the local arts community, was the foundation of Allied Arts, which grew into a formidable group that helped unify Bellingham’s artists. The building was eventually renovated and today continues to be used as a pottery studio for the college.

Fouts Park


Soils for Salmon - Restoring Living Soils With Compost

by David McDonald

David McDonald is a resource conservation planner for Seattle Public Utilities, which provides solid waste, drainage and wastewater, and water supply services to 1.3 million customers in the greater Seattle area.

In native forests in the Puget Sound region, up to half of the rain that falls returns to the sky through evapotranspiration, compared to 30 percent returned from suburban residential areas and less than 15 percent from impervious surfaces like roads, roofs and driveways.

Suburban Residential Soils Detain Little Groundwater

Native forest soils also detain and infiltrate into the groundwater up to 35 percent of our annual rainfall, reducing damaging peak storm flows in streams and providing more flow during the dry summer months. Suburban residential areas, where soils have been stripped and compacted and most of the forest has been removed, detain and infiltrate less than 16 percent of rainfall, and of course impervious surfaces detain none at all.

One way to restore some of the forest’s functions in urbanized areas is to restore soils by tilling in lots of compost (two to four inches of compost per eight inches of soil, depending on soil type). This practice can significantly improve detention/infiltration and reduce storm runoff from lawn and landscape areas, especially on the sand, clay, or compacted glacial till soils that are common in this region.

Compost-Amended Soils Filter Pollutants

Compost-amended soils also filter and break down or immobilize urban pollutants such as hydrocarbons and heavy metals from cars, and pesticides or soluble fertilizers applied to landscapes, keeping them from reaching streams. By improving soil fertility and plant pest resistance, compost also greatly reduces the need for pesticides or synthetic fertilizers.

And by improving soil moisture retention and plant rooting depth, compost greatly reduces summer irrigation needs, which can allow us to leave more water in our rivers for fish.

How does compost improve soil structure, fertility, biofiltration and plant vigor? By providing food and homes for the incredibly diverse web of tiny creatures that make up the soil ecosystem.

Underground Ecosystem

These organisms aggregate soil particles to create soil structure and pore spaces from the micro- up to the macro- scale. They break down organic pollutants and bind heavy metals. They recycle nutrients endlessly and make them available to plants. Plus, they compete with and parasitize the pests and diseases that attack plants, creating naturally healthier, more attractive landscapes that are easier to maintain.

Bacteria Glue Clays, Silts, and Sands Together

How do soil organisms create soil structure? Dr. Elaine Ingham of Oregon State University says, “An analogy to building a brick house is useful here. To build bricks, straw and sand have to stick together. Then the bricks are held together with mortar to form walls.

The house has structure when the walls are arranged in certain patterns. Different organism groups in the soil food web do the same for soil structure. Bacteria glue the clays, silts and sands together into microaggregates.

Microaggregates are bound together by fungal hyphae, root hairs and roots. The structure of the rooms are made by the arthropods, insects and earthworms. Only when all the organisms are present and active can roots and water move into the soil with ease.”

Living and Dead Organic Matter

The soil food web is fueled by the primary production of plants, which provide the living and dead organic matter that supports the other creatures. Plants also actively exude large amounts of carbohydrates, produced by photosynthesis, from their roots.

These exudates support both bacteria and the essential symbiotic fungi that form a net around plant root hairs, protecting them from disease-causing fungi and greatly extending their reach for nutrients.

The bacteria and fungi, along with the organic matter they produce, are the storehouse for most of the nutrients in the soil. They are eaten by protozoa, nematodes, and microarthropods, whose wastes provide the soluble nutrients that plants need in small but steady amounts, which is optimal for plant health.

Biofiltration: Diverse Soil Life Breaks Down Pollutants

Many species of larger creatures, up to and including earthworms, eat these smaller soil organisms, create the larger aggregates and pore spaces in soil, and also contribute their waste nutrients to be recycled into the storehouse by bacteria and fungi or used by plants.

The multitude of biochemical pathways used by this diverse soil life also enables it to break down hydrocarbon and pesticide pollutants, bind heavy metals into immobile forms, and convert excess soluble fertilizers into complex stored organic forms before they can run off into streams - this is known as “biofiltration” or “bioremediation.”

Compost Inoculates Soil

All of this activity arises naturally in soils with adequate organic matter. Where missing, as in many urban soils, organic matter levels can be restored by incorporating compost into the soil, which also inoculates the soil with many of the bacteria and fungi that form the base of the soil food web.

The quality of the compost used for restoration is important. Composts should pass through a hot (150 degrees Farenheit for three days) aerobic process and have a sweet, earthy smell. If buying, ask suppliers for a compost proven to meet the Washington Department of Ecology’s guidelines for “Grade A” compost. Mature composts settle less, provide stable nutrient sources, and also provide higher levels of beneficial organisms.

For current information see the Soil Foodweb, Inc. web site at www.Soilfoodweb.com.

Regarding importance of soil life, you might also want to take a look at pp. 10-11 and 18-19 of David McDonald’s report, “Ecologically Sound Lawn Care for the Pacific Northwest,” which you can read or download by going to the web site, www.ci.seattle.wa.us/util/rescons. Scroll down to “Landscaping,” click on “Natural Lawn Care,” and then click on the report.

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