Whatcom Watch Online
January 2002
Volume 11, Issue 1

The Painful Effects of Oil Dependency: Exxon’s Human Toll

by Kenyon Fields

Kenyon Fields is a Bellingham-educated rainforest naturalist and writer living in Cordova, Alaska. Comments on this complex and touchy subject gratefully received at kenyon@gmx.net.

March 24, 1989 will forever remain the day that the Prince William Sound fishing town of Cordova lost its innocence, much as September 11 will haunt proud New York indefinitely. For on that day the inconceivable became a black, toxic, lingering reality called the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. Like a scarlet letter, Exxon wears the mark of deceit and criminal negligence. What follows is a broad taste of the complex web of financial, legal, and emotional impacts the spill has brought to one Alaskan town over twelve years.

In blood-red letters, painted next to the evening’s specials across a local fish and chips bar’s window, is the local mantra: EXXON SUCKS. Bumper stickers adorn the town’s storm-beaten pickups: EXXON–PAY UP! The message in this town of 2,500, nestled between the Gulf of Alaska and Prince William Sound, is clear. Exxon owes the Alaskan fishing industry and support services at least five billion dollars, and Cordovans have been awaiting their share since a court ruling seven years ago.

Ecological Havoc

The facts are familiar by now. Courtesy of a drunk captain leaving the ship’s bridge and a variety of other systemic problems, stemming from industry budget cuts and government complacency, the Exxon Valdez struck a reef that’s been charted since Capt. Vancouver’s voyage of 1794. The spill wreaked ecological havoc and ruined the socio-economic health of several thriving and tight-knit communities.

Twelve thousand folks are now plaintiffs in a 12-year suit to gain compensation for spill-related losses. While many claim that the disaster created “spillionaires,” the picture on the ground here is quite different. Residents of Cordova are concerned that the “Lower 48” believes the waters are clean again, fish and wildlife have fully recovered, and everyone has been compensated. This is simply not the case.

Buck Meloy, one of several Bellingham-based fishers with long ties to Cordova, expressed that “[Exxon has] done everything in their power to avoid satisfying the legal judgment against them…it really offends me that they continue to lie to the world and to their stockholders about compensation for damages. Some were paid to some fishermen in 1989, but I’ve yet to see one cent from Exxon for damages. The same is true for most fishermen I know.”

In 1994, plaintiffs were awarded $5 billion in punitive damages, plus $300 million in compensatory damages for what was actually lost in fishing time and opportunity from 1989-92. At the 6 percent rate of interest, Exxon now owes $6.3 billion, of which it has paid only some $250 million of compensatory damages through an advance claims process and other settlements. Exxon challenged the jury’s decisions to award punitive damages at all, and challenged the size of the punitive award, while stalling the award in a train of appeals.

A recent 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled that, at 17 times the compensatory damages, the $5 billion punitive award was too high and must be remanded to a lower court for reconsideration, perhaps to only four times the compensatory.

This decision contradicted a decision, allowing punitive damages of 28 times the compensatory, two weeks previously in the same court by a different panel of judges on a separate case. Citing this, the plaintiffs have filed a petition for rehearing, asking the entire 11-member 9th Circuit Court to review the case. If granted and ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor, Exxon will surely appeal to the Supreme Court.1

The worst-case scenario for plaintiffs is if the 4:1 ratio of punitive to compensatory damages is applied, reducing $5 billion to between $1.2 and $1.6. Dividing this reduced sum by the 12,000 plaintiffs leaves far less than most would accept as fair compensation for their sufferings. The recent decision “knocked the wind out of a lot of Cordova fisherman,” wrote Cordova Times editor Jon Holland.2

Punitive Damages Are Now Taxable

Cordovans have become legal and financial experts, rolling monetary figures, whose sizes remain incomprehensible to most of us, easily off their tongues. They are counting on their share of the $6.3 billion to bail them out of losses accrued since the spill and to rebuild the community. Yet they share with other affected communities the debilitating insecurity of not knowing when this money will come, or how much it will be. Yet there are other concerns as well.

A major problem facing claimants is that punitive damages are now taxable like regular income and the anticipated payment will push individuals into the highest income tax bracket in the year of payment, making the IRS the largest recipient of the punitive damage award. Riki Ott, a marine toxicologist and spill expert from Cordova, is spearheading an effort to capture tax dollars through charitable giving to the new “Oiled Regions of Alaska Foundation,”—a nonprofit organized to invest in and rebuild oiled communities through grant-based programs. By contributing to the foundation, award money can be redistributed for community projects. This will help mitigate the emotional sting of the award, which threatens to create “haves” and “have-nots,” as occurred during the 1989 oil spill cleanup.

Another concern is that long-term spill-related damages have made fishers unable to keep up with boat and permit loan payments. After attorney fees of 22 percent and federal taxes of nearly 40 percent, a mere 32 percent of the punitive award will be left for the plaintiffs. Many are concerned that their individual share will be too small to pay their outstanding debts. For some the award might actually push them further into debt as they will be unable to pay taxes after the state collects on liens for salmon permit debts.

Sad Stories Abound

Sad stories abound here. One couple bought a seine permit two months before the spill at the standard whopping price of $300,000. Permit prices are roughly set to the expected yearly gross income the said fishery will provide. Following the spill, the market value of these permits dropped because of uncertainty of the fisheries’ future. When the couple was finally able to sell three years later, their permit went for $43,000, leaving them with a huge debt on the original price tag—for a permit that never provided more than a few meals.

The topic of permit devaluation was thrown out in the initial trial, and yet this has become an issue posing perhaps the greatest economic harm to fishers. The debts acquired from such devalued permits keep fishers locked into a Catch 22—at today’s less productive salmon fisheries, they can’t pay off their debts and no one wants to buy their permits. “People whine about this new recession around the country,” said one fisherwoman. “Hell, I’ve been in a recession since the spill!”

Alaska Native Patience Faulkner feels the recent court opinion has made some people want to give up. “It’s been 13 fishing seasons of depression gone by now. When you’ve spent your child’s college fund you can’t make [financial] mistakes—not even over five bucks.” But there’s one major ongoing problem beyond economics. “It’s post traumatic stress syndrome, like New York feels… the result of an unanticipated ice bath,” Faulkner said.

Sociologist Steve Picou found “pervasive and debilitating stress, and chronic social and psychosocial impacts” amongst Cordovans affected by the spill. Picou observed that “Cordova was deeply affected because Cordovans have a strong sense of place.” He compared the “pervasive depression and related social illnesses” to effects on survivors of Bhopal, Chernobyl, or other such disasters.3

Cordova Hit Hardest

Of the 22 towns impacted by the spill, Cordova sustained the most long-term economic damage. The city has found that 75 cents of every dollar passing through hands here is related to the local fishing industry.4 That’s a strong figure illuminating a fish dependency this city is proud of. But as we learn in ecosystem or economic theory, healthy systems rely on diversity, and the Exxon Valdez disaster demonstrates just why.

Pre-spill, the seine fishery based here was the largest producer of pink salmon. Yet three of five fish processors in Cordova went bankrupt within two years of the spill, causing local economic chaos. Hundreds of non-Exxon funded studies have since found that oil is much more toxic than previously thought—levels of 1 to 10 parts per billion of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (from oil) cause reproductive sterility in a wide variety of fish and wildlife.5 It’s no wonder then that populations of both pink salmon and herring crashed in 1992 and 1993 as a result of spill-related long-term damages, and have failed to recover since.

Prior to the spill roughly 50 percent of the city’s revenue came from a raw fish tax. This plummeted post-spill from a reduced influx of fish. To make up for budget shortfalls, the city hiked property and sales taxes. Ott notes that these additional taxes on fisherman equated to “trying to squeeze money from a stone,” and created what sociologists call, “a secondary spill disaster.” Even in a bad season, fishers still buy supplies and hire help locally. But with fishery closures and reduced fishing time, the shrunken flow of fish dollars wrenched the town’s economy, paralyzing the community to a near standstill. The state government twice rejected the city’s plea for economic disaster relief.

The depressed economy, coupled with the extreme horror of witnessing black death befall Cordova’s beloved marine backyard, induced a sharp rise over the years following the spill in domestic and substance abuse, depression, and divorce. Inevitable infighting arose from the maze of values for different fisheries and districts, and over who deserved what share of any eventual settlement, splitting the community with animosity. And nobody knows yet just how many spill cleanup workers have suffered the long-term health effects of overexposure to oil. Twelve years later, still awaiting payment, depression and animosity remain in the hearts of many townspeople.

Lives on Hold

Unanticipated long-term damage to the Sound ecosystem is but another sad angle to this picture. A recent study found far more remaining oil than expected, and according to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, only two species are listed as “recovered.” 6 By unanimous local opinion, Cordovans are not on that list. No one can begin to guess how long it will take for the ecosystem, the people, and the town to fully recover from the 1989 spill, but Cordovans agree that receipt of the long-awaited jury award will at least bring closure on this sorry chapter of local history.

“The public needs to know that Exxon has powder puffed America into thinking it’s all over and done. They certainly have not ‘made us whole’ as promised”, says Cordovan fisherman and boat builder Bill Webber Jr. Another fisherman said, “what we need is counseling for the fact that our lives have been on hold for years now.” Unanimous pessimism and depressed disbelief that anyone would ever see their rightful payments was expressed last week by every caller into the Sound’s talk show, Coffee Break. “Wake up and smell the coffee—we’ve waited twelve years and seen nothing yet,” one caller said. Of the original plaintiffs, 576 have died in these 12 years, adding a sense of urgency.7

Whatever Exxon pays, Buck Meloy remains adamant that “My share wouldn’t be enough to give them a good pelting with!”

Looking forward, Riki Ott stressed that “We need to find leverage points here, like the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System permit being up for renewal. This must be refused, amongst other reasons, until Exxon pays up and proves it is socially accountable.” The courts or state should also demand that Exxon pay before continuing to drill elsewhere, like in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. “A pipeline rupture would hurt people again – potentially many of the same people who still have not been compensated for the Exxon Valdez oil spill.”

Unfortunately, Alaska earns 85 percent of its income from oil and gas. While it’s easy to point a finger of blame at a drunk Capt. Hazelwood for the heinous results of the spill, we also need to remind ourselves that, as a country, we are drunk on oil.


1. Informed in part by Court: Exxon bill too high, Ben Spiess and Natalie Phillips. Anchorage Daily News, Nov. 8, 2001.

2. Exxon damages spawn interest, Jon Holland. Cordova Times, Nov. 29, 2001, Vol. 87, No. 40.

3. Exxon Valdez Aftermath, Riki Ott. Defenders Magazine, Spring 1999, Vol. 74, No. 2.

4. Copper River Salmon Harvest, City of Cordova. Dec. 10, 2000.

5. See: Peterson, Pete. 2001. The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in Alaska: Acute, Indirect and Chronic Effects on the Ecosystem, Advances in Marine Biology 39:1-103.

6. EVOS Oil Spill Trustee Council 2001 Status Report. www.oilspill.state.ak.us.

7. Court decision hits Cordova hard, Jon Holland. Cordova Times, Nov. 15, 2001, Vol. 87, No. 38.

Unless cited, quoted statements come from personal communication, December 2001, Cordova. My greatest appreciation and respect to Riki Ott for who she is, and for her tremendous help on this article.

The Lake Whatcom Connector A Brief Refresher Course

by Tom Pratum

Tom Pratum is a watershed resident and Water District 10 customer, who draws his water directly from Lake Whatcom.

The passage of the subdivision moratorium by the County Council on December 11 shows that concern for the Lake Whatcom watershed has finally reached the level that policy changes are actually occurring. These changes won’t make everyone happy, and we will hear continued calls which harken back to the engineering ideas of yesteryear repackaged to appear to be “watershed friendly.”

While some of these proposals are inevitable at this point (e.g. the Lake Louise sewer interceptor), others are still held in abeyance. One of these is the so-called Lake Whatcom Connector, also referred to as the Yew Street Connector.

Not a New Concept

The idea of a Lake Whatcom Connector has been discussed for at least 20 years. The connector actually appears to have taken solid form with the October, 1991, engineering study entitled “Lake Whatcom Transportation Study—Bellingham to Sudden Valley” by Reid Middleton and Associates.

At that time a connector road was proposed between Yew Street and Lake Louise Road through the Geneva area. To improve freeway access, a further connection would be made between Yew Street and I-5 via Samish Way. This latter connection would involve an extension of San Juan Boulevard and is currently listed as priority number 11 (out of 19) on the City of Bellingham’s six-year transportation capital improvement program.

As a result of the 1991 study, a number of routes were proposed for the Lake Whatcom Connector. The two routes preferred in that study are shown in the map on page 11, along with the largest watershed properties which would be most heavily impacted by the proximity of a major arterial.

The connector would traverse the north slope of Lookout Mountain, starting out at about 500 feet in elevation on Yew Street and climbing to about 700 feet near the watershed boundary before joining Lake Louise Road near the 500 foot elevation. In 1991, each of these routes was estimated to have a cost of roughly $13 million. Using a conservative yearly inflation rate of 2.1 percent, this cost has ballooned to nearly $16 million today.

Connector Listed on Six-Year Transportation Plan

The connector is currently listed as number 70 (out of 70) in the Whatcom County six-year transportation plan, and therefore appears to have little possibility of being built in the near future. However, it is often touted by watershed development supporters as being a solution to stormwater runoff problems in the Cable Street and Lake Whatcom Boulevard areas.

At the same time, it is obvious to opponents that it will make that full build-out of Sudden Valley in all of its Urban Growth Area (UGA) glory all the more likely (note that the Sudden Valley UGA Comprehensive Plan amendment was adopted at the December 11 County Council meeting with only Barbara Brenner opposed).

Additionally, it has grave consequences for the few remaining functional watershed areas in Geneva. It would appear to be a publicly subsidized driveway to help line the pockets of fewer than a handful of watershed developers.

100 Nobel Laureates Point the Way

On the 100th anniversary of the Nobel prize, 100 Nobel laureates warn that our security hangs on environmental and social reform. “The most profound danger to world peace in the coming years will stem not from the irrational acts of states or individuals but from the legitimate demands of the world’s dispossessed. Of these poor and disenfranchised, the majority live a marginal existence in equatorial climates. Global warming, not of their making but originating with the wealthy few, will affect their fragile ecologies most. Their situation will be desperate and manifestly unjust.”

“It cannot be expected, therefore, that in all cases they will be content to await the beneficence of the rich. If then we permit the devastating power of modern weaponry to spread through this combustible human landscape, we invite a conflagration that can engulf both rich and poor. The only hope for the future lies in co-operative international action, legitimized by democracy.”

“It is time to turn our backs on the unilateral search for security, in which we seek to shelter behind walls. Instead, we must persist in the quest for united action to counter both global warming and a weaponized world. These twin goals will constitute vital components of stability as we move toward the wider degree of social justice that alone gives hope of peace. Some of the needed legal instruments are already at hand, such as the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Convention on Climate Change, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. As concerned citizens, we urge all governments to commit to these goals that constitute steps on the way to replacement of war by law.”

“To survive in the world we have transformed, we must learn to think in a new way. As never before, the future of each depends on the good of all.”

Published on Friday, December 7, 2001 in the Toronto Globe & Mail, www. globeandmail.ca. Also see: Nobel Peace Prize Centennial, www.nobel.no/eng_jub_symp.html. Symposium, www.nobel.no/eng_jub_symp.html.

The Signatories
Zhohres I. Alferov Physics 2000
Sidney Altman Chemistry 1989
Philip W. Anderson Physics 1977
Oscar Arias Sanchez Peace 1987
J. Georg Bednorz Physics 1987
Bishop Carlos F.X. Belo Peace 1996
Baruj Benacerraf Physiology/Medicine 1980
Hans A. Bethe Physics 1967
James W. Black Physiology/Medicine 1988
Guenter Blobel Physiology/Medicine


Nicolaas Bloembergen Physics 1981
Norman E. Boriaug Peace 1970
Paul D. Boyer Chemistry 1997
Bertram N. Brockhouse Physic 1994
Herbert C. Brown Chemistry 1979
Georges Charpak Physics 1992
Claude Cohen-Tannoudji Physics 1997
John W. Cornforth Chemistry 1975
Francis H. Crick Physiology/Medicine 1962
James W. Cronin Physics 1980
Paul J. Crutzen Chemistry 1995
Robert F. Curl Chemistry 1996
His Holiness The Dalai Lama Peace 1989
Johann Deisenhofer Chemistry 1988
Peter C. Doherty Physiology/Medicine 1996
Manfred Eigen Chemistry 1967
Richard R. Ernst Chemistry 1991
Leo Esaki Physics 1973
Edmond H. Fischer Physiology/Medicine 1992
Val L. Fitch Physics 1980
Dario Fo Literature 1997
Robert F. Furchgott Physiology/Medicine 1998
Walter Gilbert Chemistry 1980
Sheldon L. Glashow Physics 1979
Mikhail S. Gorbachev Peace 1990
Nadine Gordimer Literature 1991
Paul Greengard Physiology/Medicine 2000
Roger Guillemin Physiology/Medicine 1977
Herbert A. Hauptman Chemistry 1985
Dudley R. Herschbach Chemistry 1986
Antony Hewish Physics 1974
Roald Hoffman Chemistry 1981
Gerardus ‘t Hooft Physics 1999
David H. Hubel Physiology/Medicine 1981
Robert Huber Chemistry 1988
Francois Jacob Physiology/Med 1975
Brian D. Josephson Physics 1973
Jerome Karle Chemistry 1985
Wolfgang Ketterle Physics 2001
H. Gobind Khorana Physiology/Med 1968
Lawrence R. Klein Economics 1980
Klaus von Klitzing Physics 1985
Aaron Klug Chemistry 1982
Walter Kohn Chemistry 1998
Herbert Kroemer Physics 2000
Harold Kroto Chemistry 1996
Willis E. Lamb Physics 1955
Leon M. Lederman Physics 1988
Yuan T. Lee Chemistry 1986
Jean-Marie Lehn Chemistry 1987
Rita Levi-Montalcini Physiology/Med 1986
William N. Lipscomb Chemistry 1976
Alan G. MacDiarmid Chemistry 2000
Daniel L. McFadden Economics 2000
César Milstein Physiology/Med 1984
Franco Modigliani Economics 1985
Rudolf Moessbauer Physics 1961
Mario J. Molina Chemistry 1995
Ben R. Mottelson Physics 1975
Ferid Murad Physiology/Med 1998
Erwin Neher Physiology/Med 1991
Marshall Nirenberg Physiology/Med. 1968
Joseph E. Murray Physiology/Med 1990
Paul M. Nurse Physiology/Med 2001
Max F. Perutz Chemistry 1962
William D. Phillips Physics 1997
John C. Polanyi Chemistry 1986
Ilya Prigogine Chemistry 1977
Burton Richter Physics 1976
Heinrich Rohrer Physics 1987
Joseph Rotblat Peace 1995
Carlo Rubbia Physics 1984
Bert Sakmann Physiology/Med 1991
Frederick Sanger Chemistry 1958; 1980
José Saramago Literature 1998
J. Robert Schrieffer Physics 1972
Melvin Schwartz Physics 1988
K. Barry Sharpless Chemistry 2001
Richard E. Smalley Chemistry 1996
Jack Steinberger Physics 1988
Joseph E. Stiglitz Economics 2001
Horst L. Stormer Physics 1998
Henry Taube Chemistry 1983
Joseph H. Taylor Jr. Physics 1993
Susumu Tonegawa Physiology/Med. 1997
Charles H. Townes Physics 1964
Daniel T. Tsui Physics 1998
Desmond Tutu Peace 1984
John Vane Physiology/Med. 1982
John E. Walker Chemistry 1997
Eric F. Wieschaus Physiology/Med. 1982
Jody Williams Peace 1997
Robert W. Wilson Physics 1978
Ahmed H. Zewail Chemistry 1999


Al Hanners Is ‘Watcher of the Year’ for 2002

The Whatcom Watch staff would like to express their appreciation to Al Hanners for his willingness over the years to share his writing talents with us. Al says, “We’re all packages of chemicals conditioned by our experiences. It’s because of my life experiences that I write for Whatcom Watch. In other words, I write for Whatcom Watch because of who I am.”

Al’s exemplary life began in a small town in Wisconsin where he was educated in a one-room schoolhouse that had a coal stove and pit toilets outside. An early event to form Al’s young scientific mind was the Scopes Trial of 1925, also called the “monkey trial.”

His extended family were conservative religious people and the trial evoked a great deal of agitated talk. But, Al thought it was an open and shut case, so why all the excitement? When his older brother came home from college, Al asked him, “Do you believe humans came from monkeys?”

“No,” was his brother’s reply. “I believe in evolution from a single cell.” Al had never considered that explanation and the conversation ended there. But that was the start of a lifetime of interest in the latest information about evolution and science.

His scientific interests carried him through the University of Wisconsin for a degree in geology. From there, he spent the days of World War II in the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, then took a job as a petroleum geologist in Venezuela. After that stint, he worked as a geologist on the 29th floor of the Chrysler Building across from the Grand Central Station in New York City. That led him to positions in Trinidad, Calgary, and Toronto.

Retirement in Bellingham opened the floodgates to self-expression for Al. His goal was to be a naturalist and he soon became conservation chair-person for the North Cascades Audubon Society. His first booklet to be published was “Northwest Beginning Birding.” From there, he moved into writing for Whatcom Watch and many great articles followed.

We asked Al’s son, Rick, to write a memory about his father, which follows:

“A few years ago my father, sister and brother, along with two others, came to Montana for an 85-mile canoe trip down the Missouri River. Near the end of the trip we came across a rattlesnake that was swimming across the river at a point where it ran very slow and very wide. We all had read about the possibility of running across snakes in the river, and the advice was to steer clear of them, but my father had to get in close for the perfect camera shot. Reminded me of Crocodile Dundee.”

Whatcom Watch published that photograph with Al’s article, “Canoeing the Upper Missouri: A Wild and Scenic River” in March 2000, page 8. Here it is once again.

Thank you, Al, for your years of excellent stories.

Stumps in the Village

by Ken Wilcox

Ken Wilcox is a writer and environmental planner. His business, Osprey Environmental Services, is located in the Terminal Building in Fairhaven.

Part III


Given the absurdities of the moment in the great land of the nearly-free, the Fairhaven street tree fiasco of May 2001 seems not quite deserving of so much wind, especially now that seven months have passed since the City of Bellingham whacked down our nearly-noble sweet gums.

Is it really such a big deal? Bombed, starving, innocent Afghans would surely find our little Harris Avenue dilemna rather hollow. Yet life in Bellingham does and must go on.

Fairhaven is changing—has changed—significantly over the past few years, and more is coming in 2002. Good things may happen if the community is involved in rethinking the future of Harris Avenue and the rest of the historic district. If left to the engineers and developers, however, I’m concerned. This final installment on the street tree tragedy may help explain why.

When a block-full of 30-year-old street trees was leveled along Harris Avenue last spring to accommodate an unannounced widening of the street, the people came unglued. Not just about the tree cutting, but about the proposed widening, and the endless conversion of public space into a lifeless and unnecessary sea of parking stalls.

We liked our trees just fine. The clunky sidewalks, narrow street, and historic trolley bricks down the middle are significant elements of what has made Fairhaven such an attractive place.

We like Fairhaven, in large part, because it is historic, not because it is new and improved. Replacing tired old sidewalks with new ones, as benign as that sounds, would seem to run counter to our nostalgic infatuation with things historic in Bellingham. Couldn’t we just patch them up? And if those red trolley bricks are part of our history, shouldn’t we try to leave them where they are? (The city intends to rip them up.)

Does Harris Avenue have to be new and precisely engineered? Totally replaced? With what? Most likely, clean lines, perfect grades, and squeaky-smooth blacktop—the stuff of ranchette subdivisions and strip malls, both of which became obsolete when we entered the age of climate change.

It could be worse. The city did promise to plant a new crop of street trees, install some needed benches, and provide an imitation brick surface down the middle of Harris, so why object?

Obsession With Automobiles

Part of the answer resides within the fuzzy notion of community. And part, it seems, lies with the American obsession with automobiles. In Bellingham, as in most other cities and towns across America, the engineers, planners, policy makers, land barons and developers lean inexorably in favor of the obsession. Preserving and enhancing community, on the other hand, makes for interesting conversation but mostly just gets in the way.

In lieu of three paragraphs of prose about how wonderful Fairhaven is, let’s just say that it is—or at least it ought to be. And that there ought to be some room for cars, evil as they may be (or not).

Further, one could insist that most of what makes Fairhaven such a fine place to visit, work, shop, eat, drink, stroll, or chat on a street corner has little or nothing to do with cars or parking spaces. (Imagine someone chirping: “Hey, cool, Harris Avenue has some hot new angle parking! Let’s go park awhile, check out the SUVs!”)

Yet there are a few street-front business owners in Fairhaven (and downtown) who firmly believe that parking is the top priority, or nearly so. To the contrary, it is this writer’s (and certainly many others’) belief that most people come to Fairhaven for the experience of place, to browse the shops, enjoy a good meal, to imbibe with friends, to mail a package, to relieve stress, to wander, to feel nostalgic, to be immersed in community.

We don’t come here to park. The parking thing just happens. It lasts a few seconds and it’s over. It’s crate storage while you’re off picking apples.

Where we park those beasts can, however, have a fairly direct influence on the character of a place like Fairhaven. Parking, particularly along the side of a street, also affects traffic flow.

Unfortunately, a few merchants and property owners whose self-assigned duty was to ensure maximal parking opportunities in Fairhaven have achieved a very high degree of success. We have a whole lot of parking now, but it’s come at the expense of many other things we value in our historic little village.

Many Dimensions of Vehicle Storage

How did it happen? First let’s say that the vicissitudes of parking our cars in Fairhaven has many dimensions, most of which do not make for edge-of-your-seat reading material. But here goes.

When the big new building on Harris Avenue next to Anna’s Kaddy Shack started going up a couple of years ago, it displaced some parking on that same private lot. Since the building would generate new demand for parking, local land use regulations would normally require a certain amount of parking be provided by the owner of the development.

However, a formal agreement between the city and a handful of major property owners in Fairhaven established a parking district several years ago, along with certain tenets of intermittent motor vehicle storage within the prescribed district boundaries that are purely irrelevant to most mortals. (Personally, I haven’t even seen the agreement but have heard plenty about it, especially from those who did not support it.)

Parking Switched From Parallel to Diagonal

The agreement allows parking needs to be met in the core Fairhaven area through a combination of public and private improvements, on public and private property, using public and private funds, for public and private benefit. That, in lieu of the more conventional on-site parking normally required under zoning.

With hardly an exception, every square yard of space lacking a building or a sidewalk would be converted to parking. To squeeze even more parked cars into a finite space, the parking on Harris was switched from parallel to diagonal.

What has transpired, as a result of this example and the parking agreement as a whole, is an extreme emphasis on maximum parking without an adequate understanding of its impacts on the community. The parking district arrangement is utterly lacking in opportunities for competent and creative urban design, or for that matter, meaningful public input. It has been degrading to public space, and it has made Fairhaven less friendly to pedestrians, bicyclists, transit, street trees, clean air, biological diversity, and old red bricks.

Cost Us Our Trees

While the parking district idea makes sense if you are focused solely on maximizing parking, it fails miserably in the larger context of community planning. Excessive and poorly planned parking in Fairhaven in the past few years has adversely impacted traffic safety, pedestrian movements, historic features, community character, even public health. And it cost us our trees.

When the previous parallel parking arrangement along Harris Avenue was replaced and re-striped with angle parking (to fit more spaces on a block) it narrowed the travel lanes significantly, and introduced a degree of traffic congestion and probably an increased potential for fender-benders, as people jockeyed in and out of their spaces (they’re meter-free, by the way).

More importantly, the narrower lanes introduced a traffic-calming effect to a street that had a history of excessive speeds and many big trucks rattling and uncaulking our old-fashioned windows. The traffic-calming effect has been enormously beneficial and widely appreciated, in spite of the apparent contradiction of having too much land committed to parking on the same block (angle parking, of course, is not the only way to calm traffic).

At the same time, bus drivers working for the Whatcom Transit Authority (WTA) were not happy about the narrowed travel lanes and the tight turns they now have to make when entering or leaving Harris Avenue. Further, parked SUVs and pickup trucks were forcing the busses to cross the centerline.

WTA lobbied the public works department for a solution. Public Works looked it over and decided that widening the street a foot and a half, at the cost of narrowing the north sidewalk and removing the trees, was the answer.

Were Second-Floor Businesses Contacted?

Public Works ran the idea by a few select merchants who essentially went along with the plan. It is noteworthy that there are far more people and businesses working in the upper floors of Fairhaven’s commercial buildings than there are merchants below, though as best as I can tell, none of the second-floor folks were contacted. We knew nothing of the city’s plan until the trees were gone.

Like the merchants, the parks department folks presumed that the public works people knew best and everyone who was aware of the plot just went along with it. Parks’ belated one-paragraph notice to The Bellingham Herald stated that “Our goal is to remove the trees, chip them up and open the street as soon as possible.”

No one questioned Public Works’ presumed wisdom, nor the thirty-year investment in tree maturities that would be liquidated in service to the parking lot gods. When it was pointed out that WTA didn’t even have a bus stop on the 1000 or 1100 blocks of Harris, the arguments for a wider street seemed even more delirious.

Later, Steve Nordeen, the park department’s tree guy, did express regret that the planning department was largely left out of the loop. But even that department exhibited a lack of interest not only in the project’s likely impacts to the historic district, but in exploring creative solutions that might have addressed them, which suggests a similar outcome had the planners been in the loop.

It’s conceivable from the paper trail that Nordeen may have responded differently to the whole situation if Gary Almy and others at Public Works had not been so eager to take those “*#@%* trees” down, and the public had been notified beforehand.

Urban Design Expert Needed

All of the issues hovering around the Harris Avenue street-tree tragedy present planning and design challenges that should be addressed in a serious way, even it they cannot all be perfectly resolved. If ever there were a time to bring in an urban design expert or conduct an intensive design charet (a quick, creative and highly professional assessment), this was it, as City Council member, Barbara Ryan, pointed out last June. Both planning and public works officials rejected the idea.

The parking agreement, according to Public Works director, Dick McKinley, locked the city into both angle parking on Harris and a wider street. The public meetings were merely offered as a courtesy where there was much discussion of the concerns, but little in the way of creative problem solving or people-friendly alternatives. Instead, Fairhaven appeared destined to become an ever-friendlier place for parked cars.

As the people agitated, McKinley agreed to hold off on construction for a couple of weeks to allow the City Council time to review the situation and perhaps rehear the concerns at another public meeting. That meeting did not take place.

The prospects of further public input, not to mention hiring an expert and developing a vision for Harris Avenue, quickly evaporated when the jack-hammers arrived, again unannounced, to rip up the sidewalk on the morning of October 22.

I called McKinley, then Ryan, for an update. Both returned the calls promptly and explained that the sidewalk was indeed being replaced, but that the street would not be widened. Hallelujah.

A few other improvements were planned: the sweet gum stumps would be removed, and autumn ash saplings would be planted in their place (albeit two-inch caliber, rather than the “large” trees citizens had insisted on). The existing street and the historic red bricks, for now, would stay. Public Works would rethink its street construction plans again in early 2002.

Pickle of a Situation

In retrospect, McKinley might have handled things differently had he known the extent to which people in Bellingham cogitate over this stuff (perhaps it’s the long winters). Now, with a snappy introduction to the city of subdued excitement behind him, we can hope that McKinley may be willing to take the extra step next time to involve the public in matters that might have seemed fairly routine in a less excitable town.

One promising sign may be in the recent replacement of a portion of the sidewalk on 11th Street. In November, the old concrete was removed and a new sidewalk was installed without cutting down the trees.

In a pickle of a situation, McKinley responded well to a feisty public, openly and respectfully. In addition to not widening the street, he offered up some nice amenities for pedestrians and a much-needed four-way stop at 11th and Harris. But his work isn’t done. Reconstruction of Harris Avenue, the preferred parking configuration, and the disposition of the bricks all remain unresolved.

Many of us who think Fairhaven still has the potential for a hell of future would like to see some more options on the table, options that don’t require widening, or perhaps even replacing, Harris Avenue. Some say make it one-way, widen the sidewalks, plant more plants.

Others suggest closing it entirely and converting it to a pedestrian mall with lots of green space, sitting areas, public art and all the rest—an option that was to be seriously considered under the Fairhaven neighborhood plan, a guiding document that has been virtually ignored from the start.

Another Tacky Tourist Attraction

Some are content to watch Fairhaven become another tacky tourist attraction, adrift in a parking lot, uncertain of its history, and devoid of a strong residential component and the small businesses that can serve the real-world needs of people who live and work here. A few could care less what happens. And one worried business owner above 12th Street said she would chain herself to a tree if they tried whacking down the sweet gums on her block.

Opinions are varied, but perhaps we can at least agree that, ultimately, a community ought to be designed around much more important things than cars and places to park them.

On the cold, drizzly afternoon of November 19, 2001, eight small ash trees were planted along Harris Avenue, thus bringing to a close, it would seem, the tree chapter in the Book of Fairhaven. Where we drift next may depend on how inspired we become or sedated we Bellinghampters remain while our community slips ever more comfortably into the toxic, delusional void of “automobileness.”

In his 1965 landmark book, “The Destruction of California,” Raymond Dasmann had this to say about the omnipotent automobile: “The first cars were noisy and quaint, and in their way attractive. They did not look, except to the unsophisticated, like the monsters they were to become...People came to assume that...the Constitution included in fine print the right to take their cars with them and find parking space wherever they might go....”

RE Sources Wins Environmental Health Award

The Washington Toxics Coalition recently celebrated their 20th anniversary of helping communities in Washington State protect themselves from toxic chemicals in the environment. The gala celebration featured Sandra Steingraber, author of “Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment,” and Lois Gibbs, leader of the campaign at Love Canal.

As part of the celebration, the Washington Toxics Coalition presented Bellingham’s own RE Sources for Sustainable Communities with their “Heroes for Environmental Health Award.” RE Sources was presented the award for the work they have done to close down two incinerators, protect people from pesticides in groundwater, shut down a chlorine plant in downtown Bellingham, clean up Bellingham Bay, respond to the Olympic Pipeline tragedy, educate people about using fewer toxic products, watchdog area pollution permits, get curbside recycling started here, and divert millions of pounds of still usable stuff from landfills through The RE Stores. RE Sources was the only organization that was presented the award.

Last year RE Sources won the Governor’s Award for Pollution Prevention, but upon receiving this recent award from the Washington Toxics Coalition RE Sources’ executive director Carl Weimer said “Personally I view this as the most impressive award we have won since it comes from a group of like-minded activists. It is not hard to impress the government with pollution prevention accomplishments, but the Washington Toxics Coalition represents a higher standard.”

For more information on these two organizations check out their websites at: www.watoxics.org and www.re-sources.org.

Composting Takes a New Twist: Throw-Away Dinnerware Arrives

by Helen Brandt

Helen Brandt is a writer and is frequently seen on ice at the Sportsplex in Bellingham.

Have you ever had the urge to toss that pile of dirty dishes in the garbage? And while you’re at it, how about those knives and forks too?

Soon you will be able to do just that and enrich your compost pile at the same time.

Two U.S. companies have developed bowls, plates, cups, and utensils that biodegrade in the compost pile. The most immediate uses for these products are at fast food restaurants that generate tons of packaging waste, and at institutional cafeterias that have lots of dishes to wash.

Nearly 113 billion disposable cups, 39 billion disposable eating utensils and 29 billion disposable plates are used in the United States every year, and half these items are made of plastic. These plastic disposable food-service items generate waste and significant amounts of litter.

Biodegradable Dinnerware Developed

Two companies producing compostable dinnerware and utensils are EarthShell Corporation based in Santa Barbara, California and BioCorp based in Redondo Beach, California.

Earthshell is engaged in a joint venture with DuPont to develop new forms of environmentally friendly packaging. The companies are working on sandwich wraps and protective coatings for EarthShell cups, plates, bowls and hinged-lid containers.

EarthShell announced in July, 2001, that it had been given the “go-ahead” by McDonalds’ Corporation to supply all 465 Chicago area McDonalds’ restaurants with the new EarthShell Packaging container for the Big Mac® sandwich.

The containers are made from reclaimed potato starch, natural limestone and post-consumer recycled fiber (which does not require the cutting of trees), biodegradable polymer and wax coatings, and water. They will withstand hot and cold foods as required.

This new packaging substantially reduces risk to wildlife compared to polystyrene foam sandwich containers because it biodegrades when exposed to moisture in nature. It physically disintegrates in water when crushed or broken and can be composted in a commercial facility or in your backyard.

EarthShell has begun testing of hot beverage cups with a regional restaurant chain. The compostable cups are designed for use with hot beverages such as coffee, tea and specialty hot drinks. In the United States alone, the hot cup market is valued at just over $1 billion annually.

EarthShell Ingredients

Approximately eighty percent of the EarthShell material is starch and abundant limestone (calcium carbonate). The remaining ingredients are recycled fiber, protective coatings, manufacturing release agents, and a thickener.

Natural starch is a highly renewable resource. Potato crops can be grown annually and harvested specifically for this purpose. But to further compound the environmental benefits, EarthShell Corporation uses reclaimed starch from the commercial processing of potatoes and French fries. This maximizes the efficiency of potato processing and reduces costs.

Cellulose fiber, found in post-consumer recycled paper, makes up a small percentage of the EarthShell material. This product is already biodegradable, and gives the EarthShell container its toughness.

A Polyester That Microbes Find Tasty

EarthShell is utilizing DuPont’s new Biomax® water biodegradable polyester. This polyester uses polyethylene terephthalate (PET) technology.

In Biomax®, the polyester chains contain weak spots, which make them susceptible to degradation under ambient conditions.

Biomax® is intended mainly for disposal by composting and in-soil degradation. The large polymer molecules are cleaved by moisture into smaller molecules, which are then consumed by naturally occurring microbes and converted to carbon dioxide and water.

Researchers performed a series of tests to determine environmental impact, including plant germination and seedling emergence, earthworm weight gain and mortality, and microbial population density. In all tests, the materials were found to be harmless to the environment at every stage in the decomposition process. They are virtually undetectable to the unaided eye in about eight weeks.

EarthShell Passes Composting Tests

The Department of Interior, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) jointly conducted a project to examine the behavior of EarthShell Packaging products when composted with food scraps and other organic materials.

The project was successful and earned the company a commercial agreement with Guest Services, Inc., which manages government cafeteria service operations, to supply plates and bowls to the Department of Interior. The department employs 70,000 persons nationwide and has millions of visitors each year to the national parks and other facilities it manages.

In August, 2001, the Presidio, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and the National Park System, agreed to use EarthShell plates and bowls in its Acre Café. Located in San Francisco, California, the Presidio is an environmental leader among National Parks. The Acre Café is one of the park’s gourmet restaurants, and offers a variety of dishes using only free-range meats, organic produce, and organic coffees.

Educational Institutions Compost Dinnerware

Oregon State University, with a student population of nearly 18,000, decided to switch to EarthShell after evaluating its environmental attributes and performance characteristics through testing the products in campus dining centers.

Cornell University, will begin using the EarthShell plates, bowls, and hinged-lid sandwich containers at food service venues on its Ithaca, New York, campus.

Bon Appétit, a major food service provider, manages food service operations for Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, and Evergreen College in Olympia, Washington. EarthShell has agreed to provide Bon Appétit with plates, bowls and hinged-lid containers for the colleges’ dining services.

The Milwaukee Public School System has approved EarthShell Packaging plates and bowls for use in school cafeterias. The Los Angeles Unified School District and the University of Texas in Houston have also tested the products and found them to be successful.

Retail Market

EarthShell Packaging plates and bowls are being introduced at selected Wal-Mart stores in Portland, Oregon, and Baltimore, Maryland.

Earthshell has entered into a joint venture with Huhtamaki Van Leer, a worldwide packaging company based in Finland. The containers are being manufactured in Göttingen, Germany, and will conform to strict European Union regulations regarding biodegradability. The first product is the hinged-lid sandwich container for cold and hot products, such as hamburgers. Products such as cups, plates and bowls will be added later.

Plastic From Corn

The second company involved in the manufacture of compostable dinnerware is BioCorp. It is one of the first companies to commercialize NatureWorks™ PLA (polylactide), a new corn-based plastic made by Cargill Dow Polymers LLC. Biocorp was founded in 1996 and manufactures biodegradable products that have been used in 17 countries.

In April, 1997, for the first time ever in the fast food industry, McDonalds’ introduced biodegradable and compostable cutlery in its European restaurants. McDonalds’ restaurants in Austria, Germany, and Sweden are using biodegradable products made of Mater-Bio resin. The same utensils are available in North America through Biocorp reSourceWare.

Drinking Cups

Biocorp clear drinking cups made from the new NatureWorks™ material have already debuted in Australia, and are currently in test applications at a number of major U.S. markets. The new clear, cold drink cups could offer customers a “natural alternative” to ordinary plastic cups. Biocorp has been working with the new resin alternative for nine months to perfect its newest offering.

The new cold drink cup has physical properties competitive with petroleum-based plastics. It has the added environmental benefits of being both naturally based and fully compostable. Biocorp’s existing line of biodegradable products includes plates, cutlery, hot drink cups and straws.

How Do You Get Plastic From Corn?

Carbon is removed by living plants from the air through photosynthesis. Carbon is stored in plant starches, which can be broken down into natural plant sugars. The carbon and other elements in these natural sugars are then used to make NatureWorks™ PLA the same material used in Biocorp drinking cups.

The dextrose (a plant sugar) extracted from corn is fermented to produce lactic acid. Corn is being used because of its abundance and low cost. Dextrose is turned into lactic acid by using a fermentation process similar to that used by beer and wine producers. Multiple lactic acid molecules are linked together via an intermediate to create the polymer PLA.

PLA is not a new polymer. But the recent advances in the fermentation of dextrose (which is obtained from the corn) has led to a dramatic reduction in the manufacturing cost of the lactic acid used to make the polymers.

Future plans call for extracting dextrose from other plant sources such as sugar beets, wheat, rice and other products containing cellulose. A major new market for producers of agricultural crops may potentially be created, expanding the employment base for rural workers.

In addition to a PLA plant near Minneapolis, a 300-million-dollar plant in Blair, Nebraska, is expected to employ 100 workers and produce 140,000 metric tons of the polymers each year.

Cargill Dow can produce a wide range of biodegradable NatureWorks products that vary in molecular weight and crystallinity. The products range from clear wraps for peppermint candies to soft drink bottles and fabric for clothing. NatureWork™ PLA is claimed to use 20-50 percent less fossil resources than comparable petroleum-based products.

Looking Ahead

A major benefit of biodegradable plates, cups, and utensils depends on the availability of composting procedures for the waste. As the study by the European Union noted in 2000, “Claiming biodegradability has little or no credibility in the absence of a waste composting industry.”

While it may be relatively easy for large institutions such as universities and government agencies to arrange for composting their food waste, it remains to be seen whether individual fast food restaurants can efficiently do the same. Perhaps a new commercial waste management specialty will develop as the need for composting services grows.

At the present time, there is no commercial composting service in Whatcom County available to restaurants or businesses who might be interested in composting their food waste. The City of Bellingham contracts with Skagit Soils to haul and compost the yard waste brought to the city’s green collection site on Lakeway.

At Western Washington University, there have been periodic attempts to compost some food waste from dining halls by using the Fairhaven College compost area. However, this has been labor intensive for student volunteers who had to lug the buckets over to the compost area.

Even if the full potential of compostable dinnerware lies somewhere in the future, the present benefit is that it can reduce the amount of nondegradable plastic and styrofoam piling up in our landfills.

For an in-depth discussion of the prospects for biobased food packaging, see the report completed by the European Union in November, 2000: “Biobased Packaging Materials for the Food Industry. Status and Perspectives,” edited by Claus J. Weber. It can be downloaded as a pdf file from the website: http:\\www.mli.kvl.dk/foodchem/special/biopack/FOODBIOPACK.pdf.

Attorney General John Ashcroft Wins ‘Grinch of the Year’ Award

Washington State Jobs with Justice held its annual Whatcom County Grinch Party and election with more than 140 community, labor, faith, and student activist votes cast. John Ashcroft won for using the war abroad to launch a war on Americans; for trying to undermine every basic freedom in our Constitution; for conducting racial profiling; and for still having time to strike down democratically elected state laws in the Northwest.

Ashcroft was one of many deserving “candidates.” Close runner-ups for ‘Grinch of the Year’ were Marlene Dawson, formerly of the Whatcom County Council and a member of the Sandy Point Improvement Company, and Tim Eyman, Permanently Offensive Grinch.

Jobs with Justice activists pledge “we’ll be there, we’re not scared of any Grinch.” By publicly awarding the Grinch of the Year, our expectation is that Ashcroft’s heart will grow three sizes bigger, as Dr. Seuss envisioned. This year’s Grinch candidates cut against the grain of what it means to be an American. They could have shown great leadership to support people in need at a time of national unity. Instead they’ve done the most harm to working families in our community.

Washington State Jobs with Justice is part of a national coalition that brings unions and community groups together in the fight for workers’ rights and broader economic and social justice. With the participation of numerous local unions, congregations and community groups, JwJ stands for the right to organize, civil rights, health care for all, funding community needs, and a living wage. Local community and labor leaders founded JwJ in 1993 to unite diverse organizations in a multi-issue coalition that has grown to include more than 90 organizations.

For more information: Marv Prinsen, 360-366-5806, is the Whatcom County press contact for the organizing committee for the Grinch of the Year award.

Ecological Approach to Lawn Care (Including Crane Fly Control)

by David Johnson

David Johnson is former director of grounds maintenance at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Seattle. For fifteen years he used integrated pest management techniques to manage their extensive plant collection.

The lawn surrounding your home can be a source of delight or cause for despair. Our society has traditionally valued the aesthetic standard of a uniform, dense, close-cropped and geometrically edged lawn. Trying to maintain such artificial standards, perhaps more to please the neighbors than ourselves, we can set ourselves up for failure. We also allow ourselves to become easy victims of advertisements promoting a lethal assortment of chemicals guaranteed to solve our lawn care problems.

Some lawn service companies that rely heavily on quarterly or bimonthly pesticide applications leave the consumer with the perception that healthy attractive lawns require frequent applications of assorted chemicals. It is not part of the sales plan to offer information that will reduce pesticide use.

Generally speaking, the lower your tolerance for any deviation from the “perfect” putting-green style lawn, the more likely it is that chemicals will be needed to achieve it. Actually, it turns out that the much touted, deep green lawn is not the healthiest turf. A lighter green lawn has better fertility, root development, and disease resistance.

Many other landscape options are available, from neatly tended vegetable gardens to meadows of wild flowers. Yard design should be dictated by the intended use patterns. Most home landscapes do have at least some areas of grass because it can be attractive and serves a purpose.

Lawn Requirements and Planning

An ecological approach to lawn maintenance begins with appropriate design and installation to provide the physical conditions a lawn requires to thrive. The area the lawn is to occupy must receive adequate light, and the soil must absorb water but drain well. Shady areas and steep hillsides are not good bets for grass. The pH (acidity/alkalinity) of the soil should fall within a range of 6.0 to 7.0 (slightly acidic).

West of the Cascades soil is usually too acid, while east of the mountains excess alkalinity is often a problem. The soil must be deep enough for healthy roots to grow. Six inches is a minimum, and twelve is better. The soil must contain adequate nutrients. Finally, a source of water is needed to maintain adequate moisture levels.

The selection of proper grass seed or sod is just as important. In Western Washington, a mixture of perennial rye grass and fescues are recommended. If sod is used, purchase it fresh.


Mowing should always be done with a sharp blade set at the correct height. Never remove more than one third of the grass blade at one mowing because this will diminish nutrient reserves, causing stress conditions and a decline in lawn health. Mowing height for perennial ryegrass west of the Cascades should generally be between 11¦2 inches and 2 inches.

The taller the grass the deeper the roots penetrate, tapping into a larger volume of moisture and nutrients. Frequent (i.e. weekly) mowing increases grass shoot density, inhibiting the establishment of weeds. Grass-cycling—leaving the clippings on the lawn rather than bagging them—can reduce fertilizer needs by one-third. Specially designed mulching mowers work best, but any mower can be used for grass-cycling if mowing is done often and the blades are kept sharp.


Aeration is the process of removing small cylindrical cores of soil from the lawn, relieving soil compaction and allowing water and air to penetrate. A home lawn may require aeration only once every two to four years depending upon use and soil type.

Thatching removes the mat of old grass rhizomes that develops at the soil surface, preventing the penetration of water and fertilizer. Thatching needs to be done when the thatch layer exceeds about 1/2 inch. (The rate of thatch accumulation differs with grass type.) The job is best done with a special thatching rake or, for large areas, a thatching machine, which is available at rental yards.


Fertilization is a necessary part of a lawn maintenance program. Selection of the fertilizer to use is important. Avoid the so called “weed and feed” fertilizers. Application of these products amounts to indiscriminate broadcasting of chemical herbicides over non-targeted species in the yard, whether or not a pest problem exists.

Fertilizers derived from animal or plant sources are termed “organic.” The advantage of organic fertilizers is that the nutrients break down slowly, a benefit to the diverse flora and fauna of the soil. Plant roots cannot differentiate between nutrients derived from “organic” or “manufactured” sources; they absorb nutrients in only one chemical form.

What is most important is to choose a fertilizer that has the proper balance of nutrients for your geographic area and that contains at least 70 percent slow-release elements. Manufactured fertilizers that contain a high percentage of slow release elements do cost more than quick release fertilizers. They are worth the extra cost because they maintain slow, steady growth that is best for the health of your lawn and they help protect against fertilizer runoff that can pollute nearby water.

Whatever the source of fertilizer, it is important that it be applied at the proper time and in appropriate quantities. Fertilizer does not “feed” plants; plant food is manufactured by the plant using the sun’s energy. Fertilizer supplies the nutrients to the soil solution to be absorbed by the plants’ roots. Nutrient deficiencies lead to a decline in plant health. Excess nutrients in the soil solution, besides representing a waste of resources, can damage plants or cause excessive growth. Application rates vary with the product.

For Western Washington, WSU Cooperative Extension recommends a balanced fertilizer with nutrients in a 3-1-2 ratio. Total nitrogen should be up to 4 pounds per 1000 square feet per year. If you make four applications per year, you would only apply one pound of nitrogen each time.

Timing is very important. West of the Cascades, the most important application is made around mid-November. If you only fertilize once, do it in November; if you fertilize twice, do it in September and again in November. If you choose to make four applications, the other two should be in April and June. Such timing encourages the development of strong root systems which can support vigorous top growth through the spring and summer.

For recommended nutrient levels and application times, consult your local Cooperative Extension office.


Infrequent, long irrigation cycles allow moisture to penetrate, encouraging deep roots which are capable of withstanding the stresses of drought. Frequent, short cycles encourage shallow rooting which is easily stressed. If the lawn is growing in a fine textured soil which does not readily accept water, the application of a wetting agent may help.

Often during drought conditions the lawn dries up, but the deeper rooted weeds thrive and spread. By maintaining even soil moisture to a depth of 10 inches throughout the growing season, the lawn’s health is assured and weed growth can be inhibited.

Pest Management

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an approach that focuses on prevention by considering the ecosystem as a whole. In the case of lawn care, it begins by selecting the appropriate plant types for the area and applying the correct horticultural practices to maintain health.

IPM accepts the presence of “pests” as a natural part of the plant/animal ecosystem and does not seek to eliminate them. A threshold of acceptable pest presence or damage is set, and the area is monitored to determine if pest damage will exceed it. Treatment strategies are implemented only when monitoring shows that unacceptable damage will occur.

Treatment is aimed at preventing pest levels from exceeding the threshold with minimal disruption of non-targeted members of the plant or animal community. The effectiveness of the treatment is evaluated, and the treatment is modified if necessary.

An important part of IPM is defining what level of weeds or insect damage we are willing to accept. This standard will set the threshold at which treatment is called for. Purely aesthetic standards tend to call for treatment at much lower pest levels than do standards based upon plant health. Setting our pest tolerance too low results in unnecessary treatments and possible environmental damage.

Monitoring a pest problem requires identifying the pest and learning about its life cycle. Once this knowledge is obtained, a projection of the pest’s potential as a problem can be determined. Often natural predators can keep pest populations manageable over the long term, despite brief fluctuations at certain times of the year.

When considering a treatment, the goal is usually not to eradicate the pest, but to use the least toxic treatment that will drop the pest level below the threshold. For example, increasing nutrient levels through fertilization might be an appropriate treatment to allow the lawn to successfully compete against a weed or insect. Hand weeding can be an appropriate response in some situations. For more information on weed control in lawns and gardens, see our fact sheet on weed management.

The most important part of any treatment is evaluation. The evaluation may indicate that the treatment be repeated or changed. Often it is necessary to combine a series of treatments to achieve a reduction of pest levels.

Applying the IPM method to home lawn care is not difficult. With a little determination to learn about pest life cycles and horticultural practices, informed decisions can be made which will minimize chemical use without compromising the aesthetic quality of our landscapes.

An Example: Crane Flies

In Western Washington there is only one lawn insect problem that may require treatment. We frequently hear that the dreaded European Crane Fly can devour an entire lawn in a week. Many lawn services and garden centers recommend the application of chemical insecticides as a preventative measure. Under IPM principles we consider this the last resort. Our first line of defense is education.

The Crane Fly spends most of its life cycle as a grub in the soil feeding on grass. It briefly emerges as a large winged insect in the fall to mate and die. The eggs are laid in the soil and hatch out to begin the feeding cycle again. Further reading reveals that many of the grubs die over the winter when the ground freezes. They are a food source for starlings or other birds you thought were pests.

When spring arrives they become more active, and this is when monitoring should begin. Mark out several one foot square patches of turf in various parts of the lawn, and dig down along three sides of each with a spade, then flip the sod over to expose the roots. Count the Crane Fly grubs within each square foot area and calculate the average. If there are less than 25 grubs per square foot, no treatment is necessary.

If levels are between 25 and 40 grubs per square foot, increase the nutrient levels and continue to monitor every two weeks. If the levels exceed 40 grubs per square foot, damage may be significant and a treatment is appropriate. One non-chemical method that may reduce the grub population is to thatch the lawn on a cool, moist day when grubs are at the surface.

Beneficial nematode worms are available under trade names such as Orcon and others. If applied as soon as soil temperatures reach 55 degrees and kept well watered, nematodes can reduce Crane Fly populations significantly. Following treatment of any type, the area is monitored to determine effectiveness.

This is an abridged version of a more extensive fact sheet available in print form from Washington Toxics Coalition for $1.50 plus .50 postage and .13 tax (2.13 total). For more information, visit their web site (www.watoxics.org.) Print versions can be ordered from Washington Toxics Coalition either over the Internet or by calling 800-844-SAFE.

Best Way to Manage Crane Flies Is to Ignore Them

by Todd Murray

Todd Murray is the Whatcom County Integrated Pest Management Program Manager with WSU Cooperative Extension. He has a master’s degree in entomology from WSU.

Wondering what to do about the flock of long-legged, gangly crane flies hovering around your porch light? Washington State University (WSU) scientists’ advice: Don’t do anything.

Earlier this year, a WSU Cooperative Extension study of 50 lawns in the Lake Whatcom watershed found that only five percent had enough crane fly larvae to potentially cause turf damage. Todd Murray, manager of the Integrated Pest Management Project at WSU Cooperative Extension—Whatcom County, said that most pesticide applications for crane fly in the watershed, and in the county as a whole, are probably unnecessary. “Judging by our study, crane fly doesn’t seem to be a problem for most lawns,” he said.

Todd’s secret weapon: “Adults are harmless; use a fly swatter if you want to get rid of them. It’s the larvae, or leatherjackets, that might damage your lawn, and the best time to look for and manage leatherjackets is in the spring.”

Chlorpyrifos (also known as dursban) and diazinon, two chemicals commonly used to control crane flies, have been detected in streams, rivers and lakes throughout Washington. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has determined that diazinon and chlorpyrifos in drinking water is primarily due to their use by homeowners. Preventing insecticides from entering Lake Whatcom is a priority for local government agencies.

WSU Cooperative Extension—Whatcom County hosts a web site dedicated to crane fly management and research, whatcom.wsu.

edu/cranefly. The site has tips and strategies for homeowners, in addition to serving as a forum for researchers throughout the Pacific Northwest to share information.

Facts about Crane Flies

Adult crane flies don’t do damage to lawns; it’s the larvae, or leatherjackets, that nibble at grass rootcrowns, which sometimes causes sparse patches in turf. Adult crane flies emerge from late August through September, mating and laying eggs in grass within 24 hours after emerging.

The eggs hatch into small, grayish-brown, worm-like larvae called leatherjackets. Leatherjackets feed on grass and clover in the fall, go dormant during winter, and start up again in the spring. Leatherjackets stop feeding (and doing lawn damage) about mid-May.

Spring 2001, WSU Master Gardeners sampled lawns throughout the Lake Whatcom watershed for crane fly larvae, with the following results:

start table

Crane Flies Per Lake Whatcom

Square Foot Lawns

0 larvae 65 percent

1-10 larvae 30 percent

10-20 larvae 10 percent

20-25 larvae 5 percent

Over 25 larvae 0 percent

end table

•Lawns are considered to have a crane fly problem if over 25 larvae are detected. However, two WSU researchers, entomologist Art Antonelli and turf scientist Gwen Stahnke, have seen well-maintained turf show no signs of crane fly damage even when larvae exceeded 40 per square foot.

•Western Washington homeowners spent an estimated $13 million on store-bought insecticides just for crane fly management. (1999 Entomology Project Report-WSDA PUB 034 (N/1/00))

•In 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency deemed the two insecticides most commonly recommended for crane fly control, diazinon and chlorpyrifos (also known as dursban and other trade names), to pose too much risk to human health for residential use. Their residential uses are being phased out over the next few years.

•In 1988, the EPA concluded that the use of diazinon in open areas poses a “widespread and continuous hazard” to birds. Bird kills associated with diazinon use have been reported in every area of the country and at all times of the year. (U.S. Public Health Service, 1995)

•In a 1999 Department of Ecology study, diazinon was detected in two stormwater drains in the Lake Whatcom watershed; chlorpyrifos was detected in one.

•In a 1995 study of small Puget Sound streams, the U.S. Geological Survey had the following findings:

•“In general, more pesticides were detected in urban streams than in agricultural streams.”

•”Urban use of pesticides (about 1.1 million pounds/year) was more than three times greater than agricultural use.”

An Oasis and Place for Reflection in the Midst of Industry

by Aaron Joy

Aaron M. Joy, has a degree in sociology from WWU. Currently unemployed, he spends his time painting, playwrighting and is an actor with Nearly Stellar Productions, a touring theater group that visits retirement homes and care centers.

This is the sixteenth in a series examining Bellingham’s parks, based on the book “A History of Bellingham’s Parks” by Aaron Joy, only available from the author.

Zuanich Point Park

Created: 1994

Location: Squalicum Harbor

Area: 11¦2 acres

Originally called Harbor Point Park, the name was changed to Zuanich Point Park in 1995.

In 1990, a small kite-flying park, barely stretching an acre, was designed for the entrance to Squalicum Harbor. This park, along with Fairhaven’s Marine Park, would be owned by the Port of Bellingham, as opposed to the Bellingham Parks Department.

Construction began in 1993, half funded by the Port of Bellingham and half by a state grant from the Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation. This was the second attempt at securing a grant for the park’s construction. A prior attempt was denied because the blueprints contained no boating facilities and the layout was “irregularly shaped.” Ninety moorage berths and a facelift to the design implemented the eventual solution.

On May 6, 1994, the park was dedicated as Harbor Point Park. Many felt that this small addition to the marina was a priceless asset. One person quoted by The Bellingham Herald that day said, “without the park it’s an industrial, ugly area.” Similar sentiments were voiced by another resident who said, “if we let the waterfront go to industry it will be gone forever. Bellingham still has time to preserve it.”

Originally located at the Harbor Mall, an eight-foot-high anchor was moved to the park and rededicated that same day. It is a memorial to fishermen lost at sea between 1943 and 1975, containing names supplied by the society of wives of the lost gill-netters.

Harbor Point Park Became Zuanich Point Park

At the re-dedication, thirteen members of the disbanded wives society reunited for this special occasion. The anchor was found in Port Gamble in 1975 by Jay Gould, a Port Townsend fisherman who snagged his net on it. It was bought by the Port for the price of a new net. Gould ironically died at sea not long after.

In 1995, the park was officially renamed Zuanich Point Park in honor of retiring Port Commissioner Pete Zuanich, Sr., the longest standing Bellingham Port Commissioner (1953-1995). Born in 1916, Zuanich followed his father’s footsteps and worked as a commercial fisherman until heart surgery hastened his retirement.

More than 150 people showed up at his November 16, 1995 retirement ceremony, a day deemed “Peter Zuanich Appreciation Day” by former Mayor Tim Douglas. Ceremony speaker Port Commissioner Scott Walker said of Zuanich that he “can be combative and he doesn’t suffer fools easily, but at the same time he can charm a whole room. Pete is a man of common sense and uncommon wisdom.”

Other salutations came from local businesses, friends, co-workers and a personal letter from President Bill Clinton. Originally joining the Port Commission to “get the public to appreciate the fishing industry,” Zuanich’s achievements included: the building of Squalicum Harbor, luring Intalco Aluminum Corporation to Whatcom County and bringing the Alaska Marine Highway System to Fairhaven.

Park Renovated in 1998

Zuanich Point Park was renovated in 1998, creating more parking space, doubling the park’s size, and improving the walkways and viewing areas. In 2000, a multicolor adventure ship was added to the park. It was purchased by the Port of Bellingham through a monetary gift of $20,000 from Zuanich himself. He felt that the park lacked a climbing and play structure, after watching kids play on a similar facility in Boulevard Park near his home.

In 1997, The Bellingham Herald publicly announced the creation of “Safe Return,” a memorial statue for fishermen lost at sea, to be placed in the park in a spot where it could overlook the entrance to Squalicum Harbor. At 16 feet and 38,000 pounds, “Safe Return” depicts a bronze fisherman casting a line.

The statue is supported by a granite base that has bas relief panels depicting assorted fishing industry scenes, including a wheel house interior, Squalicum Harbor with its various fishing vessels, traditional Indian fishing techniques and a purse seiner hauling in its net. It was installed and dedicated Memorial Day 1999.

Statue for Bereaved Fishing Families

The statue was more than just an additional visual stimulus for the park, but also the fulfillment of a dream for a grand fishermen’s memorial and a formal closure for many bereaved families whose lives had been forever changed by the unexpected evils of the ocean. “No words can evoke what the statue will evoke,” First Congregational Church Pastor Donel McClellan said at the dedication.

The statue was blessed by a Croatian priest from Vancouver, British Columbia, in honor of the many Slavic fishermen who have settled in the county. Vernon Lane, Sr. and the Tom family from Lummi Nation offered a traditional Native American blessing—blessing the sea, the statue, those who had died as well as veterans in attendance—by circling the monument while singing and playing native instruments.

The designer and sculptor of the memorial was retired Whatcom County anesthesiologist Dr. Eugene Fairbanks, son of internationally recognized sculptor Avard Fairbanks. The statue was created at the request of Fairbank’s son, John, who was inspired after the death of his close friend Greg Schwindt, who died while fishing in the Bering Sea in 1993.

The cap of the bronze fisherman features the likeness of the fishing ship Lady of Good Voyage, the lost ship of Greg Schwindt, though the statue itself resembles no particular individual. Peter Zuanich described it as “a young man who’s aged with his experiences at sea.”

While still in the planning stages for the statue, Dr. Fairbanks wrote that “the monument is intended to be a place for solace of those bereaved and a source of pride for the community.” This brief prose doesn’t just describe the statue but Zuanich Point Park itself, which continues to be an oasis in the middle of industry and a place of reflection overlooking secluded Bellingham Bay.

Next Month — Part Seventeen

Little Squalicum Park

Another Sudden Valley Sewer Overflow

by Tom Pratum

Tom Pratum is a watershed resident and Water District 10 customer, who draws his water directly from Lake Whatcom.

Whatcom County Water District 10 (WD10), plagued throughout the 1990s and before with sewage overflow problems resulting from inflow and infiltration (I/I) problems in its Lake Whatcom Boulevard sewer interceptor, was again faced with the dreaded event early on Friday morning, December 14.

The district’s feeble efforts to stem the flow of raw sewage into Austin Creek and Lake Whatcom did not result in a cessation of discharge until Monday morning, December 17—a span of over 72 hours.

While the exact volume of the discharge is unknown, it’s likely to be at least equal to the capacity of the detention basin—nearly 700,000 gallons. This is not an unreasonable estimate based on information from past sewage spills presented in the dis-trict’s 1997 final environmental impact statement “South Shore Sewage Disposal Alternatives.”

Overflow Contained High Fecal Coliform Levels

Based on a state Department of Ecology (DOE) sampling of the overflow on December 14 which showed 50,000 e.coli colonies per 100 milliliters (state Washington Administrative Code surface water standard is 50 colonies/100 ml), the DOE on December 18 issued an administrative order which asked WD10 to come up with a plan within 24 hours to prevent this in the future or face penalties. The district in turn responded with a revised “Sewer Overflow Prevention and Response Procedures” document.

In its response to the DOE, the district blamed the sewage overflow on part of their sewer line being submerged by Lake Louise. The district claims it cannot be held responsible for the overflows since it has no control over the level of Lake Louise. WD10 is obviously hopeful that poor Lake Louise will be a patsy for its negligence in this issue. Whether the district will be fined by DOE as a result of these overflows was unknown as of this writing.

The history of WD10’s I/I problems and their proposed solution is a long and tortuous one. Suggested reading would include an excellent two part series “A Roller Coaster Ride: The Proposed Second Sudden Valley Sewer Line,” Whatcom Watch. February and March 2000, page 1.

Detention Basin Didn’t Prevent Sewage Spill

The district originally proposed to build a second sewer line alongside the old one. However, that idea was rejected and eventually the district obtained approval to build a sewage detention basin, followed by a new sewer interceptor which would run along Lake Louise Road. The detention basin was completed in 1999, and the Lake Louise sewer interceptor is scheduled to be constructed starting early in 2002.

The stated purpose of both of these projects in the district’s comprehensive plan and amendments thereto is to provide increased capacity which would allow additional connections from already platted lots without exacerbating the existing I/I problems.

The new interceptor, by providing another route for flow from Sudden Valley, would accommodate increased build-out there while temporarily reducing the load on the existing Lake Whatcom Boulevard interceptor. The detention basin, in theory, acts as a “capacitor,” allowing increased flow during peak times which can then be accommodated in the existing interceptor during off-peak hours.

Water District Kowtows to Developers

While it may appear that the district is being altruistic and merely looking out for the welfare of the community in attempting to defeat the sewage overflow problems, an examination of the district’s own comprehensive plan, and amendments thereto, suggests an entirely different scenario.

Without the increased capacity which would enable new service connections, the district felt it would be faced with both financial and legal problems – so, increasing the number of connections was pursued at any cost.

By the district’s own estimates, each home adds about 300 gallons per day in normal use and infiltration to the system. Thus, the district decided to play a game of roulette in allowing additional homes to be built based entirely on the capacity of the detention basin, and hoped that nature would cooperate and keep the I/I within regulation until the new interceptor could be built.

Fortunately, a Clean Water Act lawsuit brought by the Watershed Defense Fund and settled in 1999, dictated limits on how many new homes the district would be allowed to connect. Had the district been allowed to connect all 770 homes they originally proposed, we would have had over 200,000 gallons of additional sewage spilled into Lake Whatcom during the recent overflows.

Playing Russian Roulette With Our Water Supply

Adding new homes to their current system is literally a financial gamble by the district, as the 1999 settlement states that the district shall donate a base amount of $5,000 to the Whatcom Land Trust for each sewage overflow.

Additionally, $2,500 shall be tacked onto this amount for each additional spill which occurs within a 12 month period; however, the total amount shall not exceed $17,500 per spill. Because overflows are defined as any spill which occurs in a given 24 hour period, WD10 would appear to owe $35,000 for its latest folly.

The district seems to be reacting entirely based upon fear, and their fear of developer lawsuits supersedes their fear of citizen lawsuits or enforcement actions by governmental agencies. We can laugh at their follies now, but no one will be laughing when this lake reaches the point of no-return due to their actions.

Correction: The Wild Washington Campaign

The December 2001 Whatcom Watch article on the Wild Washington Campaign, “Volunteers Seek Greater Protection for State’s Wild Lands” (pages 12-13) contained a numerical error. The size of the Mt. Baker Wilderness Area created in the 1984 legislation was erroneously reported as 250,000 acres. The actual size is 117,900 acres. Together with the Noisy-Diobsud Wilderness Area, created that same year, there are currently 132,200 acres of designated wilderness in the Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest north of the Skagit River. The author regrets the error.

Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest (MBSNF) 1,722,300 acres

1978 RARE II Unit 6041

Roadless area in MBSNF north of the Skagit River 271,900 acres

Both Created in 1984

Mt. Baker Wilderness Area 117,900 acres

Noisy Diobsud Wilderness Area 14,300 acres

Total Current Wilderness Area in MBSNF north of Skagit River 132,200 acres

Note: The Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest is located on the west slopes of the Cascades from the Canadian border to Mt. Rainier. 640 acres equals one square mile.

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