Birch Street Subdivision
When I joined the faculty at Western Washington University in 1987, Bellingham still had an aura of natural beauty and a choice quality of life. A great deal has happened since then to change the scene and definitely not for the better.
Ive learned that its tough for citizens to make a difference here in coping with environmental degradation, but I still believe its worth the effort to try. Isnt that what democracy is about?
Bellingham Attractive to Developers
I look around this fair city and see that when land developers come here they usually get what they want. That is why they come. They dutifully dot the eyes and cross the tees in the prescribed planning process, which involves a minimum of real urban planning and a maximum of allegiance to the gospel of private property rights.
Once their projects are approved, developers transform property into profit and leave the community to deal with and pay for increased traffic, air pollution, soil erosion, law enforcement, schools, and loss of natural open space. That is Bellingham today, busy with business and continually declining quality of life.
Infill with 172 Houses
Now this is more than academic to me. My neighbors and I in the Whatcom Falls residential area face a massive development of 172 houses in our backyards. This has made me aware that the same thing goes on all across the city. Developers have the inside track and are chipping away at community fabricincrementally, chip by chip, but inexorablywhile local folks feel helpless.
But along the way it struck me that maybe it doesnt have to be that way. Many neighbors felt the same. For more than a year we wrote letters, signed petitions and attended countless meetings and hearings before city agencies and the City Council, hoping to insure protection of the neighborhood character and quality of life.
Park Ridge Forest and Wetlands
Park Ridge, the site in question, is the last heavily forested area in Hannah Creek watershed outside of Whatcom Falls Park. It includes wooded high ground, popular with mountain bikers, hikers and birdwatchers in the entire community. It embraces six wetland areas and two creeks. The rocky steep slopes make it difficult for building but attractive for recreation and nature study.
In the project known as the Birch Street Subdivision (proposed by the Pennbrook Company, of Bend, Oregon), Birch Street would be the principal access (and principal victim), but everything around Lakeway Drive and Whatcom Falls Park would be heavily impacted. The Bellingham Planning Commission on June 3, 1999 identified major issues involving the 79-acre tract, but then failed to deal with them.
These issues include: public safety, site access, traffic volumes, neighborhood circulation, street standards, utility corridors, wetland and stream preservation, buffers, wildlife impacts, stormwater management, trails and access, housing density, minimum lot size, impact on abutting properties, school impacts, emergency response, and preservation of neighborhood character.
City Approves Project
We repeatedly called attention to these concerns. Ultimately, however, we had little to show for our efforts. With each revision the plan worsened, rather than improved. The developer never budged from the massive density. The City Council failed to deal with the issues when it caved in and approved the project last November 14. At the last minute, the developer was allowed to recalculate average lot size based on including non-buildable land, as well as buildable, without any public input.
Concerned Citizens Group Formed
Neighbors were frustrated and disillusioned, but still determined. Early in January this year we formed the Concerned Citizens of Park Ridge to pursue legal options for a fair hearing. We have made it clear that the Concerned Citizens are not opposed to growth, progress or the exercise of private property rights. Our goals are simple:
The Concerned Citizens engaged Roger Ellingson, an experienced and respected land-use attorney to represent our interests before Superior Court here in Bellingham.
Inappropriate Site for Infilling
The site of the proposed subdivision, we reasoned, is fraught with challenges to development, including two streams running through the full length of the property and extreme slopes and ridges throughout. It is not an appropriate Growth Management Act infill site.
Moreover, the environmental assessment was faulty and incomplete, inadequately treating impacts of construction and development on habitat of fish and wildlife species listed as endangered and threatened.
The city refused to require a full and comprehensive review involving appropriate and responsible state and federal agencies, as required by the State Environmental Policy Act. Instead, it issued a Declaration of Non-Significance and depended on technical consultants engaged by the developer.
Superior Court Hears Case
Attorney Ellingson made these points when the case was heard before Superior Court Judge Steven Mura on May 9. He said the city ignored its responsibility by failing to notify state agencies charged with overseeing environmental issues and concerns. He cited inadequate discussion of roadway traffic over two creeks in the subject area, and inadequate traffic analysis with failure to recognize that current roadways cannot support increased traffic flows.
It took only a morning session for the judge to hear the case and rule against us. I felt he missed the point when he held that determination of environmental impacts had been adequately addressed through the citys process and review. I cant accept that. The citizens have been shortchanged by the citythat is why we turned to the court for relief.
Full Environmental Study Not Required
The issue of non-significance must be considered as crucial. Attorney Ellingson said that in his research he had checked the records for 1999: Of 52 proposed development projects in Bellingham, not one was deemed sufficiently important to require a full environmental study. Maybe not, but add those 52 together and the cumulative impact becomes enormous. But then, as I wrote earlier, real progressive urban planning is not what its about here.
Even so, the judge repeatedly made such statements as:
Burden of Appeal on the Citizens
I believe that if our case is that worthy of appeal, the judge should have faced the issues squarely in his own courtroom and dealt with them. That was his dereliction, but only part of it. Going for an appeal is no easy matter, yet he imposed the burden upon us. Now we must raise the funds to continue the fight.
But, of course, the odds have been against caring citizens all along. On November 14, Councilman Bob Ryan cast the sole vote against approval of the Birch Street project. He said the developer was allowed to come up with a new twist and important changes while people of the community were no longer allowed to comment. He used the word unfair.
Fairness is the goal of the Concerned Citizens of Park Ridge, but that fairness is difficult to come by when the developer scorns community concerns and city planners continually support the developers position.
Rich Wildlife Habitat
But the challenge is worth pursuing. Consider these statements from the developers own environmental assessment:
Presently, the Hannah Creek Basin is an area rich in forests, water, and wildlife habitat .
A variety of eagles. hawks, owls and other birds of prey may potentially occur on the site . Migratory species likely to occur on the site include olive-sided flycatcher, Swainsons thrush, MacGillivrays warbler, Wilsons warbler, western tanager, song sparrow, and white crowned sparrow . Great blue heron may occasionally forage for frogs and rodents around the creeks.
In-stream habitat within the Project Area is suitable for spawning and rearing of cutthroat and rainbow trout. Anadramous salmon could potentially utilize the lower reaches of Hannah Creek for spawning and rearing . Reintroduction of hatchery raised trout into the upper reaches of Hannah Creek may also create a viable population.
Thirty Acres of Forest to be Destroyed
Those are the pluses to the area as it now exists. Now add the inevitable minuses the Pennbrook Company would bestow, as shown by its own studies:
Development of the site will constitute a loss of about 30.24 acres of upland forest habitat for wildlife . The project will affect pileated woodpecker and other woodpecker species through a loss of upland forest, that is, existing and future potential foraging and nesting habitat . Water system improvements will be necessary to serve this property . Four proposed creek crossings will result in the filling and culverting of approximately 3,200 square feet of wetlands . A new pump station will need to be constructed .
Pollutants Anticipated for Hannah Creek
Construction phase activity and the developed site condition can contribute pollutants in the form of sediment, oils, metals, and nutrients to surface water . The construction phase of the Birch Street Subdivision may make the soil less pervious, thus increasing runoff .
Sanitary sewer and water services will be provided by the city . All expansions of residential neighborhoods increase the likelihood of police, fire and health care needs. Increases to the school system are likely .
Subsidizing Private Profit
Dr. Frank James in an essay published April 12, 1999 in The Bellingham Herald wrote that he had resigned as Whatcom County health officer because the currently elected politicians had failed to even begin to do the things necessary to protect public water supplies. Dr. James explained further:
Politicians continue to work for public subsidies of private profit. Expanding urbanization will cause environmental degradation and eventually threaten human health. Who will pay to fix these problems? You the taxpaying public .
Private profit as a public subsidy is not new. Lax standards for private development that lead to very high public costs are the reason we have a water crisis in this community . We desperately need good, civic-minded people to run for office and put the government back in the hands of public interest.
I believe Dr. James is absolutely correct, and that the same principles apply to Bellingham, a city that is missing the boat.
Pollution and development are threatening water quality and wildlife in Puget Sound, and the problems are only getting worse, the Associated Press reported earlier this year.
The AP was quoting from a report by the Puget Sound Water Quality Action Team commissioned by the legislature. It showed that runoff from roads, roofs and development carries contaminants into streams and the bays like Bellingham Bay. It isnt only salmon that suffer, but whales, herring, rockfish, shellfish, herons, grebes, ducks and the quality of life we all enjoy.
Hannah Creek Impacts Whatcom Creek Water Quality
Whatcom Creek is one of five streams draining directly to Bellingham Bay (together with Padden, Squallicum, Little Squallicum creeks and the Noocksack River) and Hannah Creek is a principal tributary of Whatcom Creek. Thus we should thoroughly investigate:
A. the past fish use of Hannah Creek as a guide to what could be restored;
B. the relative value of Hannah Creek water quality and summer flow to the fishery in Whatcom Creek; and
C. the cumulative effects and impacts of Hannah Creek alteration on Whatcom Creek.
Perhaps most of all, Bellingham needs never to forget the change that took place in our neighborhood on June 10, 1999. The gasoline pipeline explosion in Whatcom Creek, the serious damage to a treasured park, and the loss of three innocent young lives signaled the time to establish better values and standards in land-use decisions.
To summarize: Construction on the Birch Street Subdivision originally was scheduled to start April 1999, and Phase 1, of 60 lots, complete with roads, utilities and drainage, to be completed by August 1999. In May 2000, however, the woods and waters of Park Ridge, still prevail.
Concerned Citizens of Park Ridge
Concerned Citizens of Park Ridge was organized early in January to pursue legal options in dealing with the Birch Street Subdivision.
Its stated goals are:
To preserve the quality of life in the Whatcom Falls residential area; To protect our neighborhood forests and streams, and To promote sensible and safe development.
Members of the board include Dr. Larry Moss, a Bellingham physician and president of the Concerned Citizens, Margi Fox, writer, teacher and homemaker; Dr. Michael Frome, retired professor at Western Washington University, and Burk Hovde, graphic artist and designer.
The Bellingham Herald on Thursday, June 1 reported a threat by the developer of the proposed Birch Street Subdivision to deny public access to the bike trail on the property if the citizens group opposing the project persisted in its legal appeal. The president of the Pennbrook Company, of Bend, Oregon, Donald Bauhofer said, Another frivolous appeal makes no sense to us.
But it did make sense to the Concerned Citizens of Park Ridge, who raised several thousand dollars at a benefit auction Saturday evening June 4 at Bloedel Donovan Park. I dont see how the developer can call our case frivolous, Dr. Larry Moss, president of the Concerned Citizens, told the crowd of more than a hundred attending the auction. When Judge Mura on May 9 handed down his decision on May 9, he repeatedly urged us to pursue the appeals route.
Dr. Moss said he hopes the developer will not close the trail. On the other hand, he added, to do so could very well call attention to the whole issue and galvanize support for an environmental impact statement, which is precisely what we have asked for from the beginning.
Miriam Barnett, who conducted the auction, declared it a rousing success. Quite apart from funds raised, she said, it brought neighbors together in common cause. Donations can be sent to the address listed below.
For More Information
Concerned Citizens of Park Ridge
1217 Raymond Street
Bellingham, WA 98226.
phone: Dr. Larry Moss at 734-0568
or Michael Frome at 676-7124,
A Three Letter Wild Card
SEATTLEEvidence is mounting that the boom and bust cycles of salmon in the Northwest are more dependent on a 10- to 20-year Northern El Niño pattern than El Niño events in the equatorial Pacific.
Most people know that El Niñothe warming of surface waters and lack of cool nutrient upwelling in the equatorial Pacifichas important implications for the global climate. But climatologists have also known for years that there is a separate phenomenon in the North Pacific that affects our weather and ocean resources in the Pacific Northwest.
Now evidence suggests that this long-term climate pattern in the North Pacific has a lot more influence over salmon abundance than changes in southern waters that last only a year or two.
We May Be Entering New Climatic Era
University of Washington atmospheric scientist Nathan Mantua is one a number of scientists who have been studying this northern pattern and its relationship to the abundance of salmon in the Pacific Northwest. He says people often confuse warmer surface water temperatures off the coast of Washington with El Niño events.
The El Niño of the tropics is not that well correlated with salmon populations anywhere on the West Coast, Mantua said. Yet everybody has applied that tag when the temperatures off the coast of Washington are warm. Theyve confused two related but separate issues. We would say the northern El Niño has even more influence than the year-to-year changes in the tropics.
Hatchery programs got amplified in the 1970s when the climate favored Washington and Oregon waters. Early runs looked good, but when the climate switched to favor Alaska, increased hatchery production didnt help diminishing returns. Hatchery managers changed their practices not realizing that ocean plays such an important role.
Prince William Sound
An incident in Prince William Sound is an illustration of the importance of knowing the relationship between salmon abundance and climate patterns.
In the early 1970s there were very low numbers of pink salmon in Prince William Sound. Local fishermen got worried and got a hatchery program started. Just as production was starting, the climate shifted to conditions favorable for Alaska. By 1978 natural salmon abundance was on the rebound in pristine streams.
Hatchery Production Increased
By 1980 salmon numbers were up to historic levels everywhere in Alaska, but the local view was the hatchery program had a wonderful impact. So production was increased at the hatchery and natural spawning salmon started to be replaced by hatchery fish, Mantua explained.
There were so many fish coming back in a few years that the market now cant use what they get, Mantua said. Yet, they are still paying to have the hatcheries maintained to produce fish no one wants that are also replacing native fish that dont cost a thing.
Things are different in Washington and Oregon where hatcheries are needed to make up for the habitat thats gone, but the story does illustrate how important it is to take into consideration these long-term patterns.
Too Complicated to Predict
So where are we now? Mantua said it is hard to say for sure. In the last years of the 1980s, the conditions seemed to change to favor the Northwest rather than Alaska. But the next few years erased that pattern.
Right now I think we cannot tell, Mantua said. Not until five or 10 years after it takes place, maybe. Its really complicated and thats why we havent been able to say much more than ocean climate is important.
This past winter would be kind of a classic year that looks like the pattern favorable to northwest salmon, Mantua said. Cold and wet with a big snow pack. But Im not confident to say that will persist at all. Right now, an El Niño is developing in the tropics and that typically means we get a warm dry winter and warmer ocean waters near the coast. Does that mean we flip back for the next decade of two? I dont think so; we just dont know at this point.
The letter reprinted on this page was drafted by Whatcom County Councilmember Marlene Dawson. The analysis is by Debbie Craig. Ms. Craig has a BS in biology from Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa and worked for six years as a fisheries biologist. She is presently employed by the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance.
The draft letter was approved by four councilmembers, Sam Crawford, Marlene Dawson, Connie Hoag, and Robert Imhof. Dan McShane and Barbara Brenner were opposed, Ward Nelson was not at the meeting. A majority is needed to send ccorrespondencefrom the council.
Robert Imhof later changed his mind and decided not to sign the letter without significant wording changes; Dawson refused. With a majority of the council not supporting the letter, Marlene Dawson sent a different letter as an individual.
In the larger picture, pollution created by replacement power plants and by additional vehicles required to truck commodities currently being barged, create hazards to fish, humans and the entire ecosystem.
Commodities that are currently barged can be shipped by rail as they were until the 70s. Currently, wheat goes by truck to the port. If we replace barges with rail lines, the trucks will drive to the rail stations instead of the port. Its not likely that there will be any more truck traffic. Rail infrastructure is in place and there are currently efforts underway to begin using rail lines again for shipment. The four lower Snake River dams were built, at taxpayer expense, for barge transportation and taxpayers continue to subsidize the barges. If those four dams are removed, barges will still operate from Pasco to Portland. As taxpayers, weve put our money into barging and its cost us more than we anticipated. Its time to put our money into rails.
The four lower Snake River dams provide less than five percent of the regions electricity. That power is produced in the summer, when the Northwest doesnt need extra power and the power goes elsewhere. Should we allow our salmon runs to go extinct so that California can run air conditioners?
We believe factors other than dams must be given serious review.
Factors other than dams are being given serious review. When talking about salmon recovery, biologists refer to the four Hs: Habitat, Harvest, Hatcheries and Hydropower. Each of these factors has played a role in the demise of salmon populations. There are no credible scientists who would say only habitat, or only harvest and certainly, no credible scientist would point to predators as the problem.
It is our position that the National Marine Fisheries focus must remain with monitoring catch as opposed to regulating land use.
Marlene Dawson and crew point their fingers at local fishers. The task National Marine Fisheries Service has before it is to recover salmon, not to play local politics. They will be addressing all of the problems and land use is one of those problems. The potential extinction of our salmon runs is not a surprise Ms. Dawson, in her seven years on the Whatcom County Council has had the opportunity to exercise local control and move to recover threatened salmon yet she has done nothing. The state has had years of opportunities to recover salmon and they also failed us. Citizen groups, including Puget Sound Gillnetters Association, were left with a choice: sue the federal government to list this fish under the Endangered Species Act or watch salmon go extinct. Once listed under the Endangered Species Act, it became the job of the National Marine Fisheries Service to monitor actions which affect listed salmon populations. This means that fish harvest as well as land use are to be monitored. The fact that salmon have been listed automatically usurps the States rights in order to protect the survival of salmon.
Natural rivers have always presented certain hazards.
Natural rivers may present certain hazards to fish, but they seem to have survived those hazards for millions of years. However, hazards created by dams are causing many problems. n Turbines kill fish. It is believed that approximately eight percent of salmon smolts die in the turbines. n Warm water reduces dissolved oxygen, which salmon need to live. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency just released a report that says the Snake River dams violate the Clean Water Act for causing increased temperatures and reducing dissolved oxygen.
Slow-moving water does not get smolts to the ocean fast enough. The smolts depend on the rapids to get them to the ocean. They do not swim down, but rather, they float down with their snouts pointed upriver. The slow-moving water doesnt allow the smolts, whose bodies are quickly changing to live in the salt water, to reach the salt water in time. They are then left in the rivers, a fresh water system, with a physiological chemistry to live in salt water systems.
Predators, such as bass and squawfish thrive in the reservoirs behind the dams. Many smolts become food for those non-native predators.
Fifty-eight animal species prey on salmon. It is our position that the protected status of these certain animals must be reevaluated.
To say that predators are responsible for the decline in salmon is absurd. In Alaska, where rivers are untouched by dams and development, salmon thrive. They thrive despite the common perils of predators (including human fishers), raging rapids, constricted river areas and shallow pools. The places where salmon populations are in peril are the places where their habitat has been severely altered by cities, dams, logging, agriculture, and hatcheries. Fish from Alaska and Washington share the same ocean conditions and predators. Ours are endangered; theirs are abundant (and provide good local jobs).
by Debbie Craig
Last Month, Whatcom County Councilmembers Sam Crawford and Marlene Dawson invited Don Dodds, author of Saving Salmon to speak to Whatcom County and inform us of the benefits of dams, and the dangers of rivers and salmon predators to salmon. Ms. Dawson and Mr. Crawford stated that they wanted to bring Mr. Dodds here to hear what he had to say. They said he had arguments for salmon recovery that they had not heard before. Well, they hadnt heard those arguments because Mr. Dodds made them up. He crafted numbers and took information out of context to fit his agenda. If Mr. Crawford and Ms. Dawson had done even 10 minutes of research on Mr. Dodds so called research paper, they would have discovered this.
When Mr. Dodds was in Bellingham for the presentation on his report, he said, Why would I travel 250-odd miles, at my own cost, to lie? Well, Mr. Dodds, I dont know why, but you did. You may have duped some of our County Council members, but then that is not hard to do. I find it absolutely enraging that our representatives would look to an unsubstantiated report to make decisions about salmon survival without doing any research to find out if the information within the report is based on any facts at all. I also find it a bit scary, since they are the lead entity in the salmon recovery effort in Whatcom County.
So, after hearing what Mr. Dodds had to say, and then reading the four-page paper revealing the untruths and exaggerations in Mr. Dodds report (put together by staff and volunteers at Northwest Ecosystem Alliance. It can be reviewed at www.ecosystem.org), perhaps our County Council friends were able to see through Mr. Dodds cloak of lies. Perhaps they will do a little research on their own, with credible sources, to learn what is needed for salmon recovery. If not, perhaps this will be their last term in office. Sam Crawford and Marlene Dawson, you did get our attention. We will be watching closely, and we will remember come election time.
by Helen Brandt
According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Snake River Feasibility Study, breaching would have significant impacts on transportation costs. Cost increases for all commodities would approximate $24 million annually.
|Mainline Railroad Upgrades||
$ 14,000,000 to
|Short-Line Railroad Upgrades||
$ 19,900,000 to
|Additional Railroad Cars||
$ 14,000,000 to
$ 84,100,000 to
|River Elevator Capacity||
$ 58,700,000 to
|Country Elevator Improvements||
$ 14,000,000 to
|Tidewater Railcar Storage||
$ 1,985,000 to
$ 206,685,000 to
Approximately 3.8 million tons of wheat and barley would be diverted from the Snake River. Of this, 1.1 million tons would shift from river to rail. Another 2.7 million tons would move by truck to river elevators on the McNary pool. The Corps study shows 71 percent of the grain would move by truck to the Tri-Cities. Truck traffic would triple on SR26 from Colfax to the Tri-Cities, as well as other roads. The typical Palouse farm would need 66 round trips per year to move grain to ports.
Transport costs, including storage and handling, would increase on average 27 cents per bushel, or $20 million. Rates paid by wheat growers to have the grain moved is an entirely different set of numbers that the Corps did not address.
In addition to the annual costs for transport, the report notes that expenditures on transportation infrastructure would be required prior to actual implementation of drawdown [in order] to increase the capacity of the system.
These costs are not part of the cost of the federal project to drawdown the Snake River, but would be required as a direct result of implementation of drawdown. The infrastructure improvements would escalate costs an additional $206 to $531 million. Improvements would include rail line upgrades, increases in elevator capacity, and aadditionalrail cars.
The full report can be accessed at www.nww.usace.army.mil. Please see the Dec. 1999 (page 54) and Feb. 2000 (page 34) issues of Wheat Life, for further discussion of the information summarized above. The e-mail address for David Andersen, editor of Wheat Life, is: david@ wawg.org.
by Robert Schultz
In the March 2000 issue (page 1), I had described an effort by some Sudden Valley board members to squelch the freedom of the community newspaper, the Sudden Valley News. A board member who was an employee of Water District 10 objected vociferously to the editors reporting of a claim that the City of Bellingham was collecting an unfair sewer/water surcharge (though Water District 10) on Sudden Valley. This board member insisted that the editor apologize or be fired. The editor, Robin Ireland, defended the accuracy of her reporting and refused to apologize. As a result some board members stepped up the pressure for non-renewal of her contract.
Community outrage at the threat to freedom of the press was apparently resolved by a contract renewal offer. Ms. Ireland turned down the new contract because freedom of the press was stricken from the current contract and adherence to The Code of Journalistic Ethics was substituted. The offered contract was month-to-month with no job protection over a specified term.
Compensation was another issue. Ms. Ireland stood firm while the community activists continued their pressure. The board finally met the editors terms and a real contract was signed. Sources say that the vote was four to three. Freedom of press has survived in Sudden Valley.
A proposed by-law change to be voted on by valley residents in June will make this permanent.
The forum provided me by Whatcom Watch in the March issue was timely and helpful. In the meantime we have at least three folks in the valley who need more education freedom of the press.
by Katrina Tyrrell
Katrina Tyrrell is a student at Western Washington University majoring in Journalism/Public Relations with a minor in Spanish.
This article appeared in the Spring/Summer 2000 issue of The Planet and is reprinted with permission.
In Neah Bay, Washington, animal rights activist Erin Abbott is run over on her jet ski by the United States Coast Guard while protesting a Makah tribe whale hunt.
Julia Butterfly Hill protests the harvest of old-growth redwoods by living for more than two years in 180-ft Luna, an ancient Redwood in Stafford, California.
In 1998 the cargo ship Thorseggen, carrying 8,000 tons of newsprint made from British Columbias ancient coastal rainforest, dodges four Greenpeace swimmers determined to block the ship from docking in the harbor. For 56 hours, others chain themselves to the ships unloading cranes, their signs proclaiming boldly, Stop Destroying Ancient Forests!
And in Bellingham, pipeline activist Carl Weimer meets with a small group at the Old Town Cafeacute; to plan the next course of action.
Activists across the globe fight for reform, equality and basic human rights. Educating, uniting and striving for change are their goals, and recently, the issue of oil pipeline safety has stirred their anger. A new fight begins.
Opportunity for Change
The devastating nature of Bellinghams pipeline explosion, coupled with the outrageous behavior of regulators who are supposed to oversee pipelines, handed this community an opportunity to send a strong message.
It would have been a very sad waste of three lives not to take this opportunity to try and change things for the better, Weimer said.
This community was handed this terrible opportunity, and has done a wonderful job of trying to turn it into a positive lesson for the entire nation.
On April 15, a sunny, Saturday afternoon outside of the Environmental Studies Center at Western, Weimer gathered with a handful of students to talk about pipeline safety.
(Office of Pipeline Safety) is still trying to categorize this as a Washington state and Bellingham problem, he said as he squinted into the mid-day sun. This is a national problem. In 10 months it went from a Bellingham incident to a national one.
Weimer and others involved in this fight stress this kind of event is not unique to Bellingham. According to Office of Pipeline Safety data, 313 million gallons of crude oil and petroleum products spilled in the United States in the last 30 years. In the past 15 years, pipeline accidents killed 342 people in 41 states.
Local Coalition Formed
Shortly after the pipeline explosion last June, Weimer and other local citizens formed SAFE Bellingham, a coalition of civic, business, neighborhood and environmental organizations. It is one of many activist groups in the nation pushing for increased pipeline safety. Their mission is simply to ensure that the pipeline disaster that occurred in Bellingham will not repeat itself here or elsewhere.
Weimer, executive director of RE Sources, a local environmental business, and SAFE Bellingham, is a leader in this fight. At a hearing before the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation in March, Weimer emphasized that pipeline companies around the nation have not put safety first.
If safety had been the highest concern, then employees of Olympic Pipe Line Company would not have to be taking the Fifth Amendment, Weimer said. If safety had been the highest concern, then three families would not have to grieve the loss of their children. And if safety had been the highest concern, then members of our community, along with employees of Olympic Pipe Line Company, could sleep through the night without recurring nightmares.
Safety, That Should Be the Bottom Line
Activist groups have been successful, but the task is not without challenges and problems. Weimer, like most activists, volunteers his time, has a family, and works a full-time job that alone drains him of energy.
We have been far more effective than any of us ever dreamed, Weimer said. There have certainly been problems. How does a small group with little or no money take on the multi-billion dollar oil industry? How do we get elected officials from around the country to take notice of a problem that has been pretty much out of sight, out of mind?
National Issue, Not Just Local
The focus has to be taken off of Bellingham and be turned into a national issue, and that is the real challenge, said Greg Winter, member of SAFE Bellinghams steering committee.
For the last six months or so thats what weve been trying to figure out how to do, Winter said. I think it has been really successful.
In his office above Tonys Coffee House in Old Fairhaven, Winter, a community development planner, speaks of his dedication to SAFE Bellingham and his choice to become active in the issue.
On June 10, when this happened, and when I learned that this was an oil pipeline and then I heard that one of my friends children was killed, somebody that lives in my neighborhood, there wasnt even a question that I would get involved, he said. It was just how I would get involved and how I could be helpful.
Winter was part of a citizens group in Alaska as a researcher on Exxon oil spills until 1994. After hearing that ARCO, which was involved in the Alaska spill, was involved again in the Bellingham explosion, he became more intrigued. He decided to do background research about pipelines and pipeline safety, and wrote a report for SAFE Bellingham as part of his role on the steering committee.
SAFE Bellinghams steering committee is a diverse group, each person bringing different strengths, weaknesses and availability of time, he said.
Everybody has a role to play, he added. We continue to sort out those roles over time. Its a very organic organization.
SAFE Bellingham spreads its message by speaking to elected officials and other activists. Its efforts have resulted in the formation of a network of people to compare notes, share stories and strengthen the coalition of activists, Winter said.
Washington DC Conference
Activists from around the nation gathered last April in Washington, D.C., to share their experiences. Hopefully that created a spark that will be self-sustaining, Winter said with a smile. I think it will be. Theres never been an event like this that has pulled everyone together.
Activists met with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in D.C. to enlist his support in changing pipeline regulations, Winter added. Strategically thats probably the most important thing that has happened in the last couple of months, Winter said. McCain has jumped on board.
Were guardedly optimistic that well be able to get some good laws and good regulations passed, he said. We may even be able to do it this year. But if not, well just dig our heels in and keep fighting until we get something that were happy with.
Pipeline Across the Cascades
SAFE Bellingham is definitely not alone in its battle to urge local,state and federal government leaders calling for stricter pipeline safety rules. Another activist group in Seattle, Cascade Columbia Alliance, is right by its side.
Cascade Columbia Alliance formed in 1996 in response to a proposal to build a 230-mile pipeline just north of Seattle, through the Cascade Mountain Range, across the Columbia River to Pasco, Washington. Cascade Columbia Alliance includes environmental groups, neighborhood associations, businesses and concerned individuals.
At the Washington, D.C. conference in April, executive director for CCA, Susan Harper, spoke about Cascade Columbia Alliance s main goal.
Our organizations primary goal is to promote a regional fuels policy that protects our environment, safety and quality of life by improving the safety of pipeline, tanker, barge, truck and rail fuel delivery systems, encouraging fuel conservation, and promoting alternatives to hazardous, non-renewable, fossil fuels, Harper said.
Pipeline safety is its focus, she added. Both Cascade Columbia Alliance and SAFE Bellingham hope to educate the public about the need for a federal fuel policy.
We decided as a group, as SAFE Bellingham along with the Cascade Columbia Alliance, that what we really need is a regional fuels policy that looks comprehensively, not only at how we transport fuel and how to do it safely, but how we use fuel, Winter said. With all the problems associated with using fossil fuels we should be working towards reducing our consumption.
And communities in other states are making the effort. In May 1999, Annette Smith, who practices sustainable living on her small farm in Danby, VT, established Vermonters for a Clean Environment. This nonprofit coalition of citizens in Bennington and Rutland counties in Southwestern Vermont acknowledges that Vermonts future lies in conserving its clean, rural, small-town environment. The coalition is working to halt a billion-dollar natural gas power plant and pipeline proposal.
We have been educating the public about this massive problem, executive director Smith said. (Our) first job was to raise awareness. Most people didnt have a clue it was going on.
The organization has held public forums and sent out mailings, resulting in successful opposition to the proposal by the town government and the community.
I have personal feelings about pipelines in Vermont, she added. The pipeline industry is proposing expanding into and through Vermont. My feeling is they should not be allowed to build one inch of new pipeline until the existing pipelines are made safe.
Harper, in her speech at the pipeline conference, announced her response to a proposed pipeline north of Seattle. No new pipeline! Harper said with enthusiasm.
The more voices, the stronger the message. The conference keynote speaker Bob Rackleff, president of the National Pipeline Reform Coalition, stressed the importance of national coalitions.
We will raise public awareness and build support for meaningful pipeline safety reforms; for an end to shameful, needless tragedies; for an end to the equally shameful neglect of safety by both industry and regulators, he said.
Rackleff emphasizes that the coalition should get together and stay together.
And, of course, he is right. It would be a sad waste of three lives not to take the opportunity to create change. Activists clearly prove they are striving for that change and the nations eyes are open to their lessons. From protesters of old-growth redwood harvest, to determined citizens in Washington state, activists across the country refuse to let their messages go unheard.
by Tiffany Campbell
Tiffany Campbell is entering her senior year at Western Washington University and is majoring in Environmental Journalism and English. She is next years Planet editor, and is looking forward to continuing the level of quality and commitment to environmental issues that the publication stands for.
This article was reprinted with permission from the Spring/Summer 2000 issue of The Planet, the quarterly environmental magazine of Huxley College of Environmental Studies.
After ducking under the fraying yellow ropes, after passing signs that warn of hazardous waste, after following the trail lined with green sentinel Douglas Fir trees, we descend into the gorge. The burn zone is impossibly still, save for the scraping of our boots and the rattle of loose rocks on the trail.
The tangled brush slowly gives way to a thin film of new vegetation that glows against the charred backdrop. Trees still line Whatcom Creek, blackened and stripped by the June 10 fire, leaving only the trunks thrust skyward.
Clare Fogelsong, environmental resources superintendent at Bellingham Public Works, says restoration groups are still waiting to see which ones will survive.
I am told, as I stand a little above the creek and its gray waters, that the contrast between Whatcom Creek a year ago and today is nothing short of spectacular.
Much of the plants root systems were left undamaged and were, therefore, able to resprond quickly. Water quality has improved significantly. But all I can think about is how beautiful it must have been.
The June 10, 1999, pipeline rupture spouted a deluge of gasoline that eventually ignited, and in a flash flood of fire, scorched the wildlife and vegetation that once made the creek its home.
Its unique because it was so much hotter than the average forest fire, said Virginia Stone, a Huxley College graduate student who has done extensive water quality studies on Whatcom Creek. Forest fires normally dont burn in riparian zones, whereas this one was centered in one.
While devastating for the riparian, or streamside, zone, the speed of the fire may have actually saved some vegetation from wholesale extermination. Forest fires typically burn much longer, and may smolder for days.
This fire was differentthe fuel was gasoline, instead of vegetation, and it scorched the area, rather than actually consuming it, said Mary Jo Sanborn, an employee of Bellingham Public Works. Theres been quite a bit of regrowth, since many of the root systems werent necessarily burned, Sanborn said.
Of course, the creek has had one year to recover after 229,950 gallons of fuel filled the streambed of Whatcom Creek.
One of the theories, said Mark Henderson, a water quality specialist at the Department of Ecology, goes that there was so much product in the creek, it displaced the water in the creek, just pushed the water aside and went right down into the sediments.
Kill Zone to the Bay
Initially the kill zone for aquatic life extended more than three miles to the mouth of Whatcom Creek at Bellingham Bay, and the riparian area was burned for more than 1.5 miles.
The fireball wiped out understory vegetation such as bushes and grasses, and much of the canopy vegetation. With the loss of the vegetation came the loss of habitat for all of the life forms in the riparian area.
The foliage usually provides shade to keep the water temperature in the mid-50 to low-60 degree range. Higher temperatures can be lethal to cold-water adapted salmon.
Sediment, with no vegetation to hold it in place, eroded into the creek.
We dont have any good base data on fish use in the stream (prior to the explosion), Fogelsong said. We do know what we collected dead out of the streamseveral thousand dead fish of all kinds.
Early reports estimated 30,000 dead fish, along with a few dead birds and rodents. Fogelsong was unable to comment because the long-term restoration plan is not yet published, but acknowledged that the figure was within a reasonable range.
Everything in the creek was dead, Henderson said. All the way to the bay. Worms floated dead. All types of insects were gone.
There was a bunny running around in circles right next to me. Its face was burned, probably blinded. It was awful. Bodies everywhere, said Bruce Barbour, who is involved with watershed projects at the Washington State Department of Ecology.
In the summer following the explosion, the assessment was grim and emergency restoration plans began immediately. Olympic Pipe Line Co., took responsibility for the emergency clean up.
So far, Olympic has paid for all the restoration proceedings and hired professionals to do the jobs. Not including legal fees, Olympic has spent more than $50 million so far, according to Brian Conoly, Olympics chief financial officer.
Emergency restoration officially ended in February 2000, and long term restoration plans are currently under way.
Olympic and their managing partners have taken full responsibility for the financial obligation for emergency restoration theyve also taken the initiative to fund some of the early action restoration plan elements, Fogelsong said.
A lot of times (after a spill) they focus on remediation and clean-up right away, and the restoration is something that comes later, once theyve decided what the damage has been. It can take years before restoration really gets started, Sanborn said. This group decided that they wanted to do emergency restoration right away, by using the JRC.
I use a medical analogy, said Fogelsong, who chairs the Joint Restoration Committee (JRC). If the stream is a patient that received a traumatic event, emergency restoration is stabilization of the patient long term restoration is bringing the patient up to its preexisting condition and improving the patients health.
Joint Restoration Committee Formed
The Joint Restoration Committee organizes this unusual approach of early action restoration. The committee acts as a technical advisory committee, Sanborn said, that works with Olympic to come up with restoration plans. Representatives, like the Department of Ecology, advise and oversee restoration activities.
The committee is made up of representatives from the city of Bellingham, the Washington state departments of Natural Resources and Ecology, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Nooksack Tribe, the Lummi Nation and Olympic.
The committee makes recommendations to the trustee group, which includes any agency that represents some sort of public resource that was damaged or lost, as well as Olympic.
Any action on Whatcom Creek has to have full and total agreement by all the members of the Joint Restoration Committee. Any disagreements that may arise between the agencies on the best way to proceed have to be worked out before anything progresses.
Cleaning the Creek
The gasoline that soaked into the ground is a defining factor of the ecological damage. Normally in oil spills the gasoline doesnt actually soak in: the properties of oil cause it to float. Because the leak went undetected for so long, however, the gasoline not only inundated the creek; it saturated the soil.
Once water started flushing out the gasoline, Sanborn said, the assumption was that the product would leave the system. But anytime anyone kicked at sediment in the creek, the telltale dull rainbow sheen would appear.
Crews responded with a process called agitation, which involved literally moving every rock through the whole burn zone of the creek, with both human crews and machinery, bringing the gasoline to the surface.
One of the people in the office called it 'Shake n Bake, where theyd shake the sediments during the day, Henderson said. They had all kinds of crews out with shovels and rakes just getting the gasoline to break loose of the sediments and at night theyd open up the dam on Lake Whatcom and flush it out.
Once the gasoline hits the air, it volatilizes, which means it literally goes to air or evaporates. The whole creek was agitated three times, often rock by rock, until the gasoline was no longer readily visible.
A surface cleanup was not enough. Gasoline also penetrated the groundwater by the Bellingham Water Treatment Plant near where the leak occurred. In that area all the groundwater flows into both Whatcom and Hannah creeks, so the gasoline seeped continuously.
It went down into the ground and hit the bedrock and came out through seeps along Whatcom Creek, Henderson said. It was so thick it was coming out like vegetable oil. It wasnt just a sheen on the wateryou could have gotten gasoline off the water.
Now, a vertical-extraction well pumps out the vapors and liquid, which are treated and disposed of. It will be in place for at least three to five years, Fogelsong said. Another pump injects the soil with oxygen to help push the vapors out.
Literally tons and tons of contaminated soil (some 5,000-plus cubic yards) had to be trucked from the burn zone and disposed of as hazardous waste at refineries in Bellingham, Tacoma, and Oregon, and new soil had to be brought in.
The stream remediation project included a re-sculpting of the streambed itself, Fogelsong said. Steps were taken to improve some of the fish characteristics. This process includes adding woody debris, like tree trunks, to the channel banks, which provide cover and refuge habitat for the fish until the vegetation can recover.
It had to be put back some way, any way if they were correct about what the limiting factors were in their analysis, then yes, the stream is probably somewhat more fish friendly, Fogelsong said.
Concern about the salmons fall migration also prompted studies on the toxins in the creek, and how they might affect the fish in their various life stages.
I dont think we can say its had no effect, Fogelsong said. But I think the gambles paid off. We havent seen complete decimation.
In the first weeks of April, 26,000 trees had been planted. The trees were all native species, mostly conifers, with wild cherry, alder and cottonwood.
Were making suggestions to the contractors. The plantings will be done on a performance-based schedule, which means that when we get the canopy back thats required to replace the loss, then thats when the project is successful, Fogelsong said. Its not going to be tied to a certain amount of plants going in.
Fish migration is now studied in the creek. Special attention is focused on the macro-invertebrates, the bugs, clear indicators of the health of the ecosystem, not to mention the source of sustenance for salmon. The Joint Restoration Committee is reviewing a long-term restoration plan developed by Olympic with direction from the Joint Restoration Committee. Once it is approved, it will be available for public review in June. The long-term plan will access such sweeping concerns like invasive species control and salmon health.
The restoration plan will outline the long-term programs that will be in place to compensate for the loss there will probably come a time in the future where the city and its local partners will continue to restore the stream on its own (without Olympics financial assistance), Fogelsong said.
When you talk about having the creek back, different components are going to come back accordingly water quality has improved significantly daily on the other extreme, you have 80 to 100-year-old trees that were burned. To replace those, it doesnt take a mathematician to know it will take 80 to 100 years to replace them.
Something thats getting lost in the whole story is that this community put a lot of effort in getting life back into Whatcom Creek, Barbour said. We visited 400 businesses door-to-door, asking them to take a look at their waste streams. We said 'Let us come in and take a tour of your shop, and we can keep that ounce of oil out of the creek. Everything has an impact. And people were beginning to get it.
The Bellingham community has always cared about the health of its natural resources. Helping to restore the creek is not just a job for the professionals; it will take the work of the whole community. In efforts to heal the creek, we may be able to help begin to heal this community.
As I stand on the creeks bank, I can see the scars, see that it will take a hundred years before we can say Whatcom Creek has recovered. The clean up has been impressive and to a certain extent, successfulbut perhaps the mess should not have been made in the first place.
Editors Note: This is the first part of a series on the history of Washington State government and its attempts to circumvent environmental laws. This paper, The Rusted Shield, was commissioned by the Bullitt Foundation and is being reprinted with permission.
by Daniel Jack Chasan
Daniel Jack Chasan is a Vashon Island writer and attorney.
Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or ill, it teaches the whole people by its example . If government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. Justice Louis Brandeis1
My primary emotion when recalling the past 20 years of environmental law is one of profound disappointment. This disappointment is due to the continuing failure of federal agencies and officials to do a better job of implementing and enforcing our environmental laws.
Government is all too often the environments worst enemy. Agencies and officials charged with implementing and enforcing our environmental laws frequently fail to do so. They miss statutory deadlines, water down strict legal requirements, or simply refuse to use their enforcement powers, even when faced with blatant violations of the law .
[T]he current situation, where laws are implemented, if at all, only half-heartedly fosters cynicism and serves to undermine faith in our system of law. Rick Sutherland2
Before we spend a fortune and disrupt peoples lives to restore wild salmon runs in Puget Sound, we should take a long look in the mirror. The same government agencies that have started tapping the cornucopia of federal salmon restoration money have ignored, selectively enforced, or actively violated the laws that are already supposed to protect salmon and salmon habitat. Investing more money in business as usual will not save the fish.
Studies, court transcripts, expert observations and dismal anecdotes add up to a broad picture of government failure. Many good people in government try hard to protect fish and habitat. But the institutions that employ them do not respect either the letter or the spirit of the law.
Of course, there are exceptions. But one cannot escape the conclusion that, as a society:
We do not enforce the law. The state Department of Ecology refused for decades to enforce the Clean Water Act against dairies. The federal Environmental Protection Agency stood by and watched. The state Department of Transportation installs and maintains highway culverts that actually violate the law.
We ask the wrong questions. The state does not measure the biological health of its rivers and streams.
We do not consider cumulative impacts. The state legislature has refused money to develop water quality standards that would help control the non-point pollution that threatens spawning streams. The Environmental Protection Agency has given the state another decade to develop such standards for commercial timber harvesting.
We do not insist on means that will enable us to reach our stated ends. Studies indicate that wetland mitigation projects seldom work, yet those projects absorb millions of dollars and create a false sense that wetland functions are being preserved.
We do not monitor enough to make sure people do what the law requires, much less whether or not it works. A typical local government does not have even one full-time employee monitoring wetland mitigation projects. According to one estimate, the equivalent of only one-quarter full-time employee monitors water withdrawals statewide.
We have treated salmon as if they were fungible. Economically and politically,one fish is as good as another. In some areas, the state permits people to harvest hatchery salmon knowing that they will deplete or destroy wild runs. A former head of harvest management for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife calls this a policy of extinction.
We have permitted government agencies to see their constituents as the fishers and developers, rather than the fish. In order to speed up a dam relicensing process, the Department of Ecology has not objected to plans that it acknowledges would violate the Coastal Zone Management Act.
We do not coordinate the management of all the various jurisdictions and agencies responsible for protecting salmon at different stages of the fishes life cycles. For example, more than 50 different jurisdictions manage pieces of Puget Sounds shoreline. An international study concluded that [e]ach jurisdiction regulates its piece of Puget Sound shoreline differently.
The 150 Year Slide Toward Extinction
Recent headlines and sound bites make the long slide of wild salmon toward extinction sound like a recent discovery. It is not. This crisis has developed over 150 years.
During that time, many people have seen clearly what was happening. The salmon crisis didnt come about because we wanted it to, explains fisheries biologist Jim Lichatowich, author of Salmon without Rivers, and co-author of the influential 1991 article, Pacific Salmon at the Crossroads.3 Government passed all kinds of statutes to prevent what occurred. It didnt work.4
A National Academy of Sciences committee observed in 1996 that for more than a century, overfishing, habitat destruction and degradation, and substitution of naturally reproducing fish runs with hatchery-produced fish ha[ve] depleted the genetic diversity and abundance of salmon.5
Laws and Regulations From the Beginning
This has happened despite an elaborate network of laws and regulations designed to protect salmon and their habitat. Good intentions and bad results have characterized the salmon laws and regulations of Washington State and its predecessors from the beginning.
Salmon protection has been part of [the political landscape] since the first territorial legislature of 1848, Lichatowich says. We knew since 1875 what was going to cause the collapse. We put in all these things to prevent it.6 Clearly, we failed.
Eight years ago, the authors of Pacific Salmon at the Crossroads, all members of the American Fisheries Societys Endangered Species Committee, identified 214 native naturally-spawning Pacific salmon and steelhead stocks in California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho that appear to be facing a high or moderate risk of extinction, or are of special concern.7 The 1999 listing of Puget Sound chinook as a threatened species merely confirmed what had long been obvious.
The Regional Culture
Wild salmon are not in trouble because individual government officials, past or present, have ignored the law or bent it to serve the interests of favored constituents. They are in trouble because those individuals fit into a pattern that did not end with the 19th century or the New Deal, and may not end with the listing of Puget Sound chinook. Getting rid of a few rogue officials would be easy. Changing an historical patternchanging a part of regional culturewill be hard. And yet, if we do not change it, there is little point in pretending to save the fish.
Next Month Part Two: How We Got Here: Denial, Faith, and Hatcheries
1. (dissenting) Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438 (1928).
2. Rick Sutherland, a nationally acclaimed environmental attorney for two decades, served as head of what was then the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund. He died in a tragic accident in 1991. This quote comes from his last talk, to a group of U.S. Department of Justice attorneys.
3. Lichatowich, Jim, Salmon without Rivers: A History of the Pacific Salmon Crisis, Island Press (1999); Nehlsen, Willa, et. al., Pacific Salmon at the Crossroads: Stocks at Risk from California, Oregon, Idaho, and Washington, Fisheries, vol. 16, No. 2 (March-April 1991).
4. Lichatowich, Jim, personal communication.
5. Committee on Protection and Management of Pacific Northwest Anadromous Salmonids, Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology, Commission on Life Sciences, Upstream: Salmon and Society in the Pacific Northwest, National Academy Press (1996).
7. Nehlsen, et.. al., op. cit.
by Al Hanners
Al Hanners is a naturalist and retired geologist.
The large, two-room birdhouse had an entrance through a foyer that led to the nest room. It was my second experimental bird box from George Garlick. I give them to you, he said, because youll tell me what happens. I need to know what birds actually like.
George Garlick, our local bird house guru, has built some 100 boxes, many for Dr. Patricia Otto including about 30 wood duck boxes. He said that much of what we presume to do for birds we actually do for ourselves. Once a person even asked him to build a house without an entrance hole! His houses are for birds, simple unpainted cedar boxes without a perch. He makes no cute cottages, porches or perches, and he does no fancy paint jobs.
Our mutual interest in bird boxes goes back to the early 1980s when Dan Beighle was the motivating force behind a bird box program for mountain bluebirds in the western foothills of the Cascades. Unfortunately, inclement spring weather caused the program to fail. Young bluebirds would starve because parents could not find enough insects to feed them.
Those bluebird boxes always were deep, George said, And that gave me the idea of the two-room box. Sharpshin hawks have been known to reach into a box and pull out a young bird. We dont have sharpshin hawks in Bellingham during the nesting season, but Dr. Patricia Otto has sharpshins southeast of Bellingham. They cant pull a bird out of a two-room box. Whats more, she wants two-room boxes exclusively for small birds because they prefer them. Young birds have more room to move, and before they can fly they go to the entrance hole in the foyer to be fed. Her small birds mostly are violet-green swallows. Now we will try to find out whether chickadees prefer two-room houses.
Chickadees like the first experimental bird house that George gave me. As I write this, they are busy carrying in the nesting material. First they put in moss, then a dog-hair lining. They use only dry material and suspend nest-building on rainy days. They seem to prefer moss from trees as it dries more quickly than moss on the ground.
George Garlicks next project is to work with Dr. Otto in building boxes for barn owls. Before there were barns, barn owls are supposed to have nested in hollow trees. Now those trees are gone and the barns are disappearing. He will experiment with large bird boxes to determine whether barn owls will use them.
By Loralyn Brandt
Loralyn Brandt is a senior at Sehome High School.
The port receives three percent of property taxes collected in Whatcom County. This year thats approximately $4 million. For a home worth $100,000, the port receives $39.63.
A Short History of the Port
The Port of Bellingham was created in 1920 to attract business to our then slacking economy. There were no waterfront monopolies or progressive reformers who wanted the harbor under public control, simply the people of Bellingham wanting to attract more private enterprise and thus more money.
Many other ports had been created in the Northwest, and pressure soon came for Bellingham to hop on the bandwagon. Most of this pressure came from the Bellingham Chamber of Commerce whose committee obtained enough signatures for the issue to be placed on the ballot.
The chamber pushed to approve the issue by focusing on Bellinghams proximity to Alaska, Vancouver Island, and the Orient as a unique feature. When the Blaine Chamber of Commerce gave up its opposition to the issue, it appeared that it would succeed, but now it was up to the voters. In September of 1920, the people of Whatcom County passed the measure by a 77 percent margin, 77,944 to 2,300. The Bellingham Herald stated that it was...the most stupendous victory for any project ever launched in Whatcom County.
Every year the Port of Bellingham publishes first their preliminary budget and then their final budget for the year. This budget includes an operating budget for things like maintenance, repairs and administrative costs, a cash flow analysis, the capital budget structure, and information about their property taxes. The port has an estimated total revenue of $9.9 million for the year 2000. These revenues come from Aviation (14 percent), Marinas (38 percent), Marine Terminals (16 percent), and Properties (32 percent).
Subtracted from this will be the ports operating expenses, which are projected to be $5.1 million. These operating expenses go to such things as equipment replacement, capital improvement, facility enhancements, and revenue enhancement projects. Other areas where money is spent are in environmental projects like the Bellingham Bay cleanup project. Some money goes towards economic development of the county through infrastructure and land purchases. Still other monies are put towards public amenities such as renovating the Bellingham Cruise Terminal and building a boating center facility in Zuanich Point Park.
The decision-making structure of the Port of Bellingham is very simple. At the top are the three commissioners, Scott Walker, Ginny Benton, and Douglas Smith. These people do the hiring and firing for the port, and answer to the voters every six years. Below the commissioners are the port auditor, attorney, and the executive director. All of these positions answer directly to the commissioners so that their information may not be filtered by other staff members.
The goals of the Port of Bellingham are clearly stated in their mission statement which says:
To fulfill the essential transportation needs of the region while providing leadership in maintaining Whatcom Countys overall economic vitality through the development of comprehensive facilities, programs and services. In so doing, the Port pledges to work cooperatively with other entities within the framework of community standards and be a responsible trustee of our publicly owned assets.
Whatcom Watch is looking for reporters to cover Port of Bellingham meetings. Please see the notice on page one.