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Whatcom Watch Online
Citizens Promote Ecologically- and Neighborhood-Friendly Waterfront

December 2003

Cover Story

Citizens Promote Ecologically- and Neighborhood-Friendly Waterfront

by Wendy Steffensen

Wendy Steffensen has been director the North Sound Baykeeper program at RE Sources for the past year. Contact her at 733-8307 or

Part One

The city of Bellingham and Port of Bellingham recognized there was redevelopment potential when Georgia-Pacific (G-P) permanently shut down its centrally located waterfront pulp mill in 2001. This closure presented an opportunity to rethink, revitalize, and reconnect the waterfront, and to potentially get a cheap, centrally located marina by redesign and reuse of G-P’s treatment lagoon.

In 2003, the city and port convened a Waterfront Futures Group (WFG) to vision a master plan for the city’s waterfront. The final product, their master plan, will be out for review and approval in June 2004. The Waterfront Futures Group is nearly one year into their mission of visioning redevelopment on Bellingham’s waterfront. This group consists of eleven Whatcom County residents (see sidebar on page 7, “Waterfront Futures Group Membership List”).

Recently, a group of citizens who adhere to an environmental and ecological ethic participated in a RE Sources-sponsored “environmental charrette” to vision some of the attributes of an ecologically- and neighborhood-friendly waterfront. The vision from the environmental charrette will be presented to the Waterfront Futures Group, and will be used to promote public discussion on waterfront redevelopment.

Will Master Plan Be An Effective Document?

Whether the master plan created by the Waterfront Futures Group will be an effective document with “buy-in” will be dictated by the extent to which the larger community participates in the process and agrees with the product. To the credit of the WFG, participation in the process by the public is welcomed; to its detriment, participation by the public has been shunted into very discreet channels and membership to the WFG was closed. Thus, the structure and process of the WFG is “top-down” and controlled by the port and city, rather than community controlled.

The redevelopment of Bellingham’s waterfront has not only gotten the attention of developers, but of those with an environmental and ecological perspective who see the potential to reclaim some of the habitat that once was Bellingham Bay. However, many of these same Bellingham residents, who have real waterfront concerns, have not participated in the process. I hear various reasons such as “I’m too busy,” “it won’t make any difference,” “aren’t you ‘covering’ that?”… I think not.

I do think, for all of its inherent problems, it is important to be part of the WFG process. The plan, which you could influence, could be an important planning document. It is also important to discuss your visions, hopes and concerns with those who share the interest of the waterfront with you, and be open to hearing them as well.

Public Involvement Needed

The WFG is composed of 11 members, from various sectors, appointed by the mayor or the port’s executive director. While the identity of each of these individuals cannot be said to stem solely from their professions, the collective identity of the group does emerge as one of power brokers and deal-makers.

Notable absences in the list of “who’s who” WFG members are representatives from G-P, the neighborhood groups and the environmental community. Those whose primary concern it is to represent the environment or the neighborhoods do not have a place at the large table. Efforts to get an environmental representative on the WFG in January of this year were met with polite refusal.

Perhaps the omission of G-P was strategic—it may have been unseemly to have both Trillium and G-P on the WFG, when the two behemoths were working on what seemed a large-scale redevelopment of G-P’s waterfront property. When that deal fell through, the fact that a G-P representative was not on the WFG may have seemed a bit unfortunate.

Or perhaps, there was concern that G-P, a major landowner of waterfront ready for redevelopment, could exert more control than was wanted. G-P has now gone its own way for its redevelopment plans. It promises that its redevelopment will mesh with that planned by the WFG.

All members of the public, those with environmental, neighborhood or other concerns have been invited to participate in the WFG process. Opportunities have included the opportunity to submit “white papers” (your ideas for the waterfront), two public meetings on scoping, three public meetings on specific sub-areas, and the opportunity to participate in one or more of the WFG work groups.

These work groups consist of Natural Systems and the Environment, Jobs and the Economy, and Character, Use, and Design. Additionally, all of the WFG meetings are public and meetings with outside speakers have been televised on channel 10. If you’re interested in participating, contact Allison Roberts at 676-2500 or to get on the mailing list.

Mission Statement and Master Plan Scope

Since January, the WFG completed their mission and scope and they have done some background investigative work. Their mission statement is, “The Waterfront Futures Group will lead a cooperative process that takes a fresh look at our waterfront and recognizes the diverse perspectives of our community. Our mission is to create a compelling vision for current and future generations and identify the steps to get us there.”

Their scope outlines master plan components, a timeline, public involvement steps, the budget and the geographic area under consideration. It can be found on their website at The geographic area under consideration extends from the southerly city limits at Chuckanut Creek to the northerly urban growth boundary near Cliffside Beach.

Just recently, an independent Design Assistance Team (DAT) exercise to vision redevelopment of the Bellingham waterfront was commissioned by the WFG and performed on November 7, 8 and 9. The visions and graphics that came out of the DAT exercise are not meant to be the final Bellingham vision, but are to be used for points of discussion.

Where do environment and neighborhood concerns fit into the framework and get considered? If you are involved in the process, you can insert yourself and your concerns into the work group. Additionally, some have chosen to work outside the WFG process either exclusively or concurrently. For that outside work to be relevant and meaningful, it is best to form a strong coalition with a way to have your work considered, whether it is directly by the WFG or through public opinion. I believe the best strategy is to work both with the WFG and independently, provided you have the time.

RE Sources Charrette

RE Sources, through its North Sound Baykeeper program, decided to provide a forum for environmental and neighborhood concerns. This forum took the form of a charrette, or interactive planning process, on June 7, 2003. Representatives from environmental and neighborhood groups, and fishing and kayaking interests were invited to provide information from the perspective of an environmental ethic. Those at the table agreed to the following principles for Bellingham’s waterfront redevelopment:

•Habitat should be restored to the fullest extent practicable.

•Connectivity of upland (to the extent we can address), nearshore and marine corridors for wildlife should exist, be enhanced and be maintained.

•Contamination of Bellingham Bay should be cleaned up in the most environmentally sound manner as possible.

•Public access to the water and shoreline by kayak, bike and foot is a priority and must be enhanced, and be community and habitat friendly.

•Businesses and community gathering places should emphasize, wherever possible and appropriate, sustainable business practices and enhancement of the natural environment.

The products of the environmental charrette are an environmental policy view on redevelopment, contamination, and habitat, general recommendations, specific geographic recommendations, and maps depicting desired areas for habitat restoration and parks and trails. §

Next Month—Part Two

Members of the Waterfront Futures Group

•Art Anderson, Chair; retired executive director of Whatcom County Association of General Contractors

•Lydia Bennett, Vice-Chair; owner of Saratoga Commercial Management

•John Blethen; owner of New Whatcom Interiors and former member of Greenways and Parks and Recreation advisory boards

•Jay Bornstein; owner and president of Bornstein Seafoods

•Craig Cole; president of Brown & Cole

•Bob Edie; vice-president of external affairs, Western Washington University

•Darrell Hillaire; chairman of the Lummi Nation

•Steve Koch; business representative of Laborers International Union #276

•John MacPherson; vice-president of engineering at Anvil Corporation

•Ted Mischaikov; president of Trillium Corporation

•Ray Tryznka; manager of local government and community relations for Puget Sound Energy

The work is supported by former city planning director (now Waterfront Futures Project director), Patricia Decker, assistant Allison Roberts and the planning commission liaisons, Chris Morgan and Doug Starcher.

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