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Greenways may reverse heron colony buffer purchase this evening

By On

Updated late night, June 2

I went to the Greenways Advisory Committee meeting at 7 pm this evening, based on the agenda posted online at the city website. That agenda now displays below this article. Above is the revised agenda that Leslie Bryson, the city Parks Director, brought to the meeting. Note above that the executive session to consider an “acquisition matter” and the followup vote are both missing. As of now, on looking at the city website, the original agenda is still posted. Perhaps tomorrow it will be replaced with the agenda actually used tonight.

The meeting led me to despair of any action by the Greenways committee to purchase the needed buffer woods for the Great Blue Heron colony in south Bellingham. I was chastised more than once during the time I had to speak, being told I had misunderstood the resolution last month. Bryson explained how the process to study and decide on the land acquisition could take a year or more. Indeed, I learned the parks department has been studying one or more acquisitions for almost two years now and is not yet ready to make a recommendation.

While I was answering one question, a committee member interrupted to know why they were allowing this guy to “take over their meeting”. I replied, sorry, no problem, and retired to the side of the room and basically spoke no more.

The committee showed a lack of knowledge about the situation. They felt the area already protected and that the property owner could not develop inside the buffer area. Gentle reader, this is very false. The city fell short of finalizing the conservation area back in 2004 - as explained in the article a couple days ago. The committee was confused on where the nests were and even where the buffer areas were.

Bryson said she had visited the planning department on Tuesday afternoon to see what development might be possible in the buffer area and planned to have a report for the committee next month. Bryson reiterated to the committee that the $4 million of funds freed up by the cancellation of the over-water walkway were now earmarked for the GP industrial area and not available for acquisition of land.

I was the only guest there to speak. There were two students attending on assignment to watch a public meeting. The committee started 10 minutes late after they waited for a quorum - but only 5 of 11 committee members showed up. On the agenda was approval of the March and May minutes - which could not be done because there was no quorum. Interestingly, the March and May agendas were never posted to the city website. See screen shot below.

It became very clear that there will be no action by the Greenways committee this summer. The next step is to see what the city council does this next Monday, June 6. The council can act on their own without permission from Greenways or the Parks Department. I will attend to speak during comments. Hope others will join me. The herons need human advocates.

Below posted 3pm Thursday, June 2

This evening, Tuesday, June 2, at 7 pm, the Greenways Advisory Committee will meet at the Bellingham Municipal Court Building. On the agenda is basically one item - an executive session and followup public vote on a land acquistion issue. You can bet your bippy they are reconsidering their May resolution to purchase the buffer woods by the heron colony.

The meeting is at the Bellingham Municipal Court Building, 625 Halleck Street, Bellingham, WA (for those who use their smart phone for navigation)

Remarkably, the mayor's office and the parks department are apparently against the purchase of the buffer woods with Greenways funds. Leslie Bryson, the new parks director appointed by Mayor Kelli, told me directly that the funds freed up by the cancelling of the over-water walkway project are ear marked for cleanup and development at the old Georgia Pacific site - and not available for any land acquisitions. Leslie is scheduled to attend tonight's meeting.

It goes without saying, but I will say it. If we value our Great Blue Herons along our shorelines, creeks and trails of Bellingham then we would be wise to provide the recommended buffer woods to their colony of nests. To their home. The experts on herons recommend it. Nothing is guaranteed, but the intelligent thing to do is protect the herons if we value them. My writing about this will be ignored by the city departments. It is only if citizens, and prominent citizens, urge the council, mayor and parks to act that there is a chance.

I will be attending and reporting on tonight's meeting. Let us hope it is not a reversal of the committee's May endorsement to use Greenways funds to purchase the critical buffer woods next to the Bellingham's only Great Blue Heron colony.

Attached is the agenda for tonigh's meeting as a pdf file.

Attached Files

About John Servais

Writer • Fairhaven, Washington USA • Member since Feb 26, 2008

John started Northwest Citizen in 1995 to inform fellow citizens of serious local political issues that the Bellingham Herald was ignoring. With the help of donors from the beginning, he has [...]

Comments by Readers

Tim Paxton

Jun 02, 2016

If Greenway’s support to protect the Heron’s only Colony for 30+ miles is reversed under pressure from Mrs. Linville, that is tragic.

The City Council may as well wave goodbye to the Heron Colony, and also any hope of passing the next Greenways levy.

Bellingham Taxpayers aren’t so stupid as to see that the use of Greenways land acquisition funds are going toward slush fund ideas to only help politicians.  They won’t vote for this 2016 Greenways phake fund/Tax Increase if the Council won’t even support saving the Last Heron Colony.

While they are at it, perhaps Greenways Advisory Committee should vote to close down too? (If they cave to pressure from City Hall over the Heron Colony.)

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Michael Lilliquist

Jun 03, 2016

Parks Director Bryson told me last night that the true level of interest by the Greenways Advisory Commission to support acquisition was made more clear last night. As we heard it from the GAC members, they are supportive of using some Greenways funds to protect the colony, but not the full purchase price, something far less than the asking price.  A full outright purchase, therefore, would require financial partners or donations or negotiations, or perhaps an easement rather than an outright purchase.

She also told me that she will bring up the heron colony matter a next week’s Parks and Recreation Board meeting, on Wednesday morning. She said the usual process for any property considered by the GAC is through the Parks Board, and also with staff working on “due diligence” issues such as determining fair market value. Those steps have not occurred yet.

Personally, I believe the colony should be protected. Questions remain in my mind about the level of protection already offered, not by a conservation agreement (which apparently does not exist), but by critical areas regulations and required buffers. How much is already protected by those means, and not in need of public ownership? I have heard different views on this. State regulators recommend very large buffers, but these recommendations may not have the force of law. Nonetheless, if much of the land is undevelopable, that would change the picture.

One tricky part is that the City’s planning staff is already processing a subdivision application for this property, and that regulatory process needs to be walled-off from any parallel process of evaluating the acquisition of some or all of the property, subdivided or not, by means of purchase or conservation easement. The subdivision goes forward on its own merits, based on neutral application of existing rules and requirements.

Any protection efforts are not neutral, but would be positively driven by community values and our available resources.

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Penny Tillson

Jun 03, 2016

I am so sick already this season—sick of politicians, local and national, and their doofus (non)thinking capabilities.

Keep up your “taking over” attention to issues that matter to us all. How can we help you with “our” herons?

Penny Tillson

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David Marshak

Jun 03, 2016

The headline that Mr. Servais posted here was never accurate. The Greenways Advisory Committee (GAC) at no time and in no way signaled any intent to reverse its recommendation from the May 4 meeting re enhanced protection of the heron colony.

This headline is a complete fabrication—a projection or a fantasy of some sort.

When the the Greenways Advisory Committee heard about the heron colony protection issue from Mr. Servais in May, we clearly told him that the GAC did not have the capacity to be the lead actor in protecting the heron colony. At the same time, the GAC members agreed with Mr. Servais about the importance of protecting the colony. The GAC passed a unanimous resolution recommending the use of the some Greenways levy funds to gain additional protection for the colony.  The City Council decides how to allocate and spend Greenways levy funds; the GAC can only recommend. We did so.

The GAC also suggested to Mr. Servais that he engage other local groups in his effort to protect the herons, since the Council would be more likely to act if there were a wider range of groups supporting the action. This recommendation, of course, is the most basic advice for influencing local government.

Mr. Servais’  claim in this post that “the committee showed a lack of knowledge about the situation” is also false. We knew a great deal about the situation, because Mr. Servais provided us with the information in May. Last night Mr. Servais also acted as if the GAC had never advised him to engage other groups in this effort. This was really hard to believe, since we told him this explicitly in May.

Mr. Servais seems to be quite confused about whether he is an advocate or a journalist. This post is certainly not good journalism; rather it contains multiple statements that are incorrect, and it casts aspersions on people without evidence.

Mr. Servais is not even able to list the number of GAC members accurately. There are 10, not 11. As noted above, he also fails to understand the role and authority of the GAC. He claims that “there will be no action by the Greenways committee this summer.” Mr. Servais fails to understand the obvious—the GAC has already acted to the extent that it has authority. The GAC has recommended that the City Council act in this matter, that the city expend some funds as needed.

All in all Mr. Servais’ post is biased, inaccurate, and more emotional than factual. This is not journalism; this is just some angry guy’s rant, a guy who does not even seem to understand the basics of how Bellingham’s city government functions.

David Marshak—and yes I am a member of the GAC

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Michael Lilliquist

Jun 03, 2016

I’m still looking into what part of the property is already under some form of development restriction, for protection of the heron colony.  I am told that, for wildlife habitat areas, the buffer width is not written into the municipal code, but rather is determined in consultation with wildlife experts and state officials.

The pertinent sections of the municipal code for this part of the Critical Areas Ordiance (CAO) are BMC 16.55.470 -.480, and -490. They can be found at: http://www.codepublishing.com/WA/Bellingham/?Bellingham16/Bellingham16.html

Section 470(A)(1) seems to say that a protected wildlife habitat area exists by law for any “endangered, threatened, and sensitive species,” regardless of whether or not the City has adopted a habitat protection area—see section 470(B) in particular. If this is the case, then the City’s CAO applies to the heron colony, and buffers will be required.  The extent and location of buffers is not pre-determined, and is to be determined case-by-case based on best available science—see sections 490(C)(1) and 490(F).

My conclusion at this point is that the heron colony will, by law, be protected to a considerable extent—especially if the CAO and best available science are truly applied. If that is the case, then the question becomes:  Is that protection enough? Would the public, the GAC, and city council support using public funds to enhance that protection beyond the required level? Would private parties also be willing to contribute to enhanced protection?

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John Servais

Jun 04, 2016

David,

Well I wrote i would answer questions, but I do not want to get into a cat fight.  Lets see if I can do one and avoid the other.

You and I have been here before - several times over the past 7 years.  I think I understand your anger and perhaps I was too rough in my comments after that GAC meeting Thur night.  Indeed, the committee did hold firm to their resolution for the city to look at how this might be purchased. My apology for not more strongly noting that.

Thursday night, the parks director became aware that you folks on the committee were serious about learning what could be done to protect the heron nests.  In the month since your May resolution the parks had not done anything about your resolution - and that caused my concern.  The agenda for your meeting was an executive session to reconsider your resolution.  This agenda was prepared by the parks department, not by the Greenways committee, and was only posted a day before your meeting. I was informed of it by someone in city hall.  My headline and article that you object to came from that agenda of Thursday noon.

Well, 7 hours later at your meeting, that agenda was tossed and the executive session was cancelled. It is not a stretch to connect the dots here.  Parks cancelled the executive session after their intentions became known.  And for you - who probably did not see that original agenda - my headline appeared false. 

I remembered another time when this sort of scenario played out, and would like to invite you and any readers who are interested to review three articles.  In June, 2010, the city and the library board decided to close the Fairhaven library - and went about it in a very quiet manner.  My articles first exposed the plan and then reported on the reversal - and denial they ever intended to close the library. I was called a liar by some library board members and most would not talk to me.  You, David, wrote me: “John, Thank you very much for alerting us to the Library Board’s intentions last week. Best wishes, David”. See the June 8, 14 and 16 articles.  NWCitizen made it a public issue and Bellingham residents stopped the library closure.

http://www.nwcitizen.com/entry/2010/06

Indeed, it seems that now the Parks Department is taking seriously your resolution of May 5.  The important issue is doing our best as a community to provide the herons with a secure home - if we value the herons in our community.  Yes, the Greenways committee did stand by its May resolution.  There is some question of exactly what that resolution is - and regardless, hopefully the parks department will now work towards looking into the heron colony and what is needed in a serious manner.

I will continue to report on and advocate for the buffer woods by our only Bellingham Great Blue Heron colony.  Citizen journalism, by definition, allows me to use all my rights as a citizen while still writing on the news. 

A final note.  There are 11 members on the committee. Here is the city website page with the list of the members. 

https://www.cob.org/documents/mayor/boards-commissions/greenway/greenway-roster.pdf

Time is of the essence.  We need action by the council and parks department if we are to protect the heron colony as the experts advise us to.  If we do not act, then the land will be developed and we will be left with a much less satisfactory 150 foot buffer.  It is our choice as a community.  All I can do is write about it and, hopefully like other residents, lobby our city council to take action.

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David Marshak

Jun 05, 2016

Thanks for the correction re the number of GAC members. I neglected to count Roger.

Otherwise, you fail to admit that you projected and/or imagined a series of events and decisions that never happened. None of what you claim to be logical assumptions about GAC members or the GAC agenda are factual; these are your projections or assumptions.

This goes to the core of your irresponsible behavior in publishing assertions that are false.

Journalists don’t “connect the dots.” Journalists have evidence and sources; they don’t imagine or project or hallucinate.

Your headline did not “appear false.” It was false. And of course I saw the original agenda.

The bottom line, John, is that you had no idea what you were talking about in this post, since all of this activity was going on in your head, not in the real world.

Indeed you are still in denial about all of this, as is reflected in your previous post.

You wrote to that you want to “Take no prisoners.  Expose the charades.  Name the imbecile collaborators in city staff maneuvers.” I think this says all anyone needs to know about your motivations.

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John Servais

Jun 06, 2016

David

Let me go over your primary assertion of my being wrong about the agenda. The issue is the heron colony buffer woods and I will touch on that also.

I knew from a very well placed and reliable city hall insider that the executive session would be used to suggest the GAC modify their May resolution.  The truth of this was partially born out when the parks director said at your meeting that she learned late afternoon - just a few hours before your meeting - from the city attorney that she could discuss the heron buffer land acquisition in an open meeting. This was her explanation for the revised agenda cancelling the executive session. This confirms the subject of the proposed executive session.  The agenda also listed a vote after the executive meeting - if necessary.  This logically suggest a modification of the May resolution. 

There are now 3 and possibly 4 versions of the May resolution.  Unfortunately, there is no audio record of the meeting.  This is sadly true of most committees and commissions for the city of Bellingham. We are left to argue what actually transpired at the meeting.  For an open and transparent public process there should be audio recordings of all meetings.

You chastise my reporting and assumptions and lack of references.  Reporting is not a research paper. Trust is built up over time and no reporting could be of value without inside sources. I have talked to the mayor, parks staff,  GAC members, property owners, heron experts, and even the parks director.  I have researched this since last July and intended to post a wake up article in March.  But then it appeared the city might actually work with the property owners - and I waited, hoping to post an article praising the city for acting.  Lo, I was simply suckered along for two months.  I wish I had started writing about this issue months ago. 

The Herald often simply reports by being friendly to government sources - as we can see in today’s article on the planned Options High School.  The reporter only presents the statements of the Bellingham School District administrator in charge of the project.  Of course he pooh poohs the issues raised by neighbors.  But the article - and the administrator - failed to note the Hearing Examiner just last week ruled against the school district on their permit applications.  They must go through their public hearing process again.  Construction will not start this month, contrary to what this morning’s article says. I think we do better here.

At NWCitizen, we try to write and expose government shenanigans and deceptions. We are not friendly to city departments and commissions.  Indeed, we take a critical approach and try to inform readers on what is actually happening.  Just as I did in June 2010 on the nefarious city process to try and close the Fairhaven Library - and which you complimented me for.  And on many other issues for over 20 years now.  In closing, the journalist’s job is to connect the dots. Its what we do.

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Mike Rostron

Jun 06, 2016

More generally, you are correct with your journalism comments, John. No one—whether boss, government, friends, foes, or critics has the right to determine how or what you report. They certainly have the right—as many have exercised here now and in the past—to oppose and correct you as they desire and see fit, but as an independent journalist YOU define your role. I for one commend your efforts. Please continue to connect those dots!

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John Servais

Jun 06, 2016

Mike, thanks.  You put it better than I did.  We all have the right to exercise all of our constitutional rights.  My effort here is to post articles on issues ignored by other media and to allow citizens to comment as they wish.  It is dialog and we inform each other.

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