Extracting Profit and Destroying Experience: The Waterfront Plan

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Tue, May 27, 2014, 1:23 am  //  Wendy Harris

There is very little to like about the COB waterfront plan, as far as substance or procedure.  And this, I believe, results from looking at the waterfront from an outdated economic paradigm where the focus is on extracting local experience.  According to research, today's tourist wants to spend money on an authentic and enhanced local experience.

Instead of giving up our public tidelands and access to water in exchange for crappy, dense, environmentally harmful shoreline development, more roads, traffic and blocked public views, we could have developed the nearshore and shoreline as an eco-tourism Mecca.

How practical is this?  According to WDFW, very.  Wildlife viewing is the #1 outdoor activity in the U.S., and the fastest growing form of recreation, exceeding hiking, skiing and golfing.  By necessity, it largely occurs on public land. WDFW concludes that wildlife watching is an untapped economic resource.

Over $1.7 billion is spent annually in Washington on wildlife watching activities, mostly in rural areas, supporting more than 21,000 jobs, making it second only to Boeing, and 5.2 times larger than Microsoft's employment in Washington. Wildlife watching yields $426.9 million in job income and generates $56.9 million in state and $67.4 million in federal tax revenues each year.

Compared to commodities, money spent on wildlife watching is second only to the combined value of all field crops. Its value is larger than the value of livestock; and larger than the combined value of all fruits, nuts and berries produced annually! 

We had the largest breeding colony of Caspian terns on the North American coast a few years ago. I say "had" because the port harassed the birds away from the waterfront site. (The same one we were told had zero ecological function so that any development was a net gain.) While they were here, people were traveling, by word of mouth alone, to see the birds, and scientists from Oregon came here to study them. 

How many urban creeks support spawning salmon, and the stealth harbor seals that slip in to take a big bite out of what a recreational fisherman has caught? Frustration for fisherman translates into delight for tourists, and more work for locals. And few shoreline parks allow people to observe harlequin ducks, Barrow's goldeneye, and playful otters within a relatively close range. 

We could have developed the waterfront as a natural shoreline, a sight more rare and precious than the usual waterfront development one finds in Puget Sound. The waterfront was already publicly owned, and we were already obligated to cleanup the contaminated sites.  We could have protected wildlife and habitat and provided the public with the parks they desired, all at a significantly reduced cost... so reduced, in fact, that no fire sale to developers would have been needed.  And perhaps that is exactly why this option was never on the table. 

How do you spell "missed opportunity?"

Dick Conoboy  //  Tue, May 27, 2014, 10:26 am

This article reminds me of my visit this Memorial Day weekend to the area around Monterrey, CA.  People flock to what used to be “Cannery Row” to visit shops selling cheap souvenirs and tacky clothing and dine (?) out at such wonderful places as Bubba Gump’s shrimp restaurant. At least they had the decency not to name the place Bubba Steinbeck’s.  The only saving grace is the Monterrey Aquarium.  Perhaps Bubba can set up shop here and peddle his “jumbo shrimp” in the shadow of the Granary Building.


Helen Brandt  //  Tue, May 27, 2014, 5:42 pm

Right on Wendy! My friends’ (transplanted escapees from southern California) favorite activity is walking the Squalicum Harbor dock and web locker areas to watch the fishing people working. Have we noticed how people gravitate to the undeveloped beach areas at the end of Cornwall Avenue and at Squalicum beach?  They sit staring out at the water and islands, watch the ducks, geese and seals, or walk at low tide looking for interesting items. Why would travelers from the land-locked Midwest want to spend their precious vacation time around high-rise condos, densely clustered upscale stores or hotels (think Bellwether) when they could watch real fishing and crabbing people at work. And have quiet space to watch the bay, wildlife, clouds and islands. Bellingham would be smart to not imitate other over-developed waterfront cities. The potential here is unique.


Tip Johnson  //  Sat, Jun 07, 2014, 10:06 pm

Don’t get me started on the waterfront plan.  It is an abject fraud that I seriously think a several folk ought to go to jail or at least lose their jobs over.

However, Wendy, I find you maybe the most valuable community resources for work like this.  You know where to find the line and are not afraid to cross it to make your points.  Obviously, that is going to draw some fire from time to time.

I hope you are circumspect enough to consider the source(s) and let the riff-raff’s drivel roll off your back like a well-preened duck.  Thanks again!


George Dyson  //  Mon, Jun 09, 2014, 4:17 pm

Not to mention that by de-authorizing Whatcom Waterway, we are rendering downtown bellingham forever inaccessible to the deep-draft (and even medium-draft) sailing vessels (and future hybrids)  that enabled downtown Bellingham to thrive in the first place, and, given the opportunity, might have done so again.


Barbara Perry  //  Wed, Jun 11, 2014, 3:52 pm

I agree with Helen Brandt:  “Right on Wendy!”  and Tip Johnson: “…Wendy, I find you maybe the most valuable community resources for work like this. “

You clearly state what I, as a life time Washington and Whatcom resident have always felt: “…we could [should] have developed the nearshore and shoreline as an eco-tourism Mecca…”
However Now we must look at ”…crappy, dense, environmentally harmful shoreline development, more roads, traffic and blocked public views.” 
Unfortunately, your words are too true for most of our council members to heed.
Thank you Northwest Citizen for publishing Wendy’s important articles.  I hear and hope Council members read NW Citizen and heed more of Wendy’s ecological advice


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