In a Bellingham Herald article dated May 4, Interim Mayor Tim Douglas “said it’s too soon to make assumptions about the exact relationship between parks acreage and the intensity of development on the rest of the waterfront.” According to Douglas, the waterfront Master Plan, as well as the Port/City development agreement will get “intense public review.”
Well, it’s not working yet. According to another Herald article on May 7, about a dozen people testified at each of two public hearings on the scope of the project’s Environmental Impact Statement. That’s 0.014% of the estimated 166,814 population of Whatcom County, which the Port soaked for almost $7 million in property taxes this year. That’s over $41 per man, woman and child. It’s been happening every year - since 1920. Probably more than half of those in attendance at the hearings were Port staff or shills.
Meanwhile, letters to editors and spoken comments around town are increasingly expressing a sense that the Port is ramrodding an attempt to rip off our public waterfront for their development buddies. In the Port’s most recently contrived presentations, they have begun enforcing the notion that if the public wants waterfront parks, they will need to endure a blockade of buildings taller than Bellingham has ever seen. Poppycock!
The “public” is already paying the health costs of G-P’s toxic legacy. Bellingham already suffered 40 years of lost opportunity while G-P hogged the waterfront with its acrid spume. The bay, once a rich oyster farm, is now a toxic dead zone - a mercury dump the Port wishes to leave in place for the neurologic disadvantage of our children’s developing brains (see Related Links: How Mercury Causes Brain Neuron Degeneration [9MB .mov]). The public will pay to clean up the mess because the Port, in it’s public-service wisdom, let G-P totally off the hook. We will also pay for the infrastructure to support any development - and the maintenance, in perpetuity. We already pay the Port to “manage” our waterfront resources. Ha!
Some management! Waterfront lands, which in Bellingham were also constructed at public expense, should be managed for what they are - a scarce and valuable resource. In most planning contexts, scarce resources are carefully marshalled for their best use. Waterfronts ought to be reserved for water-dependent, water-related and public uses - not sold off for a one-time shot in the arm for the Port bureaucracy.
But the Port has more grandiose dreams of filling their coffers with development cash while choking the public off the shoreline - or at best, leaving the public with the withering threads and scraps of lawn between parking lots and building entrances. A social and economic assessment of the potential benefits to our county-wide population of public space versus intensive development on the waterfront would make a very good starting place. But it is not likely to happen.
Mayor Douglas, in the May 4 article, also says that agreement on the development scheme is not likely to happen in this calendar year. How many concerned citizens will still have the energy to attend hearings after another year of meetings? Probably we should just vote on it.