Action Alert for Tonight: Waterfront Wildlife and Habitat Threatened

Previously, I discussed the problem with the habitat assessment needed for the Waterfront District before waterfront development occurs.

Prior to the enactment of the Water District Subarea Plan, the public and the city council requested that a wildlife and habitat assessment be conducted, and issues of habitat connectivity were emphasized. This includes connectivity from the nearshore to the shoreline and the uplands.

After fighting any attempt to do a habitat assessment, something that should have been done as part of the EIS for the Water District, but was ignored due to fancy maneuvering by the port, the Mayor was stuck. The council had enough votes on the habitat issue to withhold approval of the waterfront plan. And it is noteworthy that this is the only issue where this situation existed.

The Mayor agreed to the habitat assessment and moreover, stated that the administration would fund it from its existing budget. This was a big red flag, but it was ignored. Ted Carlson, from Public Works, drafted the resolution for council approval and it was enacted along with the Waterfront District Sub-Area Plan.

Fast forward a few months and staff represented an update to the council regarding the status of a $50,000 “habitat connectivity” project. Ever vigilant North Sound Baykeeper Wendy Steffensen asked for a copy of the RFP, (Request for Proposal, issued to solicit bids from contractors.) Turns out, the city administration has a limited concept of habitat connectivity, which involves only the nearshore of the waterfront.

When I questioned the staff about this, I was told that they were simply following the council’s directives. I was advised that the council only asked for a nearshore assessment. Since I had followed the waterfront planning session, including the council work sessions, fairly closely, particularly on habitat issues, this was contrary to everything that I had heard. After a little investigation, it was revealed that the resolution, drafted by Ted Carlson, contained the restricted language for the habitat review, and in the rush and confusion of getting the waterfront plan enacted under the mayor’s fabricated deadlines, this simply was not noticed.

I immediately brought this to the council’s attention during an open session, and to their great credit, they did not automatically endorse the approach reflected in the RFP. Rather, they forwarded this matter to the Lake Whatcom and Natural Resources Committee to review the scope of the habitat assessment and determine if it was adequate.

That committee meeting is today at 1:10 PM and I will be unable to attend. I hope to attend the open session at tonight’s meeting and will need additional support from the general public to ensure that we are literally not cheated out of the deal made by the council, in response to strong public advocacy, by the city administration. The problem is that by now, everyone has gone home. No one is focused on waterfront issues anymore. No one is aware of this abuse of power and this attempt to undermine the public’s will.

Why is this being done?….the same motivation that justified all of the waterfront plan… profits. Fish, nearshore and in stream, do not reduce the city’s developable land base, and therefore, the city’s potential source of income. The waterfront is the city’s “golden egg”, and they are unwilling to give up one square inch of profitable development rights to mitigate for wildlife and habitat. The motivation is understandable, but it is not the law, nor is it the will of city residents.

If you can, please show up tonight and speak at open session. Thank the city council for their actions in support of habitat and wildlife protection, and public input, and ask them to require a full wildlife and habitat assessment and analysis, both nearshore and upland, to determine local species, habitat and connectivity. We need to ensure that waterfront developers are mitigating any loss in ecological function. Here are some talking points:

1. Large data gaps in the city’s information regarding waterfront species and habitat are well documented in the city’s habitat and wildlife plan from 1995 and 2003, and were reconfirmed in a consultant review by Environmental Science Associates, (ESA) only a year ago. In particular, the city has little information regarding terrestrial species and habitat. This needs to be addressed.

2. And the information we do have is a cause for alarm. We have a plummeting population of seabirds. Recently, an alarming decline in biodiversity in the Bay, and possible association with different forms of toxic contamination and possibly, a moving wood slurry, were document by the Department of Ecology.

3. Since the last outdated EIS was completed, 3 new species of rockfish have been added to the endangered species list for Bellingham Bay. This is not documented for consideration during waterfront development.

4. A valid habitat and wildlife assessment must incorporate the entire waterfront district, and incorporate all species. It must identify the specific impacts from waterfront development on wildlife and habitat, such as increased marine traffic, increased intensity of human use, conflicting land uses, inadequate habitat buffers, tall buildings with glass windows within a bird migration route, roads and utilities that fragment habitat and create barriers to wildlife movement.

5. It must discuss whether or not mitigation can off-set these impacts, and if not, whether the development should be permitted, or whether the city and port will provided compensatory habitat (provide or protect new habitat somewhere else.)

6. A current, quantifiable baseline standard must be established in order to determine whether or not waterfront development results in a loss of ecological function and requires mitigation. A baseline standard must be measurable and monitored to enforce the requirements of the law.

Thank you,everyone. Unfortunately, retaining control over local government requires constant vigilance.

About Wendy Harris

Citizen Journalist • Member since Mar 31, 2008

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