Update - Monday, April 15, 2019
As you can see from the notice, the Public Hearing to consider sub-dividing the Shorewood plat next to the heron colony was postponed until further notice. Meanwhile, we easily raised the $1,081 to file an appeal of the Critical Areas Permit awarded to the developer. The appeal was filed well before the deadline. Thank you so much to the dozens of you who contributed, offered to do so, and offered support of other kinds. Clearly, the heron colony is important to many of us here in Bellingham. The next step: a hearing before the Hearing Examiner on the appeal. Stay tuned for further “developments.” Jamie K. Donaldson
Below article posted Thursday, April 4, 2019
There will be a Public Hearing—at the request of heron advocates— on a subdivision application of the last undeveloped plat in Shorewood in Edgemoor, adjacent to the heronry at Post Point in Fairhaven. The subdivision, if granted, will create two building lots for development with a green space in between. The hearing will be held on Wednesday, April 10th 2019 at 6:00 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, City Hall, 210 Lottie Street. Please show up to express your concern over how this subdivision and subsequent building will threaten Bellingham’s last remaining heronry. Here’s the background.
First, the good news
The Great Blue Heron colony at Post Point has had some exemplary champions within the City of Bellingham over the years. Now-retired operations supervisor at the Post Point water treatment plant, Larry Bateman, comes to mind. Larry went to bat for the herons when the city needed to expand the water treatment plant adjacent to the herons and now there is an expanded protective buffer, fencing, trails and informational signage about the gawky, pre-historic looking birds that we love. Former City Councilmember Louise Bjornson was also an effective advocate for the herons. Against all odds, including noisy trains and an off-leash dog park, the heronry is actually expanding. During the 2018 nesting season, there were 41 active nests, and the herons are back and at it again right now. What a wonder!
In 1999 the herons arrived at Post Point and had the good sense to nest in protected deciduous trees owned and maintained by COB as part of the initial buffer around the water treatment plant. They had been uprooted from their earlier colony on Chuckanut Drive when nesting trees were cleared to build the Blue Heron Estates.
Now, the bad news
There is one last large parcel of undeveloped land in the Shorewood portion of Edgemoor that is uphill and adjacent to the heronry. Since at least the early 2000s, there have been plans to build luxury homes on that plat. One such proposal included a hair-brained scheme to cut “view corridors” through the publicly-owned deciduous trees where the herons nest so Shorewood folks could get a view over the treatment plant to the bay. Thanks to the work of many advocates, we managed to put the kibosh on that public giveaway which had, incidentally, been approved by City Council under the innocuous title “Post Point Vegetation Management Plan.”
There was also a very regrettable lost opportunity in 2016 when the owner of the Shorewood plat agreed to sell it to the city for $550,000. The Greenways Committee recommended that the city purchase the land, thus guaranteeing protection for the city’s only remaining heronry on its exposed Edgemoor flank. Not sure why, but the Parks Board declined to pass along this recommendation to City Council for consideration. Opportunity knocked and was knocked out.
Now there is a proposal to subdivide the Shorewood plat to build two luxury homes with a sizeable green space and conservation easement between them. This plat is re-named, ironically, the “Heronwood Cluster.” Perhaps this is better than prior development proposals for this sensitive area, but it has several critical flaws: COB has already approved —with no public process— a Critical Area Permit which will allow the housing lot closest to the herons’ nesting trees to encroach deeply into the city’s own designated 197-foot buffer around the colony. The encroachment will be “offset” by adding a similar amount of buffer to the extreme end of the plat, furthest away from the heronry, where it is not so urgently needed. This sleight of hand “averaging” of the protective buffer might be allowable under current Critical Area permitting codes, but it undermines recommendations from both the wildlife biologist hired by the city to monitor the heronry, as well as management recommendations from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for protecting Great Blue Herons, a Washington priority species. We’re witnessing what could prove to be the tipping point for the heron colony: an encroachment approved by the city, as well as the planned removal of large conifer trees on the Shorewood (oops, I mean Heronwood) building sites that could expose the nests to south winds which the herons cannot tolerate. Why would the city allow ANY new potential risk to the heronry when we have invested citizens’ tax dollars for years of heron management and protection?
The city’s Planning Department exercised its prerogative to not invite public input into Critical Area permitting process for the Heronwood Cluster and this is where all the environmental concerns including “mitigations” were considered. One can choose which of the dueling wildlife biologists you want to believe about how much tolerance the herons have for these newest human threats: the biologist hired by the Heronwood Cluster’s proponents for its environmental report, or those of the biologist who’s been monitoring the heronry, at the city’s request, since 2003. You decide.
Yes, it’s time once again for Bellinghamsters to decide whether our remaining Great Blue Heron colony is something we value and want permanently protected. If outright purchase of the Heronwood Cluster is out of the question this time around (Is it?), we must at least appeal the Critical Area Permit that enables the encroachment upon the heronry for private gain. It costs $1,081 to file the appeal and I’m in for the first $100. Who will join with me to help file the appeal by making a monetary donation? Time is short (the appeal must be filed by April 12), so please contact me by email right away to join in this effort to save the Post Point heronry: firstname.lastname@example.org
After all, wouldn’t it be a travesty if, once again, the Great Blue Herons of Bellingham were flushed out of a safe nesting site because of a luxury development project that bore their name?