Monday, July 15, 2019 was the deadline to file pre-hearing briefs outlining the arguments that opposing sides would present to the hearing examiner on the appeal of a Critical Areas Permit to build two homes on Shorewood Drive next to the Great Blue Heron colony at Post Point. Team Heron, under the excellent leadership of local attorney, Philip Buri, filed our legal briefing along with the list of exhibits and witnesses for the hearing scheduled for July 29. We did extensive research, consulted wildlife biologists and the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), and reviewed the City of Bellingham’s (COB) prior commitment to protect the colony. We were ready.
However, the opposing parties (the owner of the property, the prospective home builder/developer, and the COB) did not file briefs, thus declining to defend the Critical Areas Permit. The result was “surrender” of the permit, cancellation of the hearing, and our appeal made moot. The Post Point herons can sleep a little easier… for now.
But just because the Critical Areas Permit was thwarted does not mean that the Post Point heron colony is out of harm’s way from yet more human disturbance. A different development proposal for the entire plat on Shorewood Drive could be forthcoming, or the earlier proposal for a short-plat subdivision and development could be resurrected. Make no mistake: even one new house built on Shorewood Drive puts the entire colony at risk, and we know this from , a Priority Species. Thus, we need to be vigilant for these and other threats to the colony until we establish a permanent, protected Great Blue Heron reserve.
The timing is right for the City of Bellingham to negotiate the purchase and/or donation of undeveloped land adjacent to the heron colony in order to create the reserve. And we do not mean a heron amusement park; we mean an off-limits, green, wild space adding to the 197-foot buffer already in place (the very buffer that was to be reduced under the Critical Areas Permit awarded to a developer by COB Planning and Community Development). There are funds from our Greenways levies designated for acquiring important habitat. Why not combine these with other funds from the Department of Public Works which has already demonstrated a commitment to protecting the heron colony, its neighbor down at Post Point? In essence, creating the heron preserve is a natural extension of the green buffer that already exists between the water treatment plant and the Shorewood neighborhood above. A third funding source could be private donations to top off the land purchase if necessary.
As Philip Buri wrote in the conclusion of Team Heron’s legal briefing to the Hearing Examiner:
“We did not destroy the environment overnight. Instead, steady development over 150 years has led to collapsing salmon runs, endangered species, and the lack of wildlife habitat. To end the damage, we must stop the incremental compromises that favor development over protecting critical areas.”
Join me in urging the Mayor and City Council members to create the Post Point Heron Reserve by acquiring all the undeveloped land left on Shorewood Drive. Now.