How Park Improvements Generate Heat

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Wedesday, May 28th, 6:30 p.m., at Bloedel Donovan Park Multipurpose Building there is a public meeting to discuss park improvements. Park improvements include an expensive engineered stormwater system, and shoreline softening, intended to make it easier to access and recreate on our water reservoir. Other projects, which are being handled in a piecemeal fashion, include park expansion required by the boat inspection program, and new facilities connected to private use of the public park by the Whatcom Rowing Association, who provide (and charge a fee) for rowing classes, and sponser a group of elite athletes to compete in regional and national competitions. The WRA constructed a new dock on the lake and just obtained a variance to build a boat house on land used for overflow parking and park vehicle access.

If you want to be a climate change activist, start here. The city needs to be accountable for connections between park improvements and local and global environmental concerns because it is the multitude of these kinds of small development projects that, on a cumulative level, degrade natural resources and lead to a global crisis. This is the face of global warming, and loss of biodiversity. And it happens almost every day in your own backyard.

The totality of park improvements will result in intensity of use impacts (which includes a wide range of impacts resulting from more people using the site). But there is no mitigation required for the harmful impacts to wildlife and habitat, despite the presence of a rare, functional wetland. In fact, the city continues to ignore the fact that the lake is part of a watershed ecosystem, and that clean water is the byproduct of a healthy watershed. While our residents are increasingly focused on environmental issues regarding energy use and climate change, our government pretends that these things occur in a vacuum, unconnected to local land use decisions.

Why isn't the city keeping ecological functions intact and resilient? Wetlands play a vital role in mitgating against climate change. Shouldn't we be protecting the wetland near the park and the diversity of wildlife that it houses? The city ignored my requests to increase and restore the wetland buffer to mitigate against the impact of increased exploration by people in kayaks and boats. A degraded habitat corridor could be restored to provide an important linkage from the Bay and Whatcom Falls Park to Lake Whatcom. Instead, the city has choosen to site a road and/or trail adjacent to the corridor.

The new SMP encourages waterfront residents to use vegetated shoreline buffers to absorb stormwater run-off and discourage the presence of waterfrowl. However, the city has not followed its own advice in redeveloping the park. Once the shorelines are softened, there will be more geese and more poop. How will the city deal with this issue? It lacks any wildlife management policies and has already attempted to kill the geese as a solution. The best solution is to plan wisely and avoid the problem.

What impact will park improvements have on boat and car traffic, use of fuel, and air quality? What about the increased noise and loss of street parking experienced by local residents, and the increased exposure to almost nonstop fumes from bonfires and barbeques in the summer months? Is it fair to expect local residents to subsidize the park improvements by accepting a reduction in quality of life?

How will the improvements impact the lake's water quality? Reducing stormwater run-off is a good idea, but how much of that benefit is offset by increased recreational activity? How much impervious surface will be added to Bloedel, in totality? Has anyone considered the increased stress created in the aquatic ecosystem, already under attack from invasive species? Is it appropriate policy to encourage increased use of fossil fuels on Lake Whatcom? Why aren't these impacts being quantified to create a baseline standard, and why isn't mitigation required?

Why is the city ignoring the increased risk of aquatic invasive species that results from watercraft (even non-motorized watercraft) visiting other water bodies and returning? The last area used by WRA was a hot spot for Lake Whatcom aquatic invasive species. Yet the city is providing unlimited park and water access to WRA, without restriction on class size or other restrictions to control impacts. Asian clam larvae are microscopic and can be transported without detection. And why allow the competitive rowers from other cities to come here to Lake Whatcom to compete? Do we show up at their water reservoir with our watercraft in hand? The local residents did not support this change in park use, but the city allowed WRA to pack meetings with its own members.

Why did the city obtain a variance to permit WRA to build a boathouse that will replace summer overflow parking? The city already intends to expand the road into the park and the parking lot to accommodate the boat inspection program. How much of this expansion is attributable to the unmitigated impacts of the WRA? Will we be creating new parking across the street, on the city easement, currently a vegetated area that helps protect water quality in the Lake Whatcom lagoon? Why do we allow rowers to go into the lagoon, which is connected to Scudder Pond, a nature preserve, and habitat conservation area? Isn't it enough that Whatcom Creek is infested with invasive Asian clams? The boathouse and new dock will increase the use of lighting, a source of pollution harmful to human sleep and wildlife migration. These are the types of intensity of use impacts that hurt the public health, safety and welfare when ignored.

It is easy to focus your outrage on the multinational corporations that frack, and SSA and GPT, and railroads. How about when it is just some nice family that wants to have a barbeque and enjoy a day on the lake jet-skiing? How about when it is the city making bad planning decisions with the best intentions of increasing park facilities for the public? It is exactly these types of local activities that “fuel” the need for more fossil energy, while undermining the natural resilience and protection provided by a healthy ecosystem. Effective activism does not always look important, but, project by project, this is where more of our efforts need to be focused.

About Wendy Harris

Citizen Journalist • Member since Mar 31, 2008

Comments by Readers

Bob Burr

May 26, 2014

Great questions, Wendy. I know the Mayor and most Council members look at posts on this site. I look forward to their responses.


Terry Wechsler

May 29, 2014

Saw this and thought of you:

“In some ways, 400 ppm is just a number, another milestone that we are blasting past at a rate that is now exceeding 2 ppm per year. Over time, this number takes on greater weight. It brings home the fact that fossil fuel combustion, land use practices, and human activities have increased the CO2 concentration in Earth’s atmosphere by more the 20 percent since I was born. Wow!”
– Dr. David Crisp
Principal Investigator, Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 satellite mission; works on the Greenhouse gases Observing SATellite (GOSAT) Project, a joint effort with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency

Thought you would like the fact that a NASA scientist puts land use practices side-by-side with fossil fuel combustion.

I would note that it’s not “easy” to focus outrage on multinational corporations if the goal is to actually prevent incidents which would have catastrophic environmental effects, which is what some of us are trying to do. I would argue there is a difference between “activists” and those that sit on the sidelines lobbing criticisms at those trying to effect change. I don’t include you in that group, because you are most certainly an “activist.” What is needed are more people who care about day-to-day land use decisions, comment, and show up and testify.

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