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Is Boulevard Park/Cornwall Landfill Overwater Walkway A Toxic Trail?

Wendy Harris wrote this guest article.
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Bellingham continues to march forward with its proposal to construct a half-mile overwater walkway above Bellingham Bay, (which is actually designated a bridge under federal regulations, since it involves a structure that may restrict the ability to navigate public waters.) The City Planning Department and the Parks Department have forwarded a Conditional Use Permit and a Shoreline Development Permit to the City Hearing Examiner, who is keeping the public record open upon until January 6th, 2011. If the City permits are approved by the Hearing Examiner, the City will proceed as quickly as possible with construction of this project.

It is clear the Planning Department and the Parks Department have rationalized the construction of the overwater bridge based on the time and resources that have already been expended and available funding. This project has been planned for many years, and it was conceived with the best intentions. However, I believe the project design has now lagged behind both best available science and our current financial problems. Therefore, important facts are being overlooked.

At the forefront of these concerns are public health and safety issues associated with a pedestrian bridge being constructed on and over what is, essentially, a chain of toxic remediation sites. The Cornwall Bridge is also located within and over an area of high seismic activity, high landslide risk, and within a 100 year flood plan zone.

The Bridge originates at Boulevard Park, on a site being investigated under a DOE Agreed Order for soil and groundwater contamination related to the South State Street Manufactured Gas Plant site. The Bridge terminates at the Cornwall Avenue Landfill site, which is being investigated under a DOE Agreed Order for contamination associated with a former municipal landfill. Part of the land within the project area may have been created with contaminated fill materials from dredged soils from the Whatcom Creek Waterway. Fill on adjacent land was contaminated from the by-products of the manufacture of coal gas.

The bridge crosses over DNR owned aquatic lands within a designated natural recovery area subject to cleanup and long-term monitoring pursuant to the Whatcom Waterway consent decree. Contaminated dredge soils present in the aquatic portions of the site are listed as Category 4A impaired sediments subject to a TMDL. This overwater bridge requires placement of 96 pilings, each of which has a 26 inch diameter, many of which will be driven into this impaired sediment, likely causing the contamination that has settled in-soil to be stirred up and dispersed into an already impaired body of water.

Moreover, at a time when the City is experiencing financial distress resulting in budget cuts and employee lay-offs, a $7 million dollar overwater trail seems excessive, particularly when less expensive land-based shoreline trail options are available. Finally, the cumulative environmental impacts from overwater structures can be particularly egregious, degrading water quality, and destroying fish and wildlife habitat. In this case, it is known there will be harmful impacts to federally endangered salmon species.

To proceed with construction of an overwater bridge over contaminated and geologically hazardous lands, prior to remediation, and despite knowledge of the environmental impacts, does not protect public health and safety. There is no justification for construction of a trail in such an unsuitable location when there is a great need for additional trails in many other parts of the city.

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Contributor • Member since Jun 15, 2008

Guest Writer is for over 100 articles by individuals who are not writers or contributors. Their actual name and brief info is listed at the top or bottom of their articles.

Comments by Readers

Tip Johnson

Dec 16, 2010

When the City builds this over-water trail, the existing land trail could be allocated for vehicular access to accommodate development of immediately upland parcels.

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Larry Horowitz

Dec 17, 2010

Wendy,

Have any city officials actually listened to and addressed your legitimate concerns? 

Who have you spoken with?

What have they said?

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Tom Pratum

Dec 17, 2010

Of all of the things going on around here to attack - a park facility that could actually increase public interest in the wildlife and shoreline in Bellingham. Are there some toxic materials around there? Undoubtedly - if that is the concern, why do we let anyone into Boulevard Park and/or onto the existing boardwalk? I also note that implying this $7 million could somehow avert employee layoffs not at all honest - $4 mil is from Greenways, $2.1 mil is Fed Grant money, $0.15 mil is REET money; exactly where would this go in the city to beef up employment?

My personal opinion is that this is going to be a great thing - I can’t wait to see it come into being.

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Wendy Harris

Dec 17, 2010

Larry, I have submitted numerous comments to the City, including City Council, the Mayor, the Planning Department, the Parks Department and the City Hearing Examiner, as well as testified, on an extensive number of concerns regarding this project, many of which were not included in my article.  The project is largely being driven by the Parks Department.

The Parks Director issued a written rebuttal to my public testimony before the Council, which Council Member Lilliquist was kind enough to forward to me. The Planning Department has responded to my questions and document requests, and the City has responded to a Public Record Act Request. 

However, substantively, my concerns have been ignored (although the Hearing Examiner has not yet ruled in this case.)  I wanted to appeal the SEPA Mitigated DNS, but I was advised I would have to pay $1100 to do so.  I believe that a decision was made to move forward with this project years ago, and that the City is going through the motions of a public process as a mere formality.

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Wendy Harris

Dec 17, 2010

Tip: The Cornwall Landfill is jointly owned by the City and the Port.  After the overwater bridge is constructed, the Cornwall Landfill side will have to be sealed off from the public until the site is remediated. After that, the City and Port have plans to make the Landfill a large waterfront park which will include multi-level condos and offices.

The Draft Waterfront District Subarea Plan, Chapter 7, Page 69 states that, ?New residential or office development at the south end of Cornwall Avenue will overlook this park, providing an amenity for residents and also ensuring continued supervision of the park. This park could be accessed in the future via a pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks from the South Bay Trail. http://www.portofbellingham.com/library/files/Waterfront_Redevelopment/9.10.2010 Draft Sub Plan/Chapter_7_Parks_O

In other words, the overwater bridge is being built to increase real estate values for new development.  If a shoreline trail is planned in the future to connect to the South Bay Trail, why is an overwater bridge even needed?

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Larry Horowitz

Dec 17, 2010

Wendy,

Thanks for answering my questions.  Your responses are what I expected and what many of us have experienced over the years.  An administration that continually ignores the concerns of those who show up remains ignorant of those concerns.

Would you be willing to post the Parks Director?s rebuttal?

Have you had any REAL dialogue (as opposed to lip service) with city officials about your concerns?

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Wendy Harris

Dec 17, 2010

Tom: I do not believe that a half mile concrete overwater bridge can be viewed as simply a park facility. What other City park impairs the public?s ability to navigate public waters, and violates the treaty rights of the Lummi Nation?  What other park facility creates 37,500 sf of new impervious surface over an impaired body of water?

Generally, this particular park facility poses substantive risks of significant changes to immediate and surrounding marine and estuarine ecosystems, with particularly damaging effects on fish and wildlife.  This has been established through studies jointly conducted by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Department of Ecology and Department of Transportation, which resulted in a number of white papers on issues related to overwater structure.  2 relevant studies can be found at http://wdfw.wa.gov/publications/00051/wdfw00051.pdf and http://wdfw.wa.gov/publications/00054/wdfw00054.pdf. Best Available Science establishes that the best way to protect sensitive shoreline habitat is to avoid construction in and around these areas.

Specifically, this project poses a significant risk of harm to several species of endangered salmon.  (Biological Assessment Report available from the City). City information indicates that this project creates significant vulnerability for water birds in an area that has been rated by both the City and Port as high quality habitat.  (Exhibit D of the Conditional Use Permit Staff Report, available from City; The New Whatcom Redevelopment Project DEIS, Chapter 3.4 Plants and Animals at pages 3.4-6.)  Nor has the City attempted to mitigate for loss to fish and wildlife habitat. 

Some evidence of the impacts from this project can also be gleamed from the few notes reflected in Exhibit D of the Conditional Use Staff Report regarding impacts from Taylor Dock.  The City states that ?pigeon guillemot nesting within reach—nests may have been destroyed with Taylor Street dock work.?  It also indicates that, ?existing active park uses may compete with habitat enhancement needs.?

Do we really want a park facility that increases public interest in our wildlife and shoreline by destroying these precious natural resources in the process?  I think a much better approach would be a land based shoreline trail with an adequate shoreline buffer.

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Wendy Harris

Dec 17, 2010

Larry, No I have not had any REAL dialogue with the City. I requested a conference with the Planning Department and was advised today that I should attempt to meet with the Parks Department instead.  I should note that Resources and People for Puget Sound are also opposed to this project and have submitted comment letters.

I am posting the email from the Parks Director that you requested.  I have rebuttal to his assertions, but that would be too lengthy for here. However, I would like to point out that the City has not yet reached any settlement with the Lummi Nation and does not have another meeting scheduled with them until next month. 


To: Grp_Council
From: Jeffrey B Thomas/bsd/cob
Date: 09/28/2010 11:49AM
Cc: Dan Pike/mayor/cob@cob, David R Webster/mayor/cob@cob, Paul A Leuthold/parks/cob@cob, Gina Gobo Austin/parks/cob@cob, Steve C Sundin/planning/cob@cob
Subject: RE: Boulevard to Cornwall Over Water Walkway - September 27 Public Comment

City Council Members -

Last evening you received public comment from Wendy Harris regarding the proposed Boulevard to Cornwall over water walkway.  Specifically, Ms. Harris raised a number of her concerns with the proposal including environmental impacts and costs.  I would like to take this opportunity to brief you on the permitting and environmental review process to date for this proposal.

The proposal is being managed by Gina Gobo of the Parks Department.  Anchor QEA LLC in Bellingham is the project consultant.

In addition to a host of Federal and State permits and reviews, this proposal requires a Shoreline Conditional Use Permit and SEPA review by the City of Bellingham.  After extensive SEPA review of the proposal including coordination with other agencies such as DOE, DNR, WDFW, DOT, United States Coast Guard, United States Army Corps of Engineers and Lummi Nation as well as review of a substantial amount of environmental reports and documentation the Planning Department has determined that the proposal has been designed and can be conditioned to mitigate potential impacts.

For example, the proposal includes pilings spaced 50-feet apart and grating is used in order to allow maximum amount of light to pass through (instead of concrete) over portions of bed-lands where eelgrass is or could establish.  The structure is proposed out as deep as -25 feet MLLW (nearly 500-feet from shore at its apex) which minimizes impacts to near-shore areas and intertidal zones in terms of sediment transport and wave energy erosional forces.  The use of low level lighting is employed on the structure.  The removal of used creosoted and dilapidated pilings and other over-water structure are proposed. The landing at Cornwall end is designed so as to not affect future cleanup actions under MTCA.

To complete SEPA review for this proposal, the Planning Department will be issuing a Mitigated Determination of Non-Significance (MDNS) on approximately October 1, 2010.  To distinguish from the comments of Ms. Harris, this is not an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

Following the issuance of the MDNS, there is a 14-day public comment period after which the proposal could be amended and/or additional information provided.  After the City takes action on the MDNS, there is a 14-day appeal period.

A public hearing is anticipated in November with the Hearing Examiner for the Shoreline Conditional Use Permit. The Hearing Examiner will forward a recommendation to the DOE for final approval.  Any SEPA appeal of the MDNS from above would also be conducted by the Hearing Examiner. The Shoreline Conditional Use Permit can be appealed to the Washington State Shorelines Hearing Board within 21-days of the issuance of the final approval by DOE.

A summary of the funding for this proposal and and links to other documents for the proposal can be found here:

http://www.cob.org/government/departments/parks/projects/boulevard-over-water-walkway.aspx

Thanks - Jeff

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Larry Horowitz

Dec 18, 2010

Wendy,

Not a big deal, but Jeff Thomas is the Planning Director, not the Parks Director.

It?s too bad city officials won?t engage you in genuine dialogue.  I suspect they?re afraid they might learn something that will cause them to question their current plan to move forward.  The city hates nothing more than to turn the train around once it has left the station, regardless of whether the train is going in the right direction.

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