It can now be reliably reported that the long planned over-water walkway, running from the north end of Boulevard Park to the Cornwall Avenue landfill, has been cancelled by the Bellingham Parks Department. Almost since the completion of the Taylor Dock, the city has planned this second concrete walkway which would be nearly double the length of the Taylor Dock. Cancelling this project will free up $4 million in Greenways funds for actual green ways as opposed to a concrete bridge.
There has not been much public support for the project but the city has been quietly pushing it since 2010. The city applied for, and received, federal grants of over $2 million. They planned to add $4 million of Greenways funds for a total of $6 million of the estimated $8 million needed for the project, with the rest from city impact fees and excise taxes. But the federal funds were granted based on questionable claims. The grants were available for transportation projects and this dock didn't seem to serve that purpose at all. Further, the city's application indicated the concrete walkway “...will significantly improve public shoreline access along Bellingham’s waterfront by providing a continuous shoreline trail between Fairhaven and the former Cornwall Avenue Landfill site,...” It fails to mention we already have a wonderful South Bay Trail along the shoreline from Boulevard Park connecting to the north and downtown Bellingham.
In 2010, the city reached out to the Lummi Nation for approval of the project, per their authority by the 1855 Point Elliot Treaty, as the waters along Bellingham Bay where the walkway would have been built is in salmon fishing grounds. In season, gillnet fishing boats can be seen along the Bellingham waterfront. The Taylor Dock was grandfathered as it was originally a railroad track built on pilings 100 years ago.
Documents between the city and Lummi Nation show that from the beginning the Lummi were reluctant to even study the new proposed walkway project. According to a reliable source inside city hall, the city offered the Lummi $50,000 for their permission. This offer apparently offended Lummi leaders and sealed their refusal to study the project.
See PDF file with this letter plus Lummi Nation documents relating to walkway. ( temp note: prior to 7:45 pm this evening, the wrong document was linked. The correct one is now in place.)
A week ago, the city wrote the Washington Department of Transportation to request that state grants for the walkway be transferred to road projects near the Granary on the old Georgia Pacific site. In part, the request said, “The [walkway] Project is unbuildable, at this time, and we hereby request a waiver to payback of the funds.” This pretty well says the project is dead, but also opens questions regarding the hundreds of thousands of dollars the city has already spent planning this now-defunct bridge.
Over the past six years, the city has spent over $800 thousand of state administered federal grant money planning this walkway, leaving only about $1.6 million for use near the Granary. Of the original $8 million, the $4 million in Greenways money remains available to us. The city addresses the issue of state funds already spent on this project in the attached pdf file, linked from earlier paragraph.
I have been watching for documents indicating this project was dead ever since a senior level source in city hall told me weeks ago that the bridge was dead in the water. Two weeks ago, I attended a Greenways Advisory Committee meeting where they spent some time discussing possible projects for the newly available $4 million dollars. But still no official word.
Based on the Greenways committee discussion, I contacted the city to learn what might become of the newly-released walkway funds. The administrator I spoke with was emphatic that the $4 million was earmarked for waterfront transportation needs and would not be available for land acquisition or trail development anywhere away from the downtown redevelopment area. This conflicts with my understanding that the Greenways Advisory Committee is authorized to recommend uses of the Greenways fund to the City Council, and it is the council that decides how the funds are used. The administration's reaction to my question suggests the mayor and parks department are trying to gain control of that $4 million - perhaps to solve budget shortfalls and aid other non-green projects?
The return of an unencumbered $4 million into our Greenways Fund opens a variety of opportunities. I will follow up later this weekend with a suggestion; perhaps other citizens also have suggestions. A few years ago, the city spent half a million dollars of Greenways funds to install plastic grass at civic field - outraging many citizens who voted for the last Greenways levy. Hopefully, these returned funds from the cancelled walkway will be used for land acquisition and more trails as we were promised when we voted for the levy in 2006.
As a reminder: Another Greenways levy (#4) will be on the ballot in November. Last Monday, the City Council unanimously agreed to send it to the public for a vote. Greenways 4 will run for seven years. The rate will be reduced from the current Greenways 3 levy of 59 cents per thousand dollars of property value to 50 cents. However, as written now, it allocates only 33% of funds for land acquisition - the lowest percentage ever. The mayor complained to the council that even 33% is too much. Further, 25% would supplement the regular parks department maintenance on all parks - not just Greenways-acquired land. Mayor Linville doesn't seem to understand why we have agreed to tax ourselves for the Greenways levies for the past 26 years.
A special thanks to Wendy Harris for managing to get the attached documents showing how the Lummi Nation has again saved us from ourselves in our efforts to wreck our waterfronts - whether from detrimental coal terminals or unsightly, unnecessary and un-green concrete walking bridges.