Trails to Nowhere

I received a Notice of Complete Application for the construction of an impervious trail through the center of a parcel of forested land acquired with funds collected for Lake Whatcom Watershed protection. It is terribly ironic that the first major expenditure of funds for projects on the lands acquired for watershed protection is to develop them and diminish both their long term ability and viability to do what they do naturally do – clean stormwater. The building industry must be shaking their heads in awe. Why didn’t we think of bicycle trails? We could have developed the entire watershed by now!

This whole process was a done deal from the start. When citizens gathered for an initial walk through, the recommendation was for a very simple trail on the outskirts of this parcel to allow kids a safe path to and from school. A year later, the Parks Department presented their plan, which is the current plan, no subsequent input, no comments. And by the way, the SEPA comment period closed before this public meeting was even held, bids were scheduled, approval from the sleepy city council just a nod away. That’s the way the city works when it is their project.

Prior to this expenditure, in the three years the city has owned this property, the total city investment to protect this area was three signs and a part time security patrol for several weeks when a group of entrepreneurial kids tore up the woods, chopped down trees, built bike jumps, carved multiple trails and pretty much trashed the area.

One of the “environmentally conscious” reasons given for building this trail is that the project will “fix” many of these previous problems and with a nice impervious trail and none of this will ever occur again.

If you would like to see for yourself what a wooded area looks like after a nice, clearly marked, impervious crushed limestone trail is installed, take a walk on the Scudder Pond Loop Trail. In one 2.8 mile segment you will see, 2 trials carved into the woods that lead to residences, 11 secondary trails, 18 manmade trails, 19 animal trails and 8 sections of the main trail with obvious damage from trail bikes. Most of the manmade trails are mountain bike trails that are intermittently covered with brush by parks employees for a time before the bikers reopen them. I just saw a new bike trail this morning near the steep stairs leading to the creek.

By the way, requests for repair on these stairs has been sitting at the parks department for 4 to 5 years. The last that was heard is sometime this year. Which brings up an interesting point, who will repair the inevitable trails, the inevitable damage that will be carved into this Watershed Protection Land? Parks? I doubt it? Public Works? Perhaps a couple of more signs?

The City Council, many city staff, and perhaps the now not so new mayor just don’t seem to get it—protected land should be protected. This is what happens when a city has no long range, working, articulated, comprehensive, integrated plan in place to protect it’s water supply; no vision, no measurable goals, no meaningful benchmarks to track progress. We have spent a lot of dollars to date on supposed Lake Whatcom Reservoir/Watershed protection. Too bad this expenditure isn’t one of them. Expenditures like this create doubts about just how effective all the previous expenditures have been, just how effect future expenditures will be.

About Myron Wlaznak

Citizen Journalist • Member since Jun 05, 2008

Comments by Readers

g.h. kirsch

Jun 28, 2008

And coming soon to the watershed, The Pete Kremen Memorial Wilderness & Recreation Area.

Fortunately, it will only attract the most benign human activity, and at no expense to the public for supervision, maintenance or enforcement.

And of course there’s the newly weds, Bellingham and Lake Whatcom Water & Sewer District, getting started on the district’s plans to use the lake’s recharge to hook up every plated lot between Agate Heights and Eagle Ridge. 

Don’t worry ‘bout them!  They’re the good guys.  They won’t ever let the bad guys use the water.

We’ll protect the watershed with every sort of amenity that attracts development and the people who will inevitably spoil it: parks, trails, roads, stormwater systems, water and sewers.

Hell, we’ll probably even run a bus with bike racks out there, and have a Lake Whatcom Marathon.  Of course only kayaks will use the moorings and haulout at the picnic sites at the end of the reservoir. 

We’ll do just about anything that sounds green and progressive, but will never prohibit development and people in the watershed for the reservoir.

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Wendy Harris

Jun 28, 2008

Myron: Great Article! You are hitting on a major over-all problem.  The City does what it wants, blatantly and willfully ignoring established rules and procedures, and without public input.  A SEPA Determination of Non Significance was issued for Phase II of this project, although it was uncertain, but anticipated, that this impervious watershed trail would be built through Critical Area wetlands.  (If you do not believe me, contact the Planning Department and ask for a copy of the DNS for this project.)

Frankly, if the City determined that there is no environmental impact for a project that (1) had not yet been fully planned out, (2) creates an impervious trail in the watershed, (3) will likely destroy Critical Area wetlands, and (4) has a potential impact on the City?s obligation to restore water quality under the TMDL, why keep up the charade that SEPA and other environmental rules and procedures are being observed? I think the DNS should be amended to include ALL public works projects over the next several years?. at least this would save some trees by not wasting paper.

On the other hand, if you actually care about the watershed, water quality and restoration of Lake Whatcom, I recommend that you contact the Mayor?s Office and let him know how you feel about this situation, as well as the way the City routinely conducts its business.

Wendy Harris

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John Watts

Jun 29, 2008

Complaints are always welcome, but ideas for workable solutions are better, but also more difficult.

First, it sounds like the ‘impervious’ trail - which is the main object of this piece - is not the same one depicted at Scudder’s Pond, which does not drain directly into Lake Whatcom, but into Whatcom Creek downstream of Electric Avenue.

Is that correct?

Second, if the ‘impervious’ trail is meant to provide access by kids to school, that may point to the area adjacent to Silver Beach Elementary School.

Is that correct?

Third, aren’t ALL well-used trails ‘impervious’, whether are gravel surfaced or not?

Fourth, if trails are already being well used, doesn’t applying a gravel surface make sense?

Fifth, don’t make the mistake of assuming every single decision that gets made -by ‘the city’ or whoever- is subject to the same level of public agreement. There are many very routine matters that happen as part of normal administrative responsibility. Of course, all ideas and suggestions are always invited and expected.
Sometimes this input alerts officials to unforeseen problems and viable alternatives, but not always.

Here, I’m not necessarily arguing with the ‘point’ of this piece, but I am trying to clarify what is being discussed in such an accusatory and impassioned manner.

Why not use this energy on important things that not only matter, but also are in desperate need of suggestions for good, practical and workable solutions?

Instead of just flaming, fulminating and externalizing these problems to others, come up with reasonable ideas worthy of careful consideration, not just a ‘rant to nowhere’.

Not so easy, huh?

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Wendy Harris

Jun 30, 2008

Here are some of my recommendations for a workable solution…starting with having the City actually comply with the SEPA process required by law.  I think a reasonable idea worthy of consideration is to wait until you know whether you are building a recreational trail through a Critical Area Wetland in the watershed BEFORE making a SEPA determination.  The Notice of Complete Application posted on the City website states that a SEPA Determination of Non-Significance has already been issued, and then informs us that, ?A critical area permit may be required for PHASE 2 portion due to proximity to wetlands.  PHASE 2 alignment has not been finalized.?

Here is another reasonable idea worthy of consideration?.since PHASE 2 is being built near, if not in, Critical Area Wetlands,  how about an actual analysis of the impact of this public works project on the wetland habitat and animal species being impacted, as well as the impact on the watershed?  How about an analysis of how this public works project complies with GMA requirements for mitigation and No Net Loss of net ecological function?  (I think this kind of analysis might be called an ?EIS?.) 

And while I understand that in order to function effectively, the City must make some decisions under its discretionary administrative powers, I would hope that this does not include public works projects within the Lake Whatcom watershed. 

Some of us use local blogs not to avoid the hard work of being a committed activist, but as a way of mobilizing support in order to effectuate positive change.  Speaking only for myself, after repeatedly standing before City Council, repeatedly writing letters, repeatedly attempting to discuss issues with City Staff members and repeatedly being ignored, a ?rant to nowhere? may be my best resort.

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Larry Horowitz

Jun 30, 2008

Dear Wendy,

I just wanted to thank you for your persistence and quality work in addressing these critical issues.  Although we haven?t met, I have seen your presentations at planning commission and city council meetings and admire you for following your heart.

I am often reminded by people I respect very much that political and business decisions often overlook logical arguments and ignore recommendations that are clearly ?right?.  I suppose they are correct; but it leaves me with an empty feeling.

Although there are many people who like to preach about how you should pursue your activism, I for one am glad that you continue to follow your own path.  I believe you have been successful in mobilizing support.  Perhaps you are even close to achieving critical mass.  I hope you will continue to discuss issues with decision makers and others.  While you may be told that ?all ideas and suggestions are always invited and expected,? we both know that is laughable.  Our ideas and suggestions are only invited if they conform to action already planned or taken. 

There are many who feel as you do.  If all of us got together and focused on a limited number of priorities, we would likely succeed in achieving the critical mass necessary to effectuate positive change.  City officials (and former officials) are tied to the status quo.  It will take activists like you, Myron, Greg and others to preserve the quality of life we have been fortunate to inherit.

I wish you success in your continued efforts.

Best,
Larry Horowitz

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