City Council Waterfront Work Sessions Begin

By On
• In

On Monday, September 9, the Bellingham City Council will hold a work session on waterfront issues from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. A large variety of important issues will be addressed, in 10 minute presentations by staff. The issues include public process and the visioning process, social equity issues (jobs) and working wages, cleanup standards, climate change and sea rise, habitat protection, soil stability, parks, and use of the ASB structure.

That is a lot of issues to cover, especially when these are the identified issues of public controversy and yet, the public is not being invited to testify, (although the written comment period is still open). Recently, the mayor and her staff ignored public concerns and a large crowd of unhappy folks, and incorrectly advised the City Council that the proposed waterfront plan incorporated public concerns and values. (In non-technical terms, the mayor and her staff lied to the council… and then later to the Port Commission. It is kinda taboo to state this directly, but shouldn't the lying be the bigger taboo?)

If you want to see the issues that will be discussed and get some sense of the staff's response on a few of these issues, you can review the agenda at$vAllByUnid/B987CA25A971016388257BDC00743CBD?OpenDocument. With the usual whirlwind pace this has moved forward, I have not had time to address most issues, with the exception of habitat. I have printed my comment to the council below. If you want to tell the council what you think, send them an email.

Response to Staff Memo of 9.3.13 Regarding Waterfront Habitat Issues for 9.9.13 City Council Work Session (Page 3)

As proof of adequate habitat restoration, the city cites to restoration “opportunities”, general goals, and policy recommendations. Admittedly, there is no shortage of potential future restoration projects. What is lacking is proof that the Waterfront District Sub-Area Plan requires adequate mitigation to offset the impacts from waterfront development. Examples of “planned habitat restoration occurring in specific projects” are cited, but are not incorporated into waterfront sub-area obligations.

Nor does the city have evidence that these individual projects are adequate mitigation for habitat impacts. The city failed to analyze impacts to plants and animals in its updated EIS review of the Waterfront District Sub-Area Plan, as required under SEPA. The city can not protect wildlife and habitat without current baseline information. What actions will the city take to cure this critical oversight?

It is inaccurate to summarize public concerns as a “request for inclusion of a Habitat Restoration Plan.” The public’s concerns are much broader, and include issues of habitat connectivity and biodiversity, incompatible land use, and inadequate buffers. The “site-specific” type of restoration planning envisioned for the waterfront fails to reflect updated science and best management practices. We need an ecosystem based analysis and conservation strategy, particularly if the city adopts a Planned Action Ordinance. Before we vest waterfront developers in perpetuity, can we please make sure that our environmental standards are current?

It is interesting that the staff is citing to the Bellingham Bay Comprehensive Strategy, published in 2000, as evidence of adequate habitat consideration, when the city has rejected its basic principles, including ecosystem-wide analysis and planning, “Integrated Near Term Remedial Action Alternatives”, and the use of compensatory mitigation. The Bellingham Bay Comprehensive Strategy is so out-dated it no longer contains accurate information regarding protected species and habitat, or applicable state and local laws, such as the new Shoreline Master Program. And the Bellingham Bay Comprehensive Strategy was never intended to replace the master plan EIS, or other regulatory review processes, and it is misleading for staff to suggest otherwise.

I urge you to require an updated analysis of impacts to aquatic, nearshore and upland habitat, and to require mitigation that meets and exceeds required no net loss standards. The staff needs to explain why it has inquired into a “take” permit for seals in the Cornwall Beach area. Additional issues should be addressed, as discussed in more detail in my “No Net Loss” column in the August issue of the Whatcom Watch, incorporated herein.

About Wendy Harris

Citizen Journalist • Member since Mar 31, 2008