At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I have submitted my first comment on the Waterfront Plan to the Planning Comission. I encourage everyone to review the materials (link below) and to weigh in on what they want to see these public lands provide. Comments may be directed to email@example.com or Planning Commission, c/o Planning and Community Development Department, 210 Lottie Street, Bellingham WA 98225.
The waterfront plan has a serious foundational defect that must be corrected before further planning proceeds. It is an underlying defect the correction of which could substantially redirect planning efforts.
From the start, the proposed new marina was kept in the no-action alternative. Questions regarding the treatment potential of the Aerated Stabilization Basin (lagoon) were specifically refused. Later the Port and City adopted a new “Framework and Assumptions” which included the marina at the top of the project list. At no point was scoping reopened to address this significant change. As a result, questions regarding the value of the lagoon have continued to be ignored. This constitutes an intentional gaming of the review to avoid disclosing the true public costs of building the marina.
The lagoon is one component of an integrated, publicly owned water supply, treatment and discharge system. This includes a large, stainless steel industrial water supply from the Lake Whatcom screenhouse to the former Georgia-Pacific site. It includes the lagoon, capable of receiving the industrial water, complete with aeration to support biological treatment, an outfall to mid-bay, far from the nearshore, and a state-approved mixing zone.
The Port and City are pretending that their individually owned components of this system are not related and refusing to acknowledge that converting the lagoon will destroy the system's utility and cost the public untold millions.
It is already costing the public millions. Combined sewer overflows (CSOs) are discharged into the mouth of Whatcom Creek immediately adjacent to the lagoon. The City plans to construct several large holding tanks to capture excess volumes for later metering back into the sanitary system. These require maintenance after each use, adding further ongoing costs. CSOs could be instead directed to the lagoon, where they could be treated if necessary, or simply diluted and discharged into the mixing zone. This would reduce impacts to the nearshore habitat.
During redevelopment of the waterfront, various bio-swales and rain gardens are envisioned for end-of-pipe treatment of stormwater. The public will pay for the construction and ongoing maintenance of these systems. Analysis of these systems by King County in recent years has revealed that they do not work as well as imagined, often do not work at all, and actually store toxins for sudden release when the systems become overburdened. We should be planning to direct stormwater into the lagoon. The size of the lagoon and the feature of the mixing zone assures discharge compliance and reduced impacts to the nearshore. Advanced wetland treatment could be installed in a section of the lagoon to enhance treatment.
There are other important opportunity costs. The first is future treatment. The lagoon is technically an upland site. It exists downgradient from most of developed Bellingham. Most sewage is pumped from this approximate location to the Post Point treatment plant. The lagoon could be subdivided to accommodate different treatment regimes, or filled to host standard clarifiers for specific purposes. This might include stormwater, additional sanitary capacity, or industrial treatment as originally designed. The lagoon is already approved for water treatment. The rate base will bear the costs of replacing treatment capacity destroyed when the lagoon is wrecked. The Port and City are avoiding analysis of these costs.
The largest cost may come from foreclosing our ability to host living wage jobs. We currently have surplus water supply and treatment capacity. We should recruit jobs with the prospect of readily available water and treatment. We haven't tried because public officials know that building the marina will destroy this resource. Both agencies are hiding this costly impact under their refusal to evaluate these issues.
These are not minor costs or negligible impacts. They are huge. The intentional avoidance of these issues extends beyond nonfeasance to misfeasance or malfeasance. To the extent that intent can be demonstrated, it may constitute criminal fraud. No one can say they have been unaware. Before this plan review began, the Port took action to condemn the lagoon for the public purpose of a marina. Georgia-Pacific's attorney then testified that the Port's finding of public purpose was weak, that there are likely higher and better public uses than a marina - specifically implying the lagoon had value to the community as a treatment asset. Since then, the Port has published intentionally misleading information, calling the treatment facility an “industrial waste lagoon.” The City for its part has clammed up, pretending not to notice the Port's hand in public's cookie jar, and has gone along with the scheme to date.
Agencies should not destroy a significant public asset without discussion, especially when it saddles the rate base with eventual costs of replacement. They certainly should not intentionally obfuscate the issues, hiding relevant impacts and costs behind purposefully defective process and misrepresentations.
This defect must be corrected in advance of further planning. If a marina has higher value than integrated water supply and treatment capacity, then prove it. Don't just steal it. At this point, an independent, un-biased, professionally competent analysis of the value and potential of this integrated system, and the lagoon site itself, must be conducted. Failure to insist on this basic requirement or continuing plan development without this essential information is at least irresponsible. It is likely worse.