Notice of Defect

Wherein we complain about the City and Port stealing from the public

Wherein we complain about the City and Port stealing from the public

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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 or Planning Commission, c/o Planning and Community Development Department, 210 Lottie Street, Bellingham WA 98225.

Dear Commissioners,

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.

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About Tip Johnson

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Member since Jan 11, 2008

Tip Johnson is a longtime citizen interest advocate with a record of public achievement projects for good government and the environment. A lifelong student of government, Tip served two terms [...]

Comments by Readers

Tip Johnson

Apr 08, 2013

I made a few minor corrections and changes after sending to the Commission.


Delaine Clizbe

Apr 09, 2013

Every time I drive by one of the “storm water ponds” that developments are now required to put in I have the same thought…..what happens in 20 years, 50 years, 100 years?  Is that pond then going to be a “toxic dump” that an unknown someone must clean up?  That is why I hesitate to agree with your suggested use of the lagoon.  I’m not sure we want to be “concentrating” toxins in this lagoon right next to the Bay. 

Furthermore, since I am still stinging from the Metropolitan Park Distict and Reconveyance losses, I really can’t bring myself to understand your not wanting another marina.  We have been told at nausea over the last couple of years that “recreation” is what is needed and is what will fuel our local economy.  I guess that model doesn’t extend to people with boats…....


Tip Johnson

Apr 11, 2013


What will concentrate in the lagoon is far more benign that what G-P already concentrated there, and it will otherwise need to be concentrated in innumerable other end-of-pipe storm water systems like the ones you wonder about what will happen to in 20 etc. years.  When they fail, it directly impacts the shoreline.  Treated in the lagoon, it would discharge mid-bay and have a chance to mix further before disturbing any nearshore habitat.

I wouldn’t have guessed you were a big government spending type, but the lagoon needs nothing to continue treating water. To become a marina, we need to remediate the stuff G-P already concentrated there and spend $400 million building a marina, and then, over time, spend untold millions more replacing the treatment capacity that was destroyed - not to mention living with the fact we just squandered the best possible resource for attracting good jobs. Recreation is great, but if folks don’t have jobs, they really can’t afford very much of it.  Changing sheets for tourists at the Inn doesn’t really enable a leisure class.

With 500 empty slips in the Port’s marina portfolio and boats being abandoned everywhere, I’m surprised you would support a marina.  I’m a marina guy, having run a boatyard for 30 years, and even I can see it’s a fools mission that steals from the public to enrich the Port.


Delaine Clizbe

Apr 12, 2013

“Recreation is great…..Changing sheets for tourists at the In doesn’t really enable a leisure class”  Really Tip?  Again I just have to point out that was the big rallying cry for the reconveyance:  “our economy needs recreation”.  I’m not necessarily for or against a marina, just pointing out the inconsistencies. 

Not really sure that a treatment lagoon is that big of a job maker…..  I do run on the waterfront frequently and can tell you that the boat launch parking at the marina is completely full all summer so I"m not sure boats are going away.  500 empty slips?  Is that in Bellingham?


John Servais

Apr 12, 2013

Delaine,  there is a big difference in trailerable boats that use the boat launch and salt water slips that are in the marina.  The boat launch parking can be full and the marina half empty - because of the type of boats.  The cost differences to the boat owners are huge with trailerable being much more affordable. 

Dry storage and good no cost boat launches allow more citizens of our communities to own boats and enjoy boating.  Expensive marina slips are for the few who can afford much more expensive boating.  Our Port of Bellingham has historically provided a minimum of boat launches and sees them as profit centers.  Boat launches should be free and should have sufficient parking.  It is a basic return to the taxpayers who fund the Port.


Delaine Clizbe

Apr 13, 2013

John, I do know the difference:)  Looking on the port website I find that they advertise having some 26 to 36 foot slips available.  It may be that folks with a 26 foot boat choose to trailer instead of leave it in the salt. Particularly in the winter, those with these smaller boat sizes (26 to 36 foot)  may be choosing to pull them out of the water instead of leaving them to barnacle over all winter. Many commercial fishing boats also pull their boats in the winter which, may explain empty slips on the commercial side. (along with there is always a portion of the fleet out fishing)   

I know a guy who is considering bringing a 50 foot boat down from Homer to moor in Bellingham. (a boat that he does not store in salt water all winter but pulls and dry docks)  Not sure he would find space to do so.  But if he does he would pay for moorage to the port, as well as, spend money in our town.  Again, that sort of economy was just used as the war cry for the reconveyance. 

As far as boat launches, obviously we need more.  Maybe they will put another one on the new waterfront.  I disagree, however, that a boat launch should be “free”.  Continuing to have it be “fee for service” keeps costs to the taxpayers (who do not own boats but pay for the port) down.  The fees are pretty minimal.  I’m pretty big on “fee for service” in general…. when it makes sense to do so.  Maybe all those mountain bikers who lobbied for the Reconveyance should pony up each time they ride on those trails:)  (haha! that is a joke! I don’t think it would be cost effective to do so!)

Again, I’m not necessarily for or against a new marina.  I love boats.  When I finally convince my husband that we “need” one, I do hope there are facilities for us to store it or launch it.

My main concern for the waterfront is that the public continue to have access.  To me a water treatment plant conjures up images of fences and “do not enter” signs.  My other big fear is that they will build a bunch of huge condo buildings with little access for the lowly citizen.  I love our current waterfront where I can run by the water, eat by the water, and enjoy a varied view. (personally I like to run by the boats in the marina and look and dream).

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