The Myth of Waterfront Public Process

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I am reposting my article in this month's Whatcom Watch regarding my concerns with waterfront planning and the public process.

The waterfront redevelopment plans were revised by the city administration and the port over the last two years, with little public involvement. The final plans were released in December, and were set for two public hearings in March before the Bellingham Planning Commission. No public information session was offered to the public before the hearings although the waterfront documents are very complex and technical in nature. Planning Commission work sessions, where the issues are discussed in greater depth, were scheduled after the public hearings.

As a result, the public is largely uniformed on a number of important facts:

  • The Port revised the waterfront EIS in December without public notice or public input. It exceeded the appropriate scope of the addendum process that it used.
  • The revised plans include a Planned Action Ordinance, which provides vested rights to developers to use mitigation standards based on the 2008-2010 EIS, without any requirement to review or update the EIS over time. Other waterfront agreements, such as the city and port interlocal, expire in 25 years. This prevents the public from updating and revising environmental standards as appropriate. It benefits only the developers. We are told that developers need certaintly, but we are also told that the port and the city want flexibility in the planning process. Why are there two different standards for public development and private development?
  • The Planned Action Ordinance removes the normal public right to comment before a SEPA determination is issued. Instead, the Planning Department has the sole discretion to determine what, if any, mitigation is required under SEPA. Sure, you can appeal this to the City Hearings Examiner… if you have about $1200 to spare.
  • The adminstrative staff is obtaining funding and, with city council approval, amending city comprehensive plans, such as the annual budget, the capital facilities plan or the transporation improvement plan, for waterfront projects before waterfront plans have been approved. The port is solicting proposals from developers before the waterfront plans have been through the public process. Does this sound like there is meaningful public process?
  • The revised waterfront plans include provisions for “beneficial reuse.” This will result in more dredging and dumping of toxic waste at waterfront sites before the sites are cleaned up. Just like the dioxin mountains at Cornwall Avenue Landfill.
  • The revised plans allow 10 and 20 story buildings at an urban density that rivals large city urban cores. This is not what the public asked for, nor expected.
  • Waterfront land is being privatized and sold to large developers. This contrary to the desire for public ownership and local development reflected in the policies and guidelines adopted from the Waterfront Futures Group.
  • The public comment tracker is being used as a tool to undermine and de-emphasize the significant concerns being raised through public comment.
  • At the last City Council meeting, the Mayor incorrectly informed the City Council that the Planning Commission was doing a good job of raising public concerns. The Planning Commission, to date, has failed to discuss wildlife and habitat issues, or conflicting land uses planned along the shoreline, despite concerns raised by the public. The Planning Commission is concerned only with profits for developers and ensuring that there is no “proscriptive restrictions” on what private developers can do…. which includes things like historic preservation.

The Planning Commission is still accepting comments on the watefront plans, before they issue a recomendation and forward the proposal to the City Council. Public comment is generally most effective when received earlier in the planning process. If you have comments, you can send them to

About Wendy Harris

Citizen Journalist • Member since Mar 31, 2008

Comments by Readers

Tip Johnson

May 17, 2013

Reposting my comment from Watch What You Say:

I think Kelli’s got some explaining to do.

She is conspiring with the Port to defraud the public of hundreds of millions if not billions in public assets. It is criminal.

By intentionally and illegally manipulating the SEPA review to avoid evaluating the public utility of the ASB integrated water supply/treatment/discharge system, they pretend it doesn’t exit so they can wreck it for a marina that is clearly unneeded by the rate base that will be saddled with the future cost of replacing the capacity.

In the meantime, by pretending it doesn’t exist, they are foreclosing our ability to host living wage jobs that might be recruited with the prospect of water supply and treatment capacity left behind by G-P.  How much does that cost the community?

Then, guess who will be paying to build the marina? Who will pay to clean up the public waterfront for which they are already soliciting development proposals and which they intend to almost completely privatize?

The Port and City are stealing under color of law and someone should be going to jail for this $2 billion conspiracy to defraud the public.

As an additional side benefit, once we send the responsible criminals to prison, there will be quite a few very well-paying jobs suddenly available!