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Update on Port & Council Public Process

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Posted Thursday, April 23, 11:25 pm

This last Wednesday I reported my observations of the Monday, April 20 joint Port-City Council meeting. I expressed my concern that some council members reported they had not received the proposed planning framework (map) and planning assumptions until shortly before the meeting (see my post below). After receiving comments that I might not have all the facts, I decided to pull the post while I checked out some new information and reviewed the audio (thank you, City, for the on-line recording).

One correction I wish to make: the City Council and Port Commission voted to adopt the proposed planning framework and planning assumptions so that the next planning activities can move forward. In the previous post, I had mistakenly called that approval “the latest waterfront accord.” Other than that correction, I stand by my observations of the meeting.

What is new and was not known to me at the April 20 meeting is that City Council members and other officials had received information briefings on the planning framework/map and verbal descriptions of the planning assumptions from City staff. These briefings started in late March. Some Council members feel satisfied with these, others do not. Individual Council members have to make and express their own judgments about the adequacy of those briefings and materials of course, but the meetings did occur.

As was noted in the April 20 meeting by several Port, City and Council officials, this is a very large, complex and lengthy process and development effort. While establishing and following intricate processes can sometimes appear to be blocking progress, following mutually acceptable processes is essential to keeping the public informed, involved and supportive. It is my opinion that the City Council and Port need to work on developing and improving protocols for how they will work together. For example, these protocols would benefit from having criteria for submission timelines and packet contents to assure adequate review of materials prior to votes and other actions. Additionally, standard and accepted project management practices would help avoid confusion about where a particular meeting or action is in the overall process, as happened on Monday.

In short, all the stakeholders, including the public, need to know we are in the same auditorium if not on the same sheet of music.

Below Posted Wednesday, April 22, 10:45am

That should have been the headline from Monday’s joint session of the City Council and the Port Commission. Over the concerns and objections of City Council members Jack Weiss and Barbara Ryan, the Port Commission and majority of the City Council approved the latest waterfront accord. This, even though some Council Members had received the proposed accord only hours earlier. Additionally, the Bellingham Historic Preservation Commission called an emergency session last Friday over concerns about the impact of the new street grid being proposed in the accord on some of the candidate historic structures, according to Ryan.

The nub of the situation is that a significant vote was taken with no time for Council Members to review the proposal, or collect public comment or question and debate the proposal, and over the concerns of an official Bellingham Commission. Assurances were made that the public would be able to comment on the accord in future meetings. The problem is that those will only be comments which can be easily accepted or rejected. Those comments will not have the weight of the healthy and open debate that we expect from our City Council prior to major decisions being made. Also note that there was no public comment period at the Monday meeting even though the meeting hard a large number of citizens attending. I would have expected the Port Commissioners and City Council members to have discussed a way to resolve the concerns expressed.

Staff and Mayor Pike highlighted a real sense of urgency for action, reportedly to assure that Bellingham doesn’t lose the opportunity for some federal funding. It can be noted that the urgency has been created by the too long and adversarial process between the Port and the City over the last year and a half, and not by a reluctance of the community to contribute ideas and express and resolve concerns. Do we want to subvert and possibly corrupt open and transparent public processes? Do we want to stifle debate and deliberation by our policy making elected bodies? In my opinion, the answer is we do not.

What is important? The success of the waterfront redevelopment ultimately will depend on the support of our community. To a large extent, the future of the men, women and children of our community is on the line. Can we afford to lose their trust and support by undermining careful and due deliberation. I think not.

About Ham Hayes

Closed Account • Member since Jan 11, 2008

Ham lived in Bellingham while writing for NW Citizen from 2007 to 2011.

Comments by Readers

Larry Horowitz

Apr 22, 2009

The port and city have a dilemma, and because taxpayers fund both entities, so do we.

The port and city need to steamroll ahead in order to obtain some federal funding.  Unfortunately, the plan they are moving forward with is unsound based on current economic conditions.  The whole situation reminds me of investors who got ?taken? by tax shelters, even though the investments themselves made little economic sense.  Is the port?s plan to develop a marina - even as yachts are being abandoned and the city has a taskforce investigating our options when fossil fuels are no longer available - an investment that makes economic sense?  Would any lender worth his salt loan money for a marina in today?s marketplace?  Should we as taxpayers do so?

How much will the rush to potentially qualify for some ?free? money cost us in the long run?

The planning and economic paradigm we now face is entirely different than it was just a year ago.  It?s time to rethink the entire waterfront development based on this new paradigm.  Successful businesses know when to scrap plans that are no longer feasible.  If governments hope to stay afloat, they will need to learn this as well.

As Ham claims, due diligence is required as we move forward with this substantial project.  Investing hundreds of millions of dollars for infrastructure on a plan that makes little economic sense could wipe out both the port and the city.  Have we already forgotten about the ?Whoops? debacle of 1983 when the Washington Public Power Supply System (WPPSS) defaulted on $2.25 billion in bonds used to finance the construction of abandoned nuclear power plants?  How many photos of abandoned yachts and marinas do we need to see before we get the picture?


Scott Wicklund

Apr 22, 2009

Herald (4/21/09) has some information on the Meeting scheduled for April 29 at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal to “provide information and listen to public opinion.”  I hope enough folks show up to tell them what they think our money should be spent on.  If no one speaks on this, the well paid staff will press ahead as usual.  It is important to build a record that can be reviewed by the “stimulus providers” so that they know the project as proposed by POB is not wanted when so many factors are being ignored.  The mercury in the waterway is there to stay under current plans while the logical place to sequester it is converted to a big yacht basin.  Bellingham history will suffer the wrecking ball for more of the dim witted architecture of POB consultants.
I could ramble on, others are more coherent so I won’t.  But it’s a sure bet Bellingham’s share of stimulus funds will be gobbled up by this boondoggle if no one speaks out.


Tip Johnson

Apr 24, 2009

I hastily posted a few links and was going follow up with comments on the original article, but put it off.  Then it disappeared. I figured I’d just have to comment on its removal. Except now it’s back.  Is that a flip-flop? Now I can comment on both.

Why would an article disappear from NWCitizen? I’m guessing someone got their knickers in a knot and sent disturbing perturbations crashing across the boundary between political discussion and social approval. Can I remove articles I post from my writers account? I don’t think so.  That means it went upstairs. The question is whose important knickers gagged Ham for a day and why? Why would Ham re-post his opinion with a lot of wiffle-waffle, irrelevant explanation?

I watched (yawn, some of) the special Joint City/Port meeting to adopt or approve, well, something about the waterfront. But what was approved, adopted or whatever?  Was it part of a widely disseminated public participation process?

According to the Council Agenda of April 20, 2009 - Special Joint meeting of the Bellingham City Council and Port of Bellingham Commission, the Summary Statement says the meeting’s purpose is to present “priorities and options” that “leaders and staff from various stakeholders” have been disscussing since 3/4/2009. The Recommended Action is to “provide direction to staff”.  The Agenda title calls for a presentation on “THE PROPOSED FRAMEWORK FOR WATERFRONT MASTER PLANNING PROCESS”.

Additional Council materials are available here. But you won’t find any proposal.

Unlike other council agendas, usually brimming with eye-glazing background materials for even the most mundane decisions, this one remarkable lacked any attachments, tersely providing that there would be “documents available at meeting”.

Here are the documents that weren’t available for the Council to study before the meeting. I can’t blame some council members for balking. It’s one thing to have sub-quorum meetings to discuss direction and another to only see the final documents at the last minute, especially doing business with the Port.  If the documents had been available, they should have been published in the Agenda and available to the public in advance of the meeting.

In summary, the proposal is to “adopt the proposed Planning Framework and Assumptions as a basis…for further public review and consideration”, including:
+ Amending the Interlocal Agreement to include an “estimated schedule for completing the Master Plan, FEIS, Development Agreement and Implementation Agreement”
+ “Creat(ing) a draft Master Plan…based on the proposed planning framework and planning assumptions”,
+ Evaluating the new plan as the “preferred alternative for completion of a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Waterfront District”,
+ Exempting projects from environmental review if they “conform to the features
analyzed and mitigation required in the FEIS”
+ “Complete(ing)...draft agreements…, including, by way of example” quite a number of things along with “other requirements”, and to
+ “Develop a clear and efficient process for design review to
provide certainty…in The Waterfront District”

The adopted proposal includes “PLANNING FRAMEWORK ASSUMPTIONS”.  These are for a 30 to 40 year plan that:
+ Is “flexible and predictable but within a defined framework”,
+ Is “feasible and realistic from an engineering/construction perspective”, meaning cost-effective,
+ Distills these four principles from the entire Waterfront Futures Group effort:
(1) “Reinforce the inherent qualities of each place on the waterfront”,
(2) “Restore the health of land and water”,
(3) “Improve waterfront access”,
(4) “Promote a healthy and dynamic waterfront economy (via flexible zoning and improved permitting)”,
+ “Create(s) an economic lift to downtown Bellingham” while:
1) Incrementally adding 6,000,000 ft2 of upscale retail/condominium development,
2) Planning streets that “enhance the waterfront experience through effective solar orientation”,
3) Pushing the railroad toward downtown, as close to the “eastern edge of the site as possible”, and
4) Building 200 ft high towers.

The adopted proposal includes “AREAS OF CONCEPTUAL AGREEMENT”, including agreements to agree to:
+ Reaffirm “agreements and amendments from 2004 to 2009”,
+ Affirm that “a new community marina” should include “public park and shoreline
habitat features”
, and
+ “Explore alternative planning options if WWU is unable to move forward with plans for its waterfront development”.

This is all pretty boring stuff, but important. 

We know the public process is a sham. The Port has become a master of bait and switch on shifting sands.  Their last marina proposal included a fisherman’s market pier, a do-it-youself boatyard and a community boating center, none of whch amenities were ever developed.

The Port is now asking for approval of a “community marina”, formerly a “clean ocean marina”, that won’t be clean, won’t serve the community’s boating needs and is included as a prominent feature of the No Action Alternative of their Environmental Impact Statement. Is the marina part of this plan or not?  If it is, it needs to be included in the environmental review for the waterfront master plan. Including it in the No Action Alternative has shielded the Port from studying whether we need the ASB lagoon for future industrial, stormwater or combined sewer overflow treatment, or integrating the lagoon’s existing mid-bay outfall and approved mixing zone into long-range priorities for restoring our nearshore habitat. Including the marina in this “agreement” is another ploy to put it officially on the map.

The marina is just one point. This is a rich lode to mine. There are issues oozing out of the waterfront quagmire. Voters want an alternative to incumbents that produce this shabby work and eagerly bilk taxpayers without understanding their needs and without regard for the public’s interests.  Voters want candidates that know the issues, have some firepower and will stick to their guns.  It’s OK to learn and develop better ideas based upon evidence, but it’s bad form to falter or sway in the face of important knicker-knotters that value servile compliance.


Ham Hayes

Apr 24, 2009


To be sure of my observations and fair in my opinions, I chose to pull my post temporarily.  Those are the values I hold. I have reposted the original and added new information, recommendations and opinion.  The words responsible and mindful come to mind rather than servile. 

Since I am running for Port Commission this year, my goal is to offer the public a fresh and thoughtful alternative to the current direction of Port policy.  Open public process and involvement is a major part of my platform.  I will continue to listen to all, observe, comment and make recommendations based on my assessment and judgment. I trust the voters will give due consideration to that.

Truly thanks for your contributions to the dialog.


John Servais

Apr 24, 2009

The Gristle is worth reading on this same topic.  Pick up a copy of this week’s Cascadia Weekly or use the link in the right column, under Local media, to read it online.  The article is titled “Flat Earth”.


Scott Wicklund

Apr 24, 2009

I googled “Bellingham Bay Cleanup” to find the DOE site.  There is a lot to review.  In a nutshell, the Bay mercury has been broadcast over a much wider area during the period that the treatment lagoon was used with the deep water outfall.  That is why you still see the barge out there taking samples.
But the cleanup plan really sells us short, because the Port refuses to consider the lagoon for any use other than a marina.  I hope others more familiar with this can comment to explain how the “do nothing, build marina” alternative now dominates over all other alternatives.