About Tip Johnson

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 on the Bellingham City Council and has worked on many community boards and committees. He travelled with the Federal Transit Administration and Department of Commerce on mass transit trade missions in SE Asia and Africa before settling down to focus on keeping public interests at the fore of local government and the course of growth and development.

By: Tip Johnson (167)

Massive Excavation in Archeological Zone Permitted by City Hall


Background: A previous article detailed the absurdity of Bellingham City Hall’s development regulations that are working against a $40 million salmon enhancement effort upstream.  A city permit is allowing the construction of duplexes next to Padden Creek, including an exemption from setbacks on this salmon stream. This highlights City Hall’s lack of review, inaction toward preservation, and previous mistake in assuming the property was un-developable.

17 foot deep excavation hole on bank of Padden Creek.

Well, that’s not all.

From the start, City Hall maintained the project was exempt from review under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) and issued a Declaration of Non-Significance (DNS). This despite being perched on a steep slope of “unconsolidated fill,” a landslide hazard, and within feet of a past (and likely future) Padden Creek channel. They offered reduced setbacks from the stream knowing that in time the project could not meet any setbacks.  They ignored the Channel Migration Zone. The proponent’s consultant found no evidence of wetlands

It turns out, all that unconsolidated fill is in a well-known archeological area, the vicinity of an ancient Indian village. In February of 2018, when the project was just getting started, an astute citizen wrote a city planner and asked: 

“Is it outside of the ancient Indian Village which has a state historical number (45WH47)? Has the site been reviewed?”

The project is at 8th and Larrabee. The village site extends from roughly 6th to 10th streets.

The answer: “No, not been reviewed, thanks for that.” 

The citizen asked, “If it is not, has the appropriate tribe been contacted?”

There was no reply.

So for three and a half years, City Hall knew but did not review, notify, or supervise what in the past few weeks turned into a massive residential excavation in a known archeological zone. Reports are that the pit was 17 feet deep and extended much longer and wider. The excavated dirt was immediately removed to sites known only to the project proponent.

The scene is eerily reminiscent of a similar disaster in Oak Harbor a few years ago. Eric Johnston was in charge of Oak Harbor’s Public Works when he supervised the desecration of Swinomish legacy burial remains. Now, the Larrabee project proceeds with Eric Johnston at the helm of Bellingham’s Public Works.

According to Courthouse News Service, in Oak Harbor, Johnston “…refused to stop a road project after uncovering a burial ground and outrageously offered the excavated soil, filled with bones and grave goods, as "free dirt."

Johnston was quoted, “The work on Pioneer Way is still proceeding on schedule.”

That didn’t last long.

The Swinomish Tribe sought, “damages for violation of Washington's Indian Graves and Records Act, breach of contract, violation of the Shoreline Management Act, negligence, tortious interference with a dead body and emotional distress and outrage.”

The Oak Harbor project was stalled for six weeks.

Similar to the Padden project, the Oak Harbor project area was “in close proximity to a known archaeological site,” warned Lance Wollwage, an archaeologist with the state - just as the concerned citizen here warned, early on.

Johnston got canned in Oak Harbor and then sued. According to the Whidbey News Times, “…the former city engineer…asserted the mayor created a hostile work environment that forced him to quit. Eric Johnston asked for $300,000 but settled for $20,000.” Oak Harbor’s  mayor wished “Johnston well in his new job in Bellingham” and added, “We understand that we are human,” he said. “From now on, when we do make mistakes: A. We admit the fact. B. We apologize. C. We try to figure out how we don’t do it again.” 

Coincidentally, Mr. Johnston, through Public Works, controls the water levels at Lake Padden. They currently prioritize the golf course and swimming/recreational uses over in-stream flows for fish.

Welcome to Bellingham. Is it time for our City Hall to admit the facts, apologize, and correct some patterns of behavior? 

Attached Files

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 [...]

To comment, Log In or Register

Massive Excavation in Archeological Zone Permitted by City Hall

By Tip JohnsonOn Jul 15, 2021

Background: A previous article detailed the absurdity of Bellingham City Hall’s development regulations that are working against a $40 million salmon enhancement effort upstream.  A city permit is allowing [...]

Save the Whales - Bellingham’s $40mm Padden Creek Joke

By Tip JohnsonOn Jun 19, 2021

Orca are an iconic species in the Pacific Northwest.  Everyone wants to save them. The key to their survival is salmon.  This truth applies equally to our indigenous [...]

5 comments, most recent 1 week ago

Will City Double-Down to Kill Public Trail?

By Tip JohnsonOn Jan 24, 2021

Somehow an application to abandon the public’s right to a 26-year old trail in Happy Valley got through the Technical Review Committee (TRC), made it to Hearing Examiner Sharon [...]

3 comments, most recent 6 months ago

“Culture of Fear” at Western

By Tip JohnsonOn Dec 29, 2020

A job at Western might be a cush crib for some, but it’s become something of a horror show for the University’s top watchdog, now dead. An article [...]

Dirty Deal at Douglas and 21st

By Tip JohnsonOn Dec 02, 2020

Update Dec 8: Last night the Bellingham City Council did not give final approval to the street vacation request, but sent it back to the Hearing Examiner for further review. I [...]

10 comments, most recent 7 months ago

Sitting on a Gold Mine?

By Tip JohnsonOn Feb 09, 2020

What if public agencies were sitting on a gold mine, a mineral deposit worth potentially billions? OK, not gold, but a large quantity of a valuable element? The Department of [...]

5 comments, most recent 1 year ago

Vote Like Your Life Depends On It

By Tip JohnsonOn Jan 28, 2020

Almost everyone agrees that health care in USAmerica is broken and too expensive. Our costs are higher than other developed nations but our outcomes no better. In some cases they [...]

Jail Tax: Third Time’s a Charm?

By Tip JohnsonOn Jan 22, 2020

The County Council has started their third attempt to pass the fourth tax since 1998 earmarked for repair or replacement of our jail - effort seven for four taxes. Sheriff Elfo’[...]

1 comment, most recent 1 year ago

The Jail - Pentagon Hammers and Brick Walls

By Tip JohnsonOn Oct 25, 2019

There is so much more voters should know about the County’s continuing quest for a new jail. But ballots are out and life is too short to chase through [...]

1 comment, most recent 1 year ago

Seth Fleetwood for Mayor

By Tip JohnsonOn Oct 15, 2019

I’m a little baffled by the claim that single family zoning is exclusionary and therefore racist. Zoning is a government police power and was always intended to be exclusionary. [...]

8 comments, most recent 1 year ago

Whatcom Justice Reform: The Big Fib

By Tip JohnsonOn Sep 30, 2019

A LITTLE BACKGROUND A proposed tax for a new jail has failed twice at the polls, the second failing by a ten times greater margin than the first. Yet the [...]

2 comments, most recent 1 year ago

Of Broken Roads and Re-invented Wheels

By Tip JohnsonOn Jan 18, 2019

I recently ran into Harry Skinner, long-time architect of some local reknown, now an octogenarian. His decades of design and planning experience have left him hard pressed to feel the [...]

14 comments, most recent 2 years ago

Breaking News: City Council Changes

By Tip JohnsonOn Sep 01, 2018

Roxanne Murphy has apparently announced her resignation from the Bellingham City Council on Facebook. Murphy notes she’s going to be paid substantially more for taking a position as an [...]

1 comment, most recent 2 years ago


By Tip JohnsonOn Apr 09, 2018

Editor’s Note: Mercury Victims of Whatcom County is an anonymous, loose-knit organization that credits itself with having delivered the final blow that prompted Georgia-Pacific to end its Bellingham operations. [...]

6 comments, most recent 3 years ago

Pig in a Poke - Budget Heist and Land Scam?

By Tip JohnsonOn Nov 04, 2017

A poke is a sack or bag. It has a French origin as ‘poque’. Pig in a poke refers to when something is sold or bought without the buyer knowing [...]

1 comment, most recent 3 years ago

Something Stinks at the Post Point Wastewater Treatment Plant

By Tip JohnsonOn May 10, 2017

Something smells, but it is not just the screened sewage pouring into Bellingham Bay since early Saturday morning. A report at the City of Bellingham’s website says a “pipe [...]

3 comments, most recent 4 years ago

Coming for your wallet - That persistent jail thing

By Tip JohnsonOn Jan 05, 2017

Many remain amazed at the county administration’s determination to build a too-big jail outside the city - the sheriff’s and executive’s bid for a big, flat, rural [...]

1 comment, most recent 4 years ago

That Big, Flat, Rural Jail or Regional Detention Center?

By Tip JohnsonOn Dec 29, 2016

I don’t really know Amy Glasser, but I’m starting to like her. She recently sent a letter to the County Council, asking some pointed questions about the highly [...]

Let the Tyranny Commence - The Revenge Against Chiara D’Angelo Bill

By Tip JohnsonOn Dec 22, 2016

I have usually been slow to criticize Doug Ericksen. I’ve watched him be a hard worker, showing up for issues on TV Washington, doing his homework, knowing his talking [...]

6 comments, most recent 4 years ago

The missing Link

By Tip JohnsonOn Dec 15, 2016

Bellingham periodically considers new “signature events”. These typically involve lodging taxes and are designed to encourage overnight stays by tourists Last time around, it ended up being the Bellingham Waterfront [...]

3 comments, most recent 4 years ago