There is very little to like about the COB waterfront plan, as far as substance or procedure. And this, I believe, results from looking at the waterfront from an outdated economic paradigm where the focus is on extracting local experience. According to research, today's tourist wants to spend money on an authentic and enhanced local experience.
Instead of giving up our public tidelands and access to water in exchange for crappy, dense, environmentally harmful shoreline development, more roads, traffic and blocked public views, we could have developed the nearshore and shoreline as an eco-tourism Mecca.
How practical is this? According to WDFW, very. Wildlife viewing is the #1 outdoor activity in the U.S., and the fastest growing form of recreation, exceeding hiking, skiing and golfing. By necessity, it largely occurs on public land. WDFW concludes that wildlife watching is an untapped economic resource.
Over $1.7 billion is spent annually in Washington on wildlife watching activities, mostly in rural areas, supporting more than 21,000 jobs, making it second only to Boeing, and 5.2 times larger than Microsoft's employment in Washington. Wildlife watching yields $426.9 million in job income and generates $56.9 million in state and $67.4 million in federal tax revenues each year.
Compared to commodities, money spent on wildlife watching is second only to the combined value of all field crops. Its value is larger than the value of livestock; and larger than the combined value of all fruits, nuts and berries produced annually!
We had the largest breeding colony of Caspian terns on the North American coast a few years ago. I say “had” because the port harassed the birds away from the waterfront site. (The same one we were told had zero ecological function so that any development was a net gain.) While they were here, people were traveling, by word of mouth alone, to see the birds, and scientists from Oregon came here to study them.
How many urban creeks support spawning salmon, and the stealth harbor seals that slip in to take a big bite out of what a recreational fisherman has caught? Frustration for fisherman translates into delight for tourists, and more work for locals. And few shoreline parks allow people to observe harlequin ducks, Barrow's goldeneye, and playful otters within a relatively close range.
We could have developed the waterfront as a natural shoreline, a sight more rare and precious than the usual waterfront development one finds in Puget Sound. The waterfront was already publicly owned, and we were already obligated to cleanup the contaminated sites. We could have protected wildlife and habitat and provided the public with the parks they desired, all at a significantly reduced cost… so reduced, in fact, that no fire sale to developers would have been needed. And perhaps that is exactly why this option was never on the table.
How do you spell “missed opportunity?”