BELLINGHAM - A vote to request the transfer of 8,844 acres of state land around Lake Whatcom to Whatcom County for use as a park has been postponed indefinitely so the proposal can be made more specific.
The Whatcom County Council voted 6-1 on Tuesday, Sept. 25, to follow the course suggested by Executive Jack Louws in a Sept. 17 memo. Before the council votes on the transfer, Louws said, county staff should develop recreation, environmental and forestry management plans for the proposed parkland, along with a budget for park development and operations.
The decision Tuesday cancels an anticipated vote on the land transfer, formally called a reconveyance, that was expected at the Oct. 9 council meeting.
Developing the plans and budgets could take four to six months, Louws said. The council did not commit to a deadline to finish the work.
Councilman Carl Weimer voted against delaying the decision. He has stated his support for the transfer and an eventual park on two 4,000-plus-acre areas, west and east of Lake Whatcom.
Others on the council agree with opponents, including people in the timber industry, who say they haven't been able to participate in the discussions leading up to the transfer. Conversion of the state forestland to a county park would take timber out of commercial production, they say.
"This is a huge timber county in the state of Washington. A lot of money comes out of this timber, still. They don't want to recognize that," Dick Whitmore, a retired forester and active opponent of the transfer, said in an August interview.
Supporters of the transfer say it would help protect water quality in Lake Whatcom - the source of Bellingham's drinking water - and enrich local recreation.
Council Chairwoman Kathy Kershner said the next few months should be spent not just developing a park plan but also exploring other options, such as keeping the land under the management of the Department of Natural Resources and possibly working with the state on a recreation plan.
Council member Ken Mann, who supports the transfer, said he agreed with the additional planning because otherwise the vote would be taken under a cloud of misinformation created by people on both sides of the debate. The delay would clear their suspicions and result in "an agreed upon set of facts," he said.