BELLINGHAM - Judging from past votes and statements by Whatcom County Council members, there are probably enough votes to approve the transfer of 8,844 acres of state-managed timberland around Lake Whatcom to the county, for use as a park.
But council member Barbara Brenner, who opposed the land transfer in a key preliminary vote in May 2012, continued to fight the proposed park at a meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 29, coming up with alternative plans and urging that park opposition receive a hearing.
In any case, a vote on the land transfer, or reconveyance, isn't imminent. Council member Bill Knutzen, another opponent, is likely to call for a fourth park planning meeting before the vote. Initially, three meetings were scheduled.
At the second planning meeting Tuesday, Knutzen raised concerns about slope stability and the county's liability for water pollution caused by landslides.
"I don't know what the county's liability is for this kind of stuff," Knutzen said. "What will (the Department of) Ecology require of the county?"
If his concerns remain after the third meeting, on Feb. 12, the council could schedule a fourth.
Other council members said Ecology wasn't likely to pursue the county for naturally occurring pollution from landslides if the county sets aside nearly 9,000 acres of commercial timberland as a low-impact park limited to activities such as hiking, hunting, bicycling and camping.
Mike McFarlane, the county's parks and recreation director, said the aim of the proposed park is to protect Lake Whatcom water quality while providing more recreational opportunities. The state manages the acreage now for commercial timber harvesting, with some of the revenue going to the county government, the Mount Baker School District and other taxing districts.
To Brenner, the discussion Tuesday about how the county would manage the forest seemed like a waste of time, given that the state already operates under a landscape plan that requires conservation measures and provides for recreation.
She also said time should be given at the planning meetings to people in forestry, who have opposed the land transfer as a threat to their jobs.
"I'd like to have a meeting where we have the other side of the issue," Brenner said. "I want to find out from the forestry community whether our landscape plan pretty much solves most of the things we've been talking about."
The Feb. 12 meeting will be devoted strictly to the proposed park's budget. Annual costs for park operations would be about $150,000 a year, McFarlane said.