Port of Bellingham's Stoner defends waterfront plans for wildlife, lagoon

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 17, 2013 

bellingham waterfront wastewater lagoon

The former Georgia-Pacific wastewater lagoon on July 22, 2008. Port of Bellingham officials hope to create a new marina inside the lagoon as part of a plan to redevelop Bellingham's downtown waterfront.

THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

BELLINGHAM- "We're doing a little myth-busting here," Port Environmental Director Mike Stoner told Port of Bellingham commissioners Tuesday, Sept. 17, as he delivered an update on the waterfront planning process.

Stoner said he has heard what he believes are misconceptions about waterfront redevelopment plans that are now getting final review by both port commissioners and the Bellingham City Council. Those plans will guide the long-term future of 237 mostly empty waterfront acres, much of which is owned by the port. More than half of that acreage was the former site of a Georgia-Pacific Corp. pulp and paper mill.

Stoner took pains to rebut two key criticisms of waterfront plans that have been heard in recent weeks: Not enough attention is being paid to habitat restoration for wildlife, and the port has never studied alternatives to plans for eventual installation of a marina inside the old G-P water treatment lagoon's massive trapezoidal breakwater.

Habitat restoration has been a key part of the port's waterfront cleanup efforts since the launch of the Bellingham Bay Pilot Project in 1999, he said, and cleanup projects now being drafted for the central waterfront also will provide better living standards for the bay's wildlife.

On Whatcom Waterway, cleanup work will include removal of hundreds of tons of creosote piling and dilapidated docks that now shade shorelines and discourage salmon access, Stoner said. Bulkheads and debris will give way to a more natural shoreline.

At the Cornwall Beach area, site of an old city landfill, the tainted waste will be sealed off from the bay, and a new shoreline of rock and sand will be built.

In another habitat project outside the central waterfront planning area, Stoner noted that the port expects to begin an $800,000 habitat restoration project near the mouth of Squalicum Creek this October, removing bulkheads, pilings and debris and replacing them with shallow water areas that should be more hospitable for both juvenile salmon and adult fish returning to the creek to spawn.

Turning to the port's long-cherished idea of a new marina inside the wastewater lagoon, Stoner contended that port officials did a thorough review of alternative uses for it in 2003, before deciding on the marina. He argued that the marina would generate marine service jobs if it is used for pleasure boats, but it also could be used for commercial fishing vessels when and if it is built.

Stoner also said that developers have told port officials that a marina would help make commercial development more successful.

That worried Port Commissioner Mike McAuley. McAuley said he wants to be sure that commercial development doesn't crowd out waterfront industry.

Port Commissioner Jim Jorgensen observed that in early waterfront redevelopment discussions, commercial and residential development tended to get more emphasis than industry, but that has shifted, and the current plans call for continued industrial use at the port's shipping terminal and adjacent Log Pond area on Whatcom Waterway.

McAuley said he wanted to make sure that the Log Pond area remains available for industry, especially industries that might need the extra real estate next to the port's shipping terminal.

But he also noted that the Log Pond - once a place where G-P floated logs headed for the pulp mill - is now popular with harbor seals and geese, and he hopes it stays that way, even if that means dropping current plans for a public trail along the water's edge.

"I would love it if we did not extend the trail into the Log Pond area," McAuley said. "There's almost no human intrusion in there ... and animals really like it."

Jorgensen noted that the trail is a popular idea. Some people are complaining that the trail may not extend all the way to Cornwall Beach, if industrial and shipping activity blocks the way.

"There's some people that really disagree with you, that's for sure," Jorgensen told McAuley.

ATTEND A MEETING

The Bellingham City Council's waterfront committee has scheduled more discussion of redevelopment plans from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Monday, Sept. 23, and 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. Sept. 30.

Reach John Stark at 360-715-2274 or john.stark@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics Blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldpolitics.

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