Bellingham moves toward port's position on waterfront trail

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDOctober 15, 2013 

BELLINGHAM - City Council members appear close to accepting a waterfront trail route that will accommodate the Port of Bellingham's efforts to get new industrial tenants for the area in and around the shipping terminal near the end of Cornwall Avenue.

After hearing from Port Executive Director Rob Fix on Monday, Oct. 14, council members seemed to be backing away from an earlier recommendation from the seven-member council's three-member waterfront committee. The committee had recommended that new waterfront plans contain strong language mandating a waterfront trail route that would stay as close to the water's edge as possible before making a short detour around the shipping terminal site.

Fix told the council that putting a trail in that location would cut off the shipping terminal from the port-owned acreage to the north. That would make the adjacent acreage unavailable for a job-creating industry that might need shipping terminal access.

"We need to go after the industrial user first and then figure out where the trail goes through," Fix told the council. "Baby strollers and forklifts don't mix very well."

Council member Jack Weiss asked Fix why an industrial user could not work around a trail through the site. A conveyor belt could carry cargoes over or under such a trail, Weiss suggested.

"Almost anything can be made to work," Fix replied. "It just takes money. ... If you're going under a conveyor belt, you need to wear a hard hat in that area."

Mayor Kelli Linville stressed that while the trail route may not be known, the city is committed to a trail that will enable people to walk or bike from the head of Whatcom Waterway at the mouth of Whatcom Creek all the way to Boulevard Park and beyond. She advised the council to make sure that the trail connection is in the final waterfront plan, without spelling out a route.

Council member Cathy Lehman, a waterfront committee member, said she had pushed for the water's edge trail route because it reflected what she was hearing from citizens. But since she voted for that tougher language in committee, Lehman said she had toured the site again and now has a better understanding of the port's viewpoint. She also noted that citizens want jobs as well as trails.

"I want to give the port a shot to be able to get those jobs that they say are potentially out there," Lehman said.

Weiss wasn't convinced, but Lehman made a motion to change the waterfront plan language back to a more indefinite trail route to accommodate industry.

The motion was shelved after council member Stan Snapp noted that council members Terry Bornemann (on vacation) and Gene Knutson (having back surgery) were not present to share their views.

Council President Seth Fleetwood said he agreed with Lehman's motion and he thought it likely that Knutson and Bornemann would too, but council members unanimously agreed to postpone a decision until all seven council members could vote.

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Reach John Stark at 360-715-2274 or john.stark@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/politics or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

Reach JOHN STARK at john.stark@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2274.

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