Bellingham council open to other uses than marina for wastewater lagoon

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDOctober 29, 2013 

BELLINGHAM - A new marina and the fate of old Georgia-Pacific Corp. buildings were among the issues discussed Monday, Oct. 28, as City Council members continued the time-consuming job of fine-tuning waterfront redevelopment plans.

Council members have said they hope to complete their review of the plans by the end of 2013.

At the urging of council members Jack Weiss and Michael Lilliquist, the council voted 4-1 to change waterfront master plan language to indicate that G-P’s wastewater treatment lagoon might be used for something other than the marina that the Port of Bellingham has envisioned there for many years.

The draft before the council stated that the lagoon “should” be converted to a marina. On a 4-1 vote, the council voted to change the language to read that the lagoon “may” be converted to a marina.

Stan Snapp and Seth Fleetwood voted with Weiss and Lilliquist to approve the change, while Terry Bornemann voted no.

Council members decided against plan language suggested by a local coalition of environmental groups and labor unions, who have argued that the port should now investigate other possible uses for the lagoon. Their preferred language declared that “an assessment of the highest and best use of the (lagoon) should be considered, including as a hazardous waste disposal site, a marina, a stormwater treatment site, and as natural habitat.”

Lilliquist contended changing the marina reference to “may” instead of “should” was important. In his view, the City Council had never before endorsed the marina plan, and he wasn’t ready to do so now.

"I'm not opposing the marina," Lilliquist said. "I'm just not prepared to endorse it."

Bornemann replied that port officials have always been clear about their intent to use the lagoon for a marina, and City Council members and other city officials have been receptive.

"This has always been an integral part of the whole plan," Bornemann said.

When the port was considering acquisition of the lagoon and the rest of G-P's waterfront acreage in 2004, the availability of the lagoon's big breakwater as a ready-made marina was a key attraction, Bornemann said. As he recalled it, city officials encouraged the port to proceed with the land acquisition because they were eager to see the idle industrial site in public ownership for eventual redevelopment.

Assistant City Attorney Amy Kraham said the City Council had effectively endorsed the use of the lagoon for a marina on several occasions, in other legal agreements between port and city about how redevelopment and environmental cleanup of the site should be done.

"It's probably inaccurate to say that the City Council has never endorsed the marina in the past," Kraham said.

Lilliquist said he wasn't trying to keep the port from building a marina. Lilliquist asked City Economic Development Manager Tara Sundin if the change to plan language would make it more difficult for the port to proceed with a marina in the lagoon. Sundin said it would not, and the council then voted to make the change.

Bornemann noted that when the port took over G-P waterfront real estate in 2005, it was widely assumed that the marina would be one of the first things to be built. Since then, thanks to economic upheavals, there is no longer any firm estimate of how soon construction on a marina could begin, and it is not expected for several years.

Weiss later made an unsuccessful attempt to add language to the plan that would stress the importance of saving the old red brick mill buildings remaining on the site. Among other things, Weiss wanted to make sure that "environmental and social factors" would be considered in deciding whether any of the old buildings could be worth saving.

Sundin said it was too late to add new factors to that decision, beyond the factors already evaluated in earlier studies determining that refitting the old buildings for other uses, and making them earthquake-safe, would likely be too expensive. That didn't please Weiss.

"I guess I'm ranting about it knowing that we can't do anything," Weiss said. "It's giving a green light to go in and take down all those buildings down there."

No other council member was willing to revisit the issue.

Much of the first portion of the meeting was consumed by a discussion of whether to change the word "encourage" to "emphasize" at several points in the plan. One such example: "Emphasize (instead of encourage) use of non-motorized transportation modes."

Weiss had suggested making the word substitution there and several other places, but as the discussion of the merits of the two words dragged on, he repented.

"I'm sorry that I even brought this up," Weiss said. "I really am. ... I really think we have a lot of other things that we should be doing. I really don't care anymore. I really don't."

Bornemann suggested adding new language labeling non-motorized transportation as "a priority." The council unanimously agreed, and left "encourage" in place everywhere else.

The plan language about the lagoon that was changed in a 4-1 vote was corrected Oct. 29, 2013.

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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