Whatcom council may not fund Bellingham's Costco stormwater project after all


Costco on Bakerview, Bellingham

Costco appears to be moving forward on a new store that would be built across from Fred Meyer on West Bakerview Road, in the wooded area on the left side of the photo as seen on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013 in Bellingham.


BELLINGHAM - Some members of the Whatcom County Council are having "buyer's remorse" after voting unanimously earlier this month to fund a stormwater treatment project that would benefit Costco and other new developments near an already congested Bakerview Road interchange.

They didn't have a problem with the stormwater project. Rather, they were concerned the traffic the new developments would bring would be too much for the interchange to handle.

Bellingham's mayor said in an interview the city will improve the roads in that area to handle a considerable amount of increased traffic.

Council member Sam Crawford said on Tuesday, Oct. 29, that he was ready to ask council to reconsider its 7-0 vote on Oct. 8 to give the city $2.5 million for the regional stormwater treatment system. The project would be large enough to handle runoff from 80 acres of commercial and residential development, and new city roads in the area.

Within the 80 acres are a proposed 160,000-square-foot Costco that could open in early 2015, and a 142,000-square-foot shopping center next door to Costco, expected to open in 2016.

The money comes from the county's Economic Development Improvement program, which gets about $3 million a year in state sales tax revenue. The city would repay the EDI fund $1.68 million, while the rest would be a grant.

The council should pull back its support of a stormwater project that would "enable" development near the interchange, Crawford said, until council has more assurances from the city that it can handle the increased traffic.

"The city and the county ... need to have a better discussion of what the impacts are anticipated to be and how we are to alleviate those impacts," Crawford said.

Council has been critical of a $3 million improvement this summer to the Bakerview-Interstate 5 interchange that should increase traffic capacity by 70 percent, according to city officials.

The Bakerview work, which includes a second westbound lane on the overpass, a second left-turn lane out of Fred Meyer, and a right-turn lane on Airport Drive at Maplewood Avenue, has been called a "Band-Aid" by council member Barbara Brenner.

The council decided on Oct. 22 that it was too late to renege on $300,000 in EDI money for the project itself but targeted the stormwater project as a way to express disapproval over what Crawford called the city's "poor planning" for significant increases in traffic in the busy commercial area.

"I had buyer's remorse over approving that regional stormwater EDI funding," funding,” Whatcom County Councilman Ken Mann said at the Oct. 22 meeting, then paused and said, "I kind of wish I had called the mayor of Bellingham before I just said that."

Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville did hear from Mann shortly after. She said in an interview that the city has a good case to bring to the County Council in a presentation scheduled for Nov. 12.

Linville acknowledged that Brenner was right in her "Band-Aid" comment. Bakerview will need more than the current improvement project to accommodate traffic from more than 300,000 square feet of retail with more than 1,500 parking spaces, new homes and five new hotels.

"Will (the current project) be the total solution to the problem? Absolutely not," Linville said. She's already asked state legislators and local members of Congress to fund a major interchange project, she said.

"It would behoove the city and the county to have a joint effort to make sure this interchange ... would get a little more attention than it does," the mayor said.


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Source: City of Bellingham

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics Blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldpolitics.

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