BELLINGHAM - The city is trying to work out environmental issues with Lummi Nation in order to clear the way for construction of an over-water walkway between Boulevard Park and a new park planned for the Cornwall Beach area to the north.
City planners have envisioned the walkway as part of the city's parks and trails system since at least 2008, when the city Parks Department commissioned a feasibility study on the project. The city applied for a variety of required permits in 2010 and has since received some, but not all, of those permits.
The city already has money set aside to cover the estimated $6.3 million cost, including $4 million in Greenways money from a voter-approved property tax levy, and a $2.14 million federal transportation grant.
Once completed, the walkway would provide a key link in a waterfront pedestrian-and-bike route stretching from the south end of Cornwall Avenue all the way to Fairhaven. Once waterfront redevelopment is complete farther north, the trail could extend all the way to the mouth of Whatcom Creek.
But because the walkway would require pilings and other structures across a stretch of the bay, the city needs approval from Lummi Nation. Federal court rulings have recognized that tribes with treaty fishing rights have the authority to block any encroachment on their traditional fishing grounds. That includes both obstruction of fishing activity and destruction of habitat such as eelgrass that nurtures salmon and other marine life.
Mayor Kelli Linville says it appears that Lummi officials may be willing to work something out with the city to let the walkway proceed. That would mean reaching agreement on a plan in which the city would take steps to improve the bay environment in other areas, so that the bay is better, rather than worse, for marine life and tribal fisheries once the walkway is built.
Linville said tribal officials already have submitted a proposal to the city that calls for creation of new eelgrass beds to make up for those that would be lost in the walkway area, and the removal of a number of existing older creosote-treated pilings around the bay.
Linville wants to meet with tribal officials to discuss that proposal and suggest changes. She added that the tribe's approach appears workable.
"If we're impacting the environment, we want to mitigate for that," she said.
Lummi Nation Chairman Tim Ballew said the tribe informed the city of its concerns about the project years ago.
At this point, there appears to be a breakdown in communications between the mayor and the tribe. Linville said she has been trying to schedule a meeting with Ballew but has so far been unsuccessful. Ballew said he has been waiting to hear from the city.
"The Lummi Nation informed the mayor's office several years ago that the tribe has several concerns regarding the project," Ballew said in a written statement. "The tribe has invited the mayor's office to sit down and discuss options that meet the needs of everyone who calls Bellingham Bay home. Unfortunately the Nation has not heard a response from the mayor's office, nor has it received any information that can help the Nation reach a different conclusion. I encourage Mayor Linville to call the tribe."
If the problems can be ironed out, the walkway could be under construction as soon as 2015.
GO TO A MEETING
What: Second of three public meetings on master plan for Cornwall Beach Park.
When: 7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 20.
Where: Bellingham City Council chambers at City Hall, 210 Lottie St.
Reach JOHN STARK at email@example.com or call 715-2274.