Young protesters turn out for Trump at Lynden rally
He was candidate Donald Trump when he visited Lynden in May 2016. Some six months later, he was elected the 45th president of the United States.
The Bellingham Herald went all in during the visit and covered every angle of the campaign stop, making it one of the most popular stories of the year.
Others made the list, too, such as the Haggen/Albertsons transaction, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rejecting a needed permit for the proposed coal terminal at Cherry Point, changes coming to north Bellingham, and eight children hospitalized with a mystery illness.
Oh, and there’s the opening of the new – and bigger – Costco store and the inspection failure of several rentals near Western Washington University .
The following are the top 10 local news stories of the year based on our online readership, in no particular order:
They loved him, they loathed him, they all came for Trump campaign rally in Lynden
Donald J. Trump stopped in Lynden early during his campaign, and the Republican presidential candidate was greeted by thousands of supporters and hundreds of protesters at the Northwest Washington Fairgrounds.
The May 7 event was peaceful overall, though tense at times as both sides squared off across from each other – chanting and yelling – on Kok Road on a hot and sunny Saturday afternoon. Protesters also were on Front Street and three were cited when they tried to block Trump’s motorcade on Guide Meridian south of Lynden.
More than 5,000 people were able to get inside to see Trump speak at the grandstand, while hundreds more were turned away because it had reached capacity.
Trump’s appearance in Lynden drew people from around the region, and his stop marked the first time in more than a decade that a candidate from one of the two major parties had campaigned in Whatcom County.
On Nov. 7, 2003, Democrat Dennis Kucinich spoke at Western Washington University during a campaign swing through the state. A few years earlier, on Feb. 25, 2000, Democrat Bill Bradley held a rally at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal during his primary race against fellow Democrat Al Gore.
Local law enforcement and other agencies from Western Washington helped provide security – at a total cost of $306,000, with $129,000 of that for different agencies in Whatcom County.
Whatcom County’s government sent a letter to the Trump campaign and Republican organizers, asking that its share of the costs be reimbursed. It hasn’t received a response.
Army Corps rejects Cherry Point coal terminal
Five years into a renewed push to put the largest coal export terminal in North America at Cherry Point, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rejected a needed permit in a major victory for Lummi Nation treaty rights.
The corps issued its decision on May 9 that building the Gateway Pacific Terminal pier would impact the Lummi Nation’s treaty-protected fishing rights, and therefore the project could not be permitted.
That move was soon followed by state Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark denying GPT owner SSA Marine’s application for an aquatic land lease from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.
In August, the Whatcom County Council passed a temporary moratorium on any new applications to ship unrefined fossil fuels through Cherry Point, including some materials such as propane and butane in the definition of “unrefined” fuels. The council has asked its Planning Commission to study a permanent change to county plans that could prevent any future export of unrefined fuels there, including coal.
In September, the County Council approved a contract extension with environmental consultant CH2M Hill to archive the work that had been done so far on the draft environmental impact study for the terminal, so the work could be picked up again in the future if needed.
The same month, the Lummi Nation asked DNR to incorporate a 45-acre marine “cutout” set aside for the proposed coal terminal into the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve, which could prevent development of a fourth pier at Cherry Point. That decision could be made before the end of the year.
Mystery illness in kids, including one Whatcom child, stirs fear in parents
Whatcom County parents were alarmed when news broke in late October of children admitted to Seattle Children’s Hospital with a mysterious illness that caused sudden paralysis in an arm, leg or both limbs.
There have been nine confirmed cases of a rare condition known as acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, in Washington state this year. It has been described as an illness similar to polio.
One of the ill children was from Whatcom County.
The others were from Franklin, King, Pierce, Snohomish and Spokane counties. The most recent confirmed case was a child from Spokane in November.
There could be another child with AFM, although health officials were awaiting confirmation as of Dec. 13.
The children with the acute neurologic illness ranged in age from 3 to 14 years.
In addition to causing weakness of the limbs, the ailment also could weaken the muscles of the face and eyes. In severe cases, breathing could become difficult.
The Washington state Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been investigating the cluster. They have said there was no common link shared by the ill children.
Early on in the investigation, it was thought that a Bellingham boy who had died, 6-year-old Daniel Ramirez, may have had AFM. It was later determined he didn’t.
The exact cause for AFM remains unknown, although a number of germs and viruses are linked to it.
The increase in cases here reflects an overall increase this year in AFM nationally.
There were 108 cases in 36 states as of Oct. 31, according to the CDC.
Planning for change in north Bellingham
The northern part of the city is undergoing a lot of change, and readers are wondering what that means for traffic.
One of the most read stories online in 2016 was the city’s plans for fixing traffic congestion in the city, particularly in the Bakerview, Cordata and King Mountain areas. If the city can secure funding, those areas are slated for more than $85 million in traffic improvement projects.
It’s part of the transition that is happening in areas once known for their rural settings of farms, forests and wetlands, in order to accommodate a growing population. The city estimates that in the West Bakerview Road and Cordata areas, the number of proposed and recently built projects totals nearly 2,500 housing units and about 1.3 million square feet of commercial and institutional space. Around King Mountain, pending and recent development will add nearly 2,400 residential units and about 4,500 residents.
In response to this, the city is making an effort to improve east-west road connections. Until this point, the main roads have had a north-south flow. Other major changes ahead are the West Bakerview/I-5 interchange improvements that are scheduled to be done in 2020.
Around King Mountain, plans are in the works to upgrade former county roads into standard urban roads. One of the bigger projects is connecting Orchard Drive by going under I-5.
New Costco store a big draw for residents, Canadians
Given how many residents and Canadians stop in each day, it’s little wonder that Costco’s move into a bigger building would generate high reader interest.
As construction really got rolling in August, it didn’t take long for the building to go up near West Bakerview Road and Interstate 5. By Nov. 19 it was ready for the public and more than 1,000 members entered the building in the first hour.
At about 162,000 square feet, the new store is 25 percent bigger than its former location at 4199 Meridian St. It had been at the Meridian address since it opened in November 1991. The new Costco building employs about 330 people.
One concern was how traffic on Bakerview Road would be impacted. It appears traffic is heavier in the area, but with no reports of gridlock.
With Costco settling into its new place, residents are wondering what will become of the old Costco building. The building was listed for sale, but no buyer has been officially announced. The Whatcom County Treasurer’s Office lists Costco as the owner of the building.
Haggen upheaval ends with sale to Albertsons
Whatcom County has had upheaval in the grocery industry over the years, but it doesn’t compare to what Haggen went through in 2015 and 2016.
The Bellingham-based grocer went from an 18-store company to one that had 164 stores in five states in early 2015. It did so by purchasing 146 Albertsons/Safeway stores, helping Albertsons satisfy a Federal Trade Commission requirement for its merger with Safeway to be completed. Haggen struggled to convert those new stores to the Haggen brand, leading to Albertsons and Haggen suing each other for damages, lawsuits that were later resolved.
Then came the Chapter 11 bankruptcy by Haggen in September 2015, followed by the closing and auctioning of most of the stores Haggen had purchased. By early 2016, Haggen agreed to sell its remaining 29 core stores to Albertsons, with 15 retaining the Haggen name. The deal was completed in March and Albertsons officially took over the Haggen stores June 2.
Since that time, a sense of normalcy has returned. The five Whatcom County Haggen stores continue to focus on selling local products and have remained active in the community, such as sponsoring the Fourth of July fireworks and playing an active role in the annual Community Food Drive.
“I want to sincerely thank Haggen employees, partners and customers for helping the little grocery store chain from Bellingham stay true to its values and commitment to its community over the past two years,” said John Clougher, group vice president and general manager of Haggen. “Honestly, we are absolutely ecstatic this holiday season celebrating friends, family and local food.”
Differences remain unresolved between creditors and Haggen’s former majority owner, Comvest Partners. A lawsuit was filed by a group of creditors in September, alleging that Comvest covertly siphoned away valuable real estate assets that Haggen had acquired from Albertsons. That case is scheduled for a pretrial conference in U.S. Bankruptcy Court on Jan. 19.
Closure of grocery store has big impact on neighborhood
Having a grocery store is a big deal for a neighborhood, so it was a major loss when Birchwood said goodbye to its longtime market.
The Albertsons store at 1650 Birchwood Ave. closed in May, creating a void in the neighborhood. Not only did it mean the loss of more than 60 jobs; it also meant the nearest alternative for groceries was more than a mile away. That has created a food desert situation that makes it difficult for people to find healthful food options, particularly for those who don’t have cars, said Bellingham City Council member April Barker. According to newspaper archives, a grocery store had been in that spot since 1960.
Bringing back a grocery store there is not out of the question. Barker has been communicating with Wallace Properties Inc., which is marketing the leasing of the building. While a grocery store would not be Albertsons’ first choice to sublease the building, the possibility hasn’t been definitively ruled out, said Scott Blankenship, president of the brokerage division at Wallace, in an email to Barker.
It would be a challenge for a grocery store to return to that spot even if a lease were signed. Barker said the equipment will be removed from the building, so it would require a large capital investment.
The loss of jobs at the closed store continues to impact the neighborhood, Barker said, noting that some of its former employees still haven’t found work in the seven months following the closure.
Massive debris flow visible on Mount Baker
A geological event that no one saw nevertheless captivated readers this year – a debris flow on Mount Baker’s eastern flank that was photographed by climbers in early June.
Such debris flows occur occasionally and are not a concern to anyone except mountaineers, said Western Washington University geologist Dave Tucker. But observers could see a dark gray streak on the 10,781-foot active volcano that’s about 30 miles east of Bellingham.
“It’s not a threat, it’s a scientific curiosity, and it will be very visible,” said Tucker, research associate in WWU’s Geology Department and a board member of the Mount Baker Volcano Research Center.
A debris flow is like an avalanche that scours the mountainside, gathering ice and rock and volcanic deposits in a mad downhill rush of material that’s the consistency of wet concrete. Such flows can be deadly.
“They happen every three, four, five years and some of them are very large,” Tucker said. “If they happen when climbers are on the mountain, it can be a problem.”
Tucker said a debris flow narrowly missed a group of climbers in 2006.
He said this year’s debris flow was reported by Corey Vannoy of Bellingham, who summited with 10 mountaineers in two parties June 4-5. He emailed images that clearly show the point below Sherman Peak near the crater where snow and ice broke free and traveled downhill.
“It was massive, the size of this debris flow. We almost couldn’t believe it. We were dumbfounded,” said Vannoy, a chemical engineer at the BP refinery near Ferndale. “This is a ridiculous amount of debris.”
Many rental units fail first city inspection
In mid-2016, the city started its first round of inspections under the Rental Registration and Safety Inspection Program.
More than 40 percent of the first units inspected, which were in the Sehome Neighborhood, failed their first inspections.
They failed for a variety of reasons, such as missing carbon monoxide detectors, emergency exit windows that couldn’t open, locks that could be locked only from the inside with a key, exposed wiring, leaking plumbing, missing or unstable handrails, and gas appliances located in sleeping rooms.
The York Neighborhood was up for inspection next and, as of Dec. 21, at least 155 units had failed their first inspections, for similar safety reasons.
The city’s rental safety program is centered on ensuring rental properties follow life-safety laws, and bringing living spaces into compliance.
More than a third of the first rental units inspected in Sehome were done by private inspectors, who do not give the city detailed checklists of the issues in the units. Instead, private inspectors simply provide a declaration of inspection stating the unit has passed.
In York, 148 properties had been privately inspected, and 90 had submitted the declaration that they passed as of Dec. 21, according to the city.
Information about what the inspections require, and which neighborhoods are up for inspection next, can be found at cob.org/rentals.
Macs Motel: Second Samish Way motel to shut down in 6 months
Just as 2016 got underway, Macs Motel off Samish Way, which catered to long-term guests, was shut down by the state, making it the second major motel along Samish to close down in a six-month period.
The Washington State Department of Health determined the motel at 1215 E. Maple St. was not truly operating as a motel, and that it should not be able to renew its required transient accommodation license.
The motel’s owners required their guests to leave by Jan. 5, and by the end of that month, a judge had determined the owners could not get the license to operate the facility as a motel.
The city helped pay for an additional worker for the Opportunity Council’s Homeless Outreach Team to help residents made homeless by the closure get in touch with resources, if they were interested in talking to the team.
“Within the first month, 10 households relocated themselves, and we were able to get another seven cases to the Opportunity Council; most of them were vets,” said Mike Parker, director of the Whatcom Homeless Service Center. “We were trying to connect people with more mainstream resources than another hotel, but it’s really important to know that about a third of those folks figured it out on their own.”
The part-time position added to the Homeless Outreach Team remains, and that person now enables expanded hours for the team to work in the downtown area, Parker said.
Unlike the Aloha Motel, which the city of Bellingham condemned and demolished as a blight on the neighborhood, Macs’ issues stemmed from the state’s case.
However, the city worked with the motel’s owners throughout 2016 to see what options they might have to convert the building into apartments, said Darby Cowles, a senior planner at the city.
Meanwhile, across the street from Macs is the empty space where the Aloha once stood. The Bellingham Housing Authority has proposed building a mix of affordable housing there, with integrated parking and possibly street-level commercial space.
“We’re anticipating closing on the property, hopefully by the end of February,” Cowles said.