The tribe asked the city for the water a year ago, and negotiations are ongoing.
A water contract would have to go before the Bellingham City Council for final approval.
If approved, it would make Lummi Nation the city’s largest water customer. The biggest now is Western Washington University at 200,000 gallons a day for all of its properties.
Lummi Nation announced in August that it planned to build a fueling facility and a 10,000-square-foot convenience store, what is being called a travel center, on part of its 160-acre property. That part of the development is in Ferndale, so it has asked that city for utilities including water.
The entire Salish Village property is on both the east and west sides of Rural Avenue, near the Slater Road intersection. The travel center will be on the west side of Rural Avenue.
Other parts of the property are outside Bellingham, in the city’s urban growth area, which is why negotiations are occurring for a water contract. Inside city limits, providing water isn’t discretionary.
Salish Village could be a major economic and entertainment hub for Whatcom County, according to Lummi Nation, which hopes to entice investors to put in a variety of other projects that could include an indoor water park, a hotel to complement the nearby Silver Reef Hotel Casino Spa, retail, light industrial and offices.
The Bellingham City Council has been told that withdrawing 300,000 to 600,000 gallons of water a day, the amount the tribe requested, would have minimal impact on Lake Whatcom, the city’s water source.
Bellingham’s average daily use in 2016 was 7.4 million gallons in 2016, according to a city memo, down from 10.4 million gallons in 2004.
The former G-P plant on the Bellingham waterfront used as much as 55 million gallons a day, the City Council was told.
There have been some concerns that Salish Village could pull retail dollars out of Bellingham, which would affect revenue going into the city’s general fund. The general fund pays for the cost of running the city and providing services.
A study from Western Washington University’s Center for Economic and Business Research estimated that the city could lose $300,000 to $1.6 million in tax revenue, depending on how much the property is developed and estimating what could go in there.
But some City Council members said the study focused on retail and didn’t look at possibilities, such as recreation, that could benefit Bellingham by drawing visitors.
“The city is looking more broadly and we think it’s unlikely that the Lummis will choose a heavily retail-oriented development plan,” City Council President Michael Lilliquist said.
And, Lilliquist said, a utility tax from supplying water would go into the general fund.
Timothy Ballew II, chairman of Lummi Nation, said Salish Village would have a multiplier effect – 100,000 vehicles go by the site each day from Canadian and other traffic – that would benefit not only the tribe’s economy but the county’s as a whole.
Being able to partner with Bellingham for the water is the most efficient option for the tribe, Ballew said.
Meanwhile, crews were clearing trees and vegetation at Salish Village on Friday to prepare the site for the travel center, which would be the first phase of the development.
“It’s definitely an exciting time,” Ballew said. “We’re excited to see the development take off.”