Bellingham official in charge of Lake Whatcom cleanup takes county job

One official taking the lead in efforts to clean Lake Whatcom is leaving his job with the city to take a director position with Whatcom County.

Jon Hutchings, who for 2 1/2 years worked for the city to reduce phosphorus-laden runoff and keep invasive shellfish out of the lake, accepted the job of county Public Works director. Executive Jack Louws announced the hire on Wednesday, March 25.

“He’s got a good common-sense mind that I think is going to work well in our organization, moving our major initiatives forward,” Louws said in an interview.

One of those initiatives is identical to the one Hutchings led for the city. Because Lake Whatcom straddles the city-county boundary, the lake will remain one of Hutchings’ responsibilities in his new role, which starts April 27.

Lake Whatcom, the drinking-water source for about 100,000 city and county residents, has been targeted by the state for cleanup because of excessive levels of phosphorus. City and county officials, and the Lake Whatcom Water and Sewer District, will soon be under state orders to significantly reduce the amount of phosphorus in storm runoff coming from developed areas.

“The Lake Whatcom management program is as close to a unified effort as you can possibly have for the three jurisdictions involved,” Hutchings said on Wednesday. “There really is very little distinction between the city and the county in terms of implementation.”

Before working for the city, Hutchings was assistant Public Works director for the county for five years. Public Works is the largest county department, responsible for roads and stormwater systems, the Lummi Island ferry, flood protection, water quality and salmon restoration. The department has more than 150 employees and an annual budget of more than $60 million.

Hutchings’ salary will be $126,864 a year. The County Council is scheduled to consider confirmation of the hire on Tuesday, March 31.

Hutchings succeeds Frank Abart, who resigned as county Public Works director in February after eight years on the job.

City officials said they will hire someone to replace Hutchings, who was assistant Public Works director in charge of the Natural Resources Division.

“Jon has done an excellent job at the city, and we look forward to working with him in his new position with the county,” Mayor Kelli Linville said.