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County considering how much homeowners should pay for Lake Whatcom water quality needs

Lake Whatcom watershed restrictions protect drinking water, recreation

The city of Bellingham and Whatcom County have created watershed restrictions and fee and tax districts in efforts to protect Lake Whatcom from environmental concerns about phosphorus.
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The city of Bellingham and Whatcom County have created watershed restrictions and fee and tax districts in efforts to protect Lake Whatcom from environmental concerns about phosphorus.

Homeowners in the Lake Whatcom watershed but outside Bellingham city limits could pay $155 annually under a proposed new fee for projects aimed at improving water quality.

A citizen advisory panel formed by the Whatcom County Council has been debating a fee structure for about a year, said Gary Stoyka, natural resources manager in the Public Works Department.

County officials will discuss details of the new fee during a 6:30 p.m. meeting Tuesday, April 30, at Geneva Elementary School, 1401 Geneva St.

Owners of about 5,000 single-family homes and a couple hundred more apartments, condos, trailers and other housing units will be affected, Stoyka said.

Population of the area is about 13,500, he said.

Stoyka said funds from the new fee will help pay for the county’s stormwater program, which focuses on reducing and treating runoff from buildings, yards, roads and other surfaces to remove phosphorus and other contaminants before it empties into the lake.

“Mainly, we’re trying to get phosphorous, that’s the main culprit, from entering the lake,” Stoyka said in an interview.

Stoyka said current funding sources aren’t enough to help the county meet state and federal water quality requirements.

Lake Whatcom Stormwater Utility’s billing area includes the Lake Whatcom watershed outside the city of Bellingham.

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Property owners in unincorporated Whatcom County within the Lake Whatcom watershed face a new fee to help fund projects aimed at keeping the water clean. Whatcom County Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

For several years, residents in all areas of Bellingham have faced a similar charge, called a stormwater and watershed fee, of $292.98 annually that’s linked to their water bills.

The proposed county fees must be approved by the Whatcom County Council.

According to the proposed fee structure, property owners would be billed on a three-tier system based on the size of the property and its impervious surfaces.

Owners of a small-footprint property, with less than 2,500 square feet of impervious surface area, would be charged $116.26 annually on their property taxes. Medium-footprint, defined as 2,500-8,400 square feet of impervious surface area, property owners would be charged $155.01 annually. Owners of larger-footprint properties would pay $310.02 annually.

Most homeowners around Lake Whatcom fall into the medium-footprint category, Stoyka said.

For comparison, Seattle residents pay a $383.43 annual drainage fee, Lynden residents pay a $96 stormwater fee, and Skagit County residents pay a $105 drainage utility and clean water fee.

Robert Mittendorf covers civic issues, weather, traffic and how people are coping with the high cost of housing for The Bellingham Herald. A journalist since 1984, he’s also a volunteer firefighter for South Whatcom Fire Authority.
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