Politics Blog

Port may offer city 50-50 split on fire boat cost

At the Tuesday, Nov. 5 Port of Bellingham commission meeting, commissioners will be asked to approve a $125,000 contribution toward the cost of a new fire boat that would be operated by the city of Bellingham.

The Bellingham Fire Department recently got a $750,000 grant for the boat from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that requires $250,000 in local matching funds.

Port staffers will ask the three port commissioners to approve a $125,000 port contribution, or 50 percent of the matching money needed to secure the grant. The City Council would also have to agree to that arrangement.

The fire boat funding proposal is the last item on the agenda for the meeting, which begins at 3 p.m. in the port's conference room at 1801 Roeder Ave.

The terms of the port's offer are outlined in this proposed draft letter that would be sent to Mayor Kelli Linville if port commissioners approve. The letter also offers the city free moorage for the vessel, and notes that the city gets a share of the revenue from the leasehold tax that is charged on vessels renting moorage spaces in Squalicum Harbor.

Even if the financial details can be worked out, the boat would not be in service for another two years. It has yet to be designed and built.

The city decommissioned and sold its old fire boat, the Fire Belle, in late 2011, after officials decided it wasn't being used enough to justify its expense. The boat had been in operation since 1985.

Just five months after the boat was taken out of service, a fire in Squalicum Harbor took the lives of a Bellingham couple living aboard their boat at G Dock East, about a quarter mile from shore. That fire took hours to extinguish without help from the Fire Belle, and destroyed 10 other yachts and several boathouses.

Also on Tuesday's agenda is a proposal to add another $300,000 in payments to Strider Construction Co., the company doing the cleanup work on a mercury-contaminated area of the old Georgia-Pacific Corp. site. If commissioners approve that, the total amount of the cleanup contract would total about $3.7 million. The increase is the cost of removing additional mercury contamination found at the site.

The area affected by the contract is the G-P mercury cell building, where use of the toxic elemental liquid metal was most extensive. Excavation work there revealed that the contamination was much worse than first estimated. The commission already approved a $1.42 million increase in Strider's contract in April 2013.

Most of the added costs are being covered by state cleanup grants and by an insurance policy the port obtained when it decided to take on the old G-P site and its environmental problems.