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The Gristle

Mission Mismatch

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

THE FREQUENCY OF SUCKERS BORN: As if to race as quickly as possible away from the stinkbomb they lit off, Bellingham City Council this week unceremoniously gaveled in their final approval of the Waterfront District master plan. Port of Bellingham staff last week performed a proud and gleeful little victory dance as commissioners approved their end of the agreement, successfully transferring through fraud and deception more than $100 million in costs from the countywide agency on to the Bellingham tax base. Most gleeful of all, while City of Bellingham freights all the major costs, the Port of Bellingham—the county’s least democratic, least responsive public agency—remains in charge.

The port made a unilateral decision in 2005 with colossal consequences for Bellingham when commissioners agreed to condemnation proceedings against Georgia-Pacific West in order to seize and acquire the company’s Aerated Stabilization Basin (ASB), the 37-acre wastewater treatment lagoon on the city’s central waterfront. The port took this action in order to foreclose on a pending agreement between the company and the state Dept. of Ecology to use the ASB facility for a thorough cleanup of Whatcom Waterway and the inner harbor. The port did not consult with other governments in their seizure of the property, they did not ask for allies in their plans to dismantle the ASB for use as a marina, and their decision and settlement drove a multi-billion-dollar private partner for cleanup costs (GP) out of the city.

Nor did the port consult with anyone when they unilaterally lobbied Congress to eliminate the waterway’s federal status as a navigable channel, thereby destroying access to federal assistance for cleanup. This they did—again—to foreclose on any potential use of the ASB as a receiving area for dredge spoils related to a more thorough cleanup of the harbor.

The port was now in possession of a singularly expensive piece of property, with cleanup and redevelopment costs approaching half a billion dollars, and few remaining allies with whom they could share (or transfer) costs. Whatcom County, wisely, declined interest. The City of Bellingham, unwisely, did not. Worse, the city allowed the port’s own private practice attorney to craft the agreements that would bind this partnership, and—not surprisingly—they were agreements wholly favorable to the port.

So when veteran Bellingham City Council members recall, fondly and supportively, that the port would not have been able to proceed without city assistance, realize and understand that the port had already acted, unilaterally and without consultation, and in a manner wholly favorable to narrow agency goals without regard for potential partners.

The agreements finalized this week provide ample detail on how the Port of Bellingham, a county-wide taxing authority, intends to be made whole: Through the transfer of major costs to the City of Bellingham, 37 percent of county population. Of course, city taxpayers pay their share of port taxes, too, so the slam against ’hamsters is twofold.

Notably, the final agreements strip out almost everything of particular interest to the unique ethos of Bellingham—focus on thorough cleanup and restoration of marine habitat, generous parks and shoreline access, emphasis on green building standards and creation of living-wage jobs—and swaps in a dismal, generic urban redevelopment scheme that could be dropped just about any ol’ place.

Thus, while Bellingham pays for the plan, residents do not receive a plan of particular interest to Bellingham. At its centerpiece is a luxury marina for million-dollar mega-yachts, which at this particular moment in history, with widespread concerns about accelerated wealth accumulation in upper incomes and the social injustice arising from the obliteration of the middle class and working incomes, is both tone deaf and cruel in contemplation.

Misunderstood throughout council’s waterfront deliberations is the structural, mission asymmetry that exists between a municipality and a special purpose port authority.

By charter, cities provide multipurpose, general government services for the broadest range of citizens. The City of Bellingham has many tasks and responsibilities, including the maintenance of streets and urban centers throughout the city, and the care of its municipal reservoir, Lake Whatcom. Of a dozen legislative goals established by council each year, the waterfront is but one; and it is not even number one on that list.

The Port of Bellingham, by contrast, is a single-purpose entity fixed relentlessly on a limited goal. The port’s mandate for economic development has been narrowed and twisted in recent decades—illustrated perhaps most boldly by their Bellwether complex—to mean larding the agency’s own coffers to the exclusion of other concerns.

Council member Jack Weiss considered an infrastructure schedule for the waterfront balanced against other commitments the city has, so that before a second dollar is spent on the waterfront, matching dollars must be spent on Lake Whatcom and in other urban centers, including the downtown. The schedule would provide a braking mechanism for unlimited cash calls by the port on limited city resources, but it would not preclude a private investor from making their own waterfront investments independent of city expenditures.

“With such a disparity of historic and future investment, the city risks providing an unfair advantage to one area of town at the clear exclusion of our other growth areas,” Weiss noted. “In addition, funds from all available city funding sources, including grants, will be unavailable to our other urban villages, downtown and our watershed for years, further exacerbating the disparity to areas that have significant redevelopment potential and financial payback to the city.”

Future councils would adore such an instrument to help illuminate their legislative priorities. The council majority last week gaveled it down without consideration. A dark future awaits.

SVCR OZ
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Events
Today
Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

The Music Man

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Little Women

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

The Miracle Worker

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Quilt & Fiber Arts Festival

10:00am|La Conner

Get an edible education

4:00pm

Love, Loss and What I Wore

7:30pm|Heiner Auditorium

Hellingham

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Handling the truth

9:35pm

Run Like a Girl

8:00am|Fairhaven Park

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Benefit Garage Sale

9:00am|T.G. Richards Building

Cabbage Class

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Mount Vernon Farmers Market

9:00am|Riverfront Plaza

Model Train Show

9:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Twin Sisters Farmers Market

9:00am|Nugent's Corner

Healthcare Film

9:30am|Bellingham Public Library

Fermentation Fun

10:00am|Blaine Library

Fall Family Fun

10:00am|Glen Echo Garden

Birding Walk

10:00am|South Whatcom Library

Fall Fruit Festival

10:00am|Cloud Mountain Farm Center

Skagit Valley Festival of Family Farms

10:00am|Skagit County

Film is Truth Anniversary Party

10:00am|Bellingham Public Market

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|Peace Portal Drive

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Whatcom Artist Studio Tour

10:00am|Whatcom County

Porpathon

10:00am|Salish Sea

Buddy Walk

11:00am|Fairhaven Village Green

National Geographic's 50 Greatest Photos Opening

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher Building

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Banned Books Week Read-In

12:30pm|Village Books

Intro to NaNoWriMo

1:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Artist Lecture

1:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Matched Makers Opening

2:00pm|Museum of Northwest Art

Timber Rose

2:00pm|North Fork Library

Traditional Jazz

2:00pm|VFW Hall

Blessing of the Animals

3:30pm|Cornwall Park

Poetry Palavers

4:00pm|Village Books

Matzke Art Auction

5:00pm|Matzke Fine Art Gallery and Sculpture Park

Edison Opening

5:00pm|Smith & Vallee Gallery

Celebrating Jack Prelutsky

5:30pm|Western Library

USA Dance

7:00pm|Presence Studio

Fred Morrison

7:00pm|Littlefield Celtic Center

The Aimees

7:00pm|BAAY Theatre

George Winston

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Tannahill Weavers

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Folk Dance Party

7:30pm|Fairhaven Library

Bellingham Chamber Music Society

7:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

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Tomorrow
The Music Man

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Little Women

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

The Miracle Worker

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Quilt & Fiber Arts Festival

10:00am|La Conner

Love, Loss and What I Wore

7:30pm|Heiner Auditorium

Handling the truth

9:35pm

Benefit Garage Sale

9:00am|T.G. Richards Building

Model Train Show

9:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Skagit Valley Festival of Family Farms

10:00am|Skagit County

Whatcom Artist Studio Tour

10:00am|Whatcom County

Fall Fruit Festival

10:00am|Cloud Mountain Farm Center

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Community Breakfast

8:00am|Rome Grange

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Fueling Education Fun Run

9:30am|Washington Park

Sunday Market

1:00pm|Alger Community Hall

Walk the Wall

1:30pm|Lake Padden

Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day

2:00pm|Lake Padden Park

Sunday Night Fusion

7:00pm|Presence Studio

Bruce Molsky

7:00pm|YWCA Ballroom

White Christmas Auditions

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Zoots Side Bar Village Books
Monday
Handling the truth

9:35pm

White Christmas Auditions

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

The Land That Remains

3:00pm|Perry and Carlson Gallery

Educators Afternoon Social

3:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher Building

Raw Desserts

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Pumpkin Particulars

6:30pm|Gretchen's Kitchen

Selector Dub Narcotic

8:00pm|Bellingham Alternative Library

Poetrynight

8:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Guffawingham

9:30pm|Green Frog

see our complete calendar »

MBT Wynton Marsalis Village Books Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Zoots Side Bar Northwood Steak and Crab Andrew Subin CW BOB 2016 Bellingham Farmer’s Market Everybody’s Store Artifacts Wine Bar Swinomish 2016