"}
The Gristle

Shallow Thinking

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

SHALLOW THINKING: In his remarks last week to the Washington State Transportation Commission, Port of Bellingham Executive Director Rob Fix almost forgot to mention port plans for Bellingham’s central waterfront, so focused was he on detailing airport operations. He did forget entirely, until his memory was prodded by commissioners, to mention the county’s numerous water-dependent businesses and industries, much of it active on port properties. In fact, on port property alone an estimated 4,000 jobs are attributed to maritime trade, according to data provided by the port and the Working Waterfront Coalition. Annual revenue produced by maritime trade is estimated at $682 million, driving nearly half of the agency’s economic impacts.

It was a curious lapse by Director Fix, all the more puzzling as the agency was at the moment struggling with a barge grounded in Whatcom Waterway, unable to offload its enormous cargo at Colony Wharf. The 7,000-ton barge was heavy with gravel quarried from British Columbia, part of a multi-million-dollar contract for Cowden Gravel, a local business. Operators had attempted to float the barge in at high tide, but were unable to do so without partially excavating and removing some of the cargo at considerable cost to Cowden Gravel.

The incident underscores the folly of the port’s plan for the central waterfront and, in particular, the agency’s Marine Trade Center concept, hobbled by a shallow waterway, allowed by the port to grow more shallow as a means to dodge any duty to clean it. The port lobbied Congress in 2007 to deauthorize the channel as a navigable waterway, thereby destroying federal resources that might have been brought to the task of dredging and removing contaminated sediments.

“The cleanup of these areas,” the port explained in the agency’s preliminary design report, “is consistent with the plan management of the Inner Waterway as a multi-purpose waterway with shallow and intermediate drafts.

“The design concept assumes that the engineered cap within the Phase 1 areas of the Inner Waterway will be placed such that the top of the cap is located at least 2 feet below the ‘effective water depth’ of the waterway (i.e., the water depth to be actively maintained to support navigation uses),” the report continues. The channel draws just 8 feet of water at low tide at Colony Wharf, an asset transferred from the City of Bellingham to the port as a means to allow the agency to assemble properties for a Marine Trade Center, now demonstrated to be a crippled concept.

Cleanup of the inner waterway is an essential early action upon which many other actions depend, including public access and possible development of the former Georgia-Pacific industrial site. Yet permits have not been issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), nor does it seem likely those permits will be issued any time soon.

In 2006, Lummi Nation filed a formal complaint with the Corps, declaring the inadequacy of cleanup harmed habitat and interfered with their treaty fishing rights.

“The Lummi Nation position has been that contaminated sediment should be removed from the aquatic environment and disposed of at an appropriate upland disposal area,” tribal leaders wrote.

“The Corps considers concerns regarding treaty rights as part of our trust responsibility,” the agency noted in a statement. “The Corps has not set a deadline for resolution.”

With the current commander of the USACE scheduled to retire this summer, it’s looking increasingly unlikely the Corps will issue permits this year, noted Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville.

“It will be like starting the permit process all over with a new commander,” Linville warned. “You can’t open the site to the public until it is clean, and it may be difficult to get development commitments until there is more certainty.”

For greater traction and leverage on their claims, Lummi Nation has expanded their resistance to all waterfront projects in Bellingham Bay, issuing objections most recently to a cleanup action plan for the Cornwall Avenue Landfill approved earlier this month by City Council.

“This filling and destruction of habitat and fishing areas that our people rely on with the garbage of our neighbors is highly insulting,” Merle Jefferson, director of the Lummi Natural Resources Dept., wrote the state Dept. of Ecology in 2013. “Now, the liable parties are seeking to compound these insults with a conclusion that removal of the contaminated soil and garbage would be too expensive.”

On March 3, Lummi Nation again pressed its objections to the city’s Overwater Walkway project, which would connect planned parkland at Cornwall Avenue to the Boulevard Park and Taylor Street Dock trail network.

“Our most recent proposal to them would remove numerous old piers and pilings from the bay and open up access to 33 acres for fishing,” Linville said. “I hope the perfect doesn’t become the enemy of the good, and that we can work on projects together that benefit the bay,” she said.

It all circles back to the inadequacy of the port’s plan for Whatcom Waterway, a plan that would cap most contaminants in place in a woefully shallow waterway hostile to heavy industry and maritime jobs. It’s a plan that displeases the port’s greatest potential allies, including the tribes and the industries eager to expand the barging capacity of Whatcom Waterway. The amnesia of the port director for this maritime heritage is both telling and troubling.

The port treats all this as a done deal in a process not of their design or control—their hands are tied, staff lamented to baffled port commissioners—while the ink on their plan has hardly dried and not a shovelful of marine cleanup has been permitted. A change to the plan at this stage would be like starting all over.

Perhaps they should.

0674-Commodores_770x150-CW
Past Columns
Closer to home

September 21, 2016

Zombie Stumbles On

September 14, 2016

Drip-drip-drip:

September 7, 2016

Much ADU about nothing

August 31, 2016

A Matter of Equity

August 24, 2016

A Lock on the Crypt

August 17, 2016

Zombie Terror

August 10, 2016

A Raucous Caucus

August 3, 2016

Lockup Lockstep

July 27, 2016

Polar Wastes

July 20, 2016

Chapter Two

July 13, 2016

Close the Schools!

June 22, 2016

Closing a Circle

June 8, 2016

Roads to Nowhere

May 25, 2016

Trails versus Jail

May 18, 2016

‘We Draw The Line’

May 11, 2016

Events
Today
A gold medal standard

4:00pm

Eat Local Month

4:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

We Grow Market

3:00pm|Northwest Youth Services

Yoga for Outdoor Fitness

6:00pm|REI

Cooking with Sea Vegetables

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Candidate Forum

6:30pm|PUD Building

The Happy Elf Auditions

7:00pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Open Mic

7:00pm|Village Books

Poetrynight

8:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Guffawingham

9:30pm|Green Frog

Artifacts Wine Bar Northwood Steak and Crab
Tomorrow
Eat Local Month

4:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

A gold medal standard

4:00pm

Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

The Happy Elf Auditions

7:00pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Making Miso

4:00pm|Skagit Valley Food Co-op

Not If But When

6:00pm|Burlington Public Library

All-Paces Run

6:00pm|Fairhaven Runners

Bingo in Blaine

6:00pm|Blaine Senior Center

Wonton and Char Siu

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Bellingham Reads

6:30pm|Bellingham Public Library

Roving Cocktail Party

6:30pm|Gretchen's Kitchen

Eagle Presentation

7:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Blackfish Prophecy

7:00pm|Village Books

Skagit Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Bayview Civic Hall

Beginning Square Dance

7:00pm|Ten Mile Grange

Monastery Talk

7:00pm|Bellingham Shambhala Meditation Center

Everybody’s Store Northwood Steak and Crab
Wednesday
A gold medal standard

4:00pm

Eat Local Month

4:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

Bellingham City Club Meeting

11:30am|Northwood Hall

Lynden Book Club

12:30pm|Lynden Library

Sedro-Woolley Farmers Market

3:00pm|Hammer Heritage Square

Fun with Fermentation

4:00pm|Blaine Library

Ukulele for Everyone

4:00pm|Everson Library

Group Run

6:00pm|Skagit Running Company

Group Run

6:00pm|Skagit Running Company

Bokashi Composting

6:30pm|Cordata Community Food Co-op

Teton Gravity Research's Tight Loose

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Bebel Gilberto

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Bebel Gilberto

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

see our complete calendar »

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