Parks board explores possible levy for city improvements

By Steve Guntli
The Blaine Parks and Cemetery Board is looking to form a committee that will consider a levy to improve the city’s parks.

At the parks board meeting on October 19, the board approved a mission statement for the parks and open space levy committee, which would be tasked with prioritizing the city’s parks needs before bringing a levy proposal before the city.

The idea of a levy was partially inspired by the efforts of the Salishan Neighborhood Association to preserve the water views along the west side of Peace Portal Drive. The association suggested the city impose a levy to purchase several tracts of land along Peace Portal to prevent any building projects from obstructing the views, a project the group estimates would cost around $3 million.

The council approved the neighborhood’s suggested committee, but requested the committee flesh out the proposal to include other areas of the city that could be helped under the levy before anything is approved.

Deputy community planner Alex Wenger emphasized that currently no levy is in place, and the city is not making any promises that one will ever be. Parks-1

“We’re just exploring our options right now, trying to determine if there’s a need and a want for this in the community,” Wenger said.

If the board does approve the levy, it wouldn’t come to fruition until next fall at the very earliest, and wouldn’t interfere with the school board’s proposed $45 million bond, which will be decided in a special election in February, Wenger said.

The parks and open space levy committee would be tasked with prioritizing the city’s needs and deciding what to include in the levy proposal. In addition to considering the Salishan neighborhood’s requests, the committee will also consider upgrades to Marine and Lincoln parks, repairs and upgrades to local trails and improvements to community establishments like the public library, senior center and Boys & Girl’s Club.

Jim Jorgensen, a retired science teacher from Blaine High School and a commissioner for the Port of Bellingham, attended the meeting, and proposed a marine education and resource center, a project he’s been working on for nearly 30 years.

Jorgensen first proposed the marine education and resource center back in 1986 as an idea for a structure to occupy the vacant lot that would eventually become Marine Park. The facility would be a museum and educational center teaching about the maritime history of the region.

The project had gained some momentum in the late 1980s, and Jorgensen had even formed a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization to raise money for the facility, which at its peak had $450,000 in promised funds. However, in the early 1990s, the facility was finally voted down and the project was left in limbo. The promised funds failed to materialize, and Jorgensen’s 501(c)(3) finally folded in 2006. Now, he’s hoping to revitalize the project.

“I really think that the time is right for something like this,” he said.

The proposed facility would occupy the two-acre spread of Marine Park between the Lighthouse Point Water Reclamation Facility and the “salmon wall” art installation. In its current design, the center would include children’s hands-on recreation areas, a tide pool, several multi-purpose rooms, auditoriums for presentations and a large deck jutting off the north side of Marine Park.

The levy committee will consider including Jorgensen’s proposal with the parks and open space levy, but Jorgensen thinks the facility would need to be its own line item entirely if it is ever to be completed.

“We need to hold off for a year, have people look at the plans and consider all the options,” he said. “It would probably end up costing a few million dollars to put in.”

The proposed committee would have between seven and nine members. The board approved a committee makeup that would include two members from the parks board, two members from the economic development committee, two from the planning commission, two representatives from the west Blaine/Semiahmoo area and one community member to serve as chair. The final makeup of the committee may vary from this design.

The parks board will attempt to finalize the committee’s makeup at its next meeting on Thursday, November 21.

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