2016 Year in Review, Part 1

May 2016: A crowd gathered to see President-elect Donald Trump at the Northwest Washington Fairgrounds in Lynden prior to the May 24 Republican primary. Photo by Steve Guntli.

January 

• State senator Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale) called to repeal rules that would grant access to locker rooms and restrooms based on an individual’s gender identity. The Washington State Human Rights Commission adopted the rules in December in an effort to reduce discrimination against the transgender community. The discussion aligned with a contentious conversation taking place between LGBTQ activists and lawmakers nationwide. Ericksen planned to work with lawmakers to repeal the rule once the legislative session began.

• Hundreds celebrated the New Year in icy waters by joining together to take part in Birch Bay’s Polar Bear Plunge.

• Loss in tax revenue driven by a drop in crude oil prices halted two environmental improvement projects in Blaine’s harbor. Despite the state allocating $28 million for cleanup projects in Blaine and Bellingham, the decline in prices was predicted to cut a total of $14 million in funding. The cost to clean up the Blaine Marina and Westman Marine sites was estimated to have cost a combined $6.2 million over the span of five to eight years.

• Top-ranking Canadian analyst David Doyle predicted the loonie would decline in value to an all-time low of 59 cents on the US dollar by the end of the year. In January, the Canadian dollar had dipped to 69.9 cents on the dollar – the last time it fell below 70 cents was in 2003. The loonie hit an all-time low in 2002 at 61.1 cents on the dollar.

• At age 103, legendary outdoorsman, activist and engineer, Wolf Bauer, passed away. In 1935, Bauer was the first to trek up the north side of Mount Rainier. He later went on to teach renowned courses on mountaineering and pioneered the introduction of foldboat kayaking to the United States. Bauer was known as the mind behind Birch Bay’s longstanding berm project, which is still ongoing. He left behind a close core of family and friends.

February

• Drayton Harbor Oyster Company started serving wine and beer. Following a months-long closure due to commercial harvesting restrictions, owners of the Peace Portal Drive eatery reopened with an announcement to partner with Blaine’s only commercial brewery, Atwood Ales. Staff with the brewery planned to supply beer for the restaurant from their farm located southeast of Blaine.

February 2016: Dozens gathered at a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of the Blaine Pavilion. Photo by Steve Guntli.

• The 5,000-square-foot pavilion at the Blaine community center was finally unveiled to the public. Located at 763 G Street, the pavilion was built to allow for use by a variety of community clubs and organizations year-round.

• Special election voters overwhelmingly supported the renewal of a school district levy, which would continue the collection of $1.98 per $1,000 of assessed home value for all taxable properties within the district in 2017.

• Semiahmoo Resort was host to yet another successful Bite of Blaine. Twelve local restaurants came together to showcase a number of decadent dishes to the public.

• Students from Western Washington University revisited the feasibility of a Blaine Amtrak stop by releasing a survey to the public.

• Whatcom County Council passed a resolution recommending a portion of Terrell Creek be named Wolf Bauer Point. The request was sent to the Washington State Committee on Geographic Names, which would be tasked with presenting it to the Washington State Board on Geographic Names.

• The city of Blaine announced the addition of a new staff member to help bolster municipal code enforcement. Maddie Ottley took on the role of a community planner and has experience working as a code enforcement officer for the city of Ferndale. Weeks after her hire, Ottley identified roughly 52 properties with code violations and sent letters to approximately 22 property owners.

March 

• The Wings Over Water Northwest Birding Festival returned for its 14th year. The three-day event featured exhibitions, an all-day birding expo, indoor and outdoor activities and more.

• Pending court approval, 29 Haggen grocery stores, including five in Whatcom County, were sold to Albertsons. Fifteen of the stores were to carry the same Haggen name and continue to be operated out of Bellingham, post-purchase.

• State senator Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale) was revealed as the force behind a last-minute decision to pull funds from Blaine’s long-awaited interchange improvement to I-5 exit 274. Ericksen proposed an amendment to transfer funding to transportation improvements in Lynden and Ferndale, stating the projects were left out of the previous budget by mistake.

• The Blaine Middle School cafeteria was filled to the brim with hundreds of people for the 2016 Washington Democratic Caucus. Whatcom County Democrats expressed wide support for Vermont senator Bernie Sanders in his bid for a presidential nomination. Whatcom County Democrats voted 80.5 percent in favor of Sanders, while the remaining 19.2 voted for former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

April

• Sponsor behind the Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) coal port, SSA Marine, suspended work on an environmental impact study in anticipation of a decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to either approve or deny a crucial project permit. Leading up to the decision, representatives of the Lummi Nation requested to block the permit in an effort to preserve federally protected treaties. Despite no announcement for when USACE would make a decision, SSA Marine chose to withhold environmental review, which began in 2012.

• The Dakota Creek Winery, formerly located at 3575 Haynie Road, closed after 11 years in business. Owners Ken and Jill Peck sold the last of their “Finale” red wine blend formed from grapes dating back to 2011 and 2012 in the days leading up to the winery’s closure. The couple planned to sell the winery and property and remain in Blaine.

• The U.S. Department of Justice lodged accusations against Bingham and Randall Fox for allegedly dumping harmful waste into Blaine Harbor and the Pacific Ocean from 2011 to 2013. Bingham claimed innocence after both men were indicted on charges of conspiracy and violations of the Clean Water Act and the Act to Prevent Pollution From Ships.

• Work on the Birch Bay-Lynden Road overpass reaches completion. The Washington State Department of Transportation led repairs, which began in January. Construction reduced traffic on the overpass to one lane and cost $813,000.

May

• Alcoa penned a deal to keep its Intalco aluminum plant open through February 2018. Management with the company as well as representatives from the Bonneville Power Administration agreed to an amendment to their power agreement to allow for the extension. The short-term amendment was proposed to keep the plant alive, which was subject to partially close and cut 465 jobs in Whatcom County due to low global aluminum prices.

• The Blessing of the Fleet ceremony was held to honor local fishers who have passed away at sea.

• President-elect Donald Trump made a visit to the Northwest Washington Fairgrounds in Lynden days before the Washington Republican primary on May 24. He was the first presidential candidate to visit Whatcom County since 2000. He spoke to a sold-out crowd and vowed to build a wall between U.S. and Mexico and to defeat Hillary Clinton in November.

• The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) rejected a permit crucial to the future of the Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT). The permit was rejected on the grounds that the proposed Cherry Point coal terminal would infringe on federally protected Lummi Nation fishing grounds.

• The Birch Bay Drive Pedestrian Facility Project, commonly known as the Birch Bay berm project, ran into unforeseen costs amounting to $48,660. The Whatcom County Council approved an amendment to authorize the additional project
funding.

June 

• Hands Across the Border returned after a successful year prior. The event dates back to the late 1930s, but was canceled in 2013 due to funding constraints.

• The newly minted president of the Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce, Randy Parten, drummed up an idea to orchestrate the world’s longest parade of Subarus in Birch Bay. As a result, hundreds of Subarus lined up along Birch Bay Drive to mark the occasion. Turnout fell short of the 550-car record, with only 522 making the count.

• Blaine City Council opted to ban fireworks around the city after a lengthy public hearing. Consumer fireworks were banned in west Blaine and personal fireworks were isolated to July 4 from 10 a.m. to midnight for the remaining portions of the city.

• The Robert W. Droll Landscape Architect firm was hired by Whatcom County Council to design the Birch Bay Community Park, located at 7954 Birch Bay Drive. The contract amounted to $50,000.

Read Part 2 of our 2016 retrospective next week.

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