City planner dreaming up ring around waterfront

Published on Thu, Aug 15, 2002 by Meg Olson

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City planner dreaming up ring around waterfront

By Meg Olson

“Right now the connection between the city and the marina stinks. I’m trying to build a strong corridor that ties it all together, from the pier to the boardwalk,” said Blaine community and economic development director Terry Galvin. “An intense mixed-use area where our history of commercial fishing is elevated and works beside everything else.”
Galvin is putting together a cluster of projects from Peace Portal Drive to the pier at the end of Marine Drive that would grow into a pedestrian loop through parks, recreational areas, shopping and showcases for Blaine’s history.

The city doesn’t have the budget to fund a waterfront renaissance, Galvin said, but by working on pieces of the puzzle as resources become available, the whole will come together in time. The starting point would be the Peace Portal Drive boardwalk, which, buoyed by a combination of funding sources and volunteer effort, is slated for construction next summer. Planning commission chairman Brad O’Neill donated the original design for the project and a state coastal zone management grant paid for initial engineering. Galvin said his office is pursuing more state grants to add to parks and hotel/motel dollars from the city coffers to pay for construction. Funds transferred to the city from Intalco as compensation for the impact of closing the aluminum smelter are also likely to help pay for the new boardwalk.

From the boardwalk, Galvin wants to see a connection over or under the railroad tracks to what is now a soggy grass area between Milhollin Drive and the tracks, but Galvin sees it as a revitalized wetland welcoming migrating birds. “I see it as an extension of Marine Park,” he said. The Port of Bellingham and Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad now own the property but Galvin said both had been receptive to preliminary inquiries about public use of the vacant land. One option, he said, was for the state department of transportation to use the site for the three to five acres of wetland mitigation they will need to do when the truck route is upgraded. “Right now it’s a filled wetland but it could be so gorgeous,” Galvin said. The area would be rebuilt to allow water from the harbor to flush in and out and non-native weed species would be replaced with native wetland vegetation. A raised wooden walkway would lead visitors through the wetland, perhaps with viewing platforms for birders to stop and set up their spotting scopes. “We’re one of the best birding areas in the Pacific Northwest and we want people to really see that,” he said.

Ideally, the area could be opened up to allow flushing through the wetland between Drayton Harbor and Boundary Bay. A bridge would take Marine Drive traffic over both the BNSF tracks and a saltwater wetland, recreating water flow patterns perhaps closer to what they were before Marine Drive was built and tidal wetlands connecting the two bodies of water were filled. Galvin said this could potentially help to improve water quality in Drayton Harbor by improving water circulation, which might also be an approach to use finding funding sources. “We are working on a series of long term plans with the state Department of ecology to plan for and transform the site and increase flushing of the harbor,” he said.

As visitors stroll through Marine park and down towards the fishing pier, Galvin would like them to have a safe, scenic place to walk all the way, and directional signage guiding them to the area’s amenities. One of the projects now being funded by the department of ecology is an access study for the western end of the park, Galvin said, and a feasibility study for a boardwalk connecting the park to the pier.

Visitors need more to do along Marine Drive, Galvin said, and the city was poised to get into the business of giving it to them. “We want to buy the Dakota Industries building,” he said. “Imagine if this were to become a multiple use building, a hub. Some of the things we’re thinking about include a fish market, a gallery, a museum.”

The Dakota dock, he said, would make the perfect showcase for the Plover ferry and the proposed ferry to White Rock. The Plover, he said, needed to be more a visible part of the harbor scene to both the casual visitor and local residents. “It’s like candy,” he said. “It’s got to get in front of you or you don’t really think about it.”

While the city doesn’t have the funding to buy the building now, Galvin said acquisition funds could be gathered over the next few years or the city could work with private investors to develop the building, or other marina properties that are now underused. “We’d like to work with some private investors to build a land trust of development sites. We would work with them to buy properties and guide their development,” he said.

“At the end of the day you have a wonderful loop, with lots of amenities that acts like a magnet for people,” Galvin said. However, he admitted, “Right now this is mostly dream stuff, but it doesn’t need to stay that way.” .

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