GSA meeting produces more gloom than light
Project manager Mark Howard of the General Services Administration (GSA) hosted a workshop last week at the Blaine Senior Center that left many in the crowd feeling frustrated instead of informed.
GSA is planning a new customs facility at the Peace Arch
crossing that may, depending on the final design, take
some or all of the neighborhood north of Paso del Norte
restaurant, west of 2nd Street and south of the parking
lot for the Peace Arch State Park.
But the agency cannot begin dealing with individual homeowners until it finishes the initial public study and dialogue, or “scoping,” which is required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
So last Thursday night’s meeting was intended to be an educational event, or as the GSA’s special projects coordinator Dee Jump said, “to be a basic look in overall terms about what the process of the government acquiring private property entails.”
Staff from the Peace Arch State Park attended only to find out toward the end of the evening that federal acquisition of state-owned property was not to be covered. “This is just about land owned by private citizens,” Jump said.
Howard distributed two booklets, How the Government Acquires Land and Your Rights as a Displaced Person (DP), and most of the presentation that he shared with other GSA staff was based on them.
Among other things, the 35 people attending were told that the government pays most if not all of the costs of relocation, including rental costs if a family has to wait for a new house to be built. Money is available, tax free, to assist with down payments and to make up the difference in price between comparable houses if the market fluctuates abruptly.
To a question asked by Whatcom County Council member Barbara Brenner, Howard said that the law allows them to go as far as 50 miles away to find a replacement. “So I lose my house in Blaine,” Brenner responded, “and you can legally set me up in what you would consider an equivalent house in Kendall or in Paradise Valley?” to general laughter.
When Howard and Jump seemed nonplussed by this, Blaine mayor John Liebert told them directly that they “need to understand what it means to live in the various areas” around the county. He also voiced concern, as did several others, about transferring children to other school districts.
Howard said that they try to work with people in choosing a new location. “It’s a mutual process,” he said, “between us and the homeowner,” but beyond that refused to get into specifics.
June Auld, head gardener for Peace Arch Park, felt frustrated by the process. “Is this even really going to happen?” she asked. Howard told her that there will be more open meetings this coming summer, and that when the time comes in two or three years the process should go smoothly.
Copies of the booklets and of the proposal to re-build the customs facility, officially the “Environmental Scoping Document, Peace Arch Port of Entry Redevelopment,” are at the Blaine Library and also can be obtained from Herrera Environmental Consultants, 2200 Sixth Avenue, suite 1100, Seattle, WA 98121.