Border, fire protection top issues in 2006
• Residents of Semiahmoo ask Blaine City Council for a building moratorium, charging that the city had turned a “blind eye” to infrastructure improvements in relation to population growth. At a June 26 council meeting, residents asked council members to put a halt to approving building permits in Blaine until the city is able to address the issue of road improvements, sewer capacity and long-term water needs.
Documents from the Semiahmoo Residents Association (SRA) using city figures, cited an “astronomical 85 percent growth rate” anticipated during the next several years. City council member John Liebert called the complaints “totally erroneous” and said the city “definitely was not permitting development that will come in and put our community at risk.”
• Two Blaine women announce their plans to walk to raise money and awareness for breast cancer. Teri Price would go on to walk 60 miles in three days for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day walk later that August. Stafholt Good Samaritan employee and breast cancer survivor Laurie Hart would go on to raise money for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life later that July and raised several thousands in donations.
• Blaine resident Jeff Teichert announces his campaign to run for state Court of Appeals judge against incumbent Judge Mary Kay Becker. Teichert, a native of Provo, Utah, and former missionary for the Mormon church, garnered the support of organizations such as the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW), the Affordable Housing Coalition action arm of the BIAW, and the Whatcom County Republican Party but ultimately was defeated by Becker in the September election.
• Three Blaine residents – Austin Markusen, 31, Daniel Cunningham, 22, and Jared Fullen, 25 – were arrested at a house in the 4600 block of California Trail Road for their suspected involvement in a drive-by shooting on Kickerville Road just south of Loomis Trail Road on July 29. According to Whatcom County sheriff Bill Elfo, Markusen and Cunningham were arrested by deputies but Fullen, who refused to cooperate, was gassed out of the house by the Whatcom County Special Response Team (SRT). Inside the house, police found quantities of methamphetamines, a flare gun and a .38 caliber handgun. All three were booked into Whatcom County jail.
• One of the drivers in a February 28 multiple-car crash that killed two Blaine high school girls and injured two others was sentenced to a maximum of 80 weeks in a juvenile detention facility. The 17-year-old Blaine high school student and Point Roberts resident was charged with two counts of vehicular homicide and two charges of vehicular assault. She will also have to fulfill community service requirements.
• Homestead Northwest, a Lynden-based development company, makes headlines when it announces that it purchased the 87-acre golf course located near the Blue Fish restaurant on Birch Bay Drive for $4 million. The land was formerly owned by Iskum, which is affiliated with the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Grand Ronde, Oregon. Homestead president Jim Wynstra said the company has plans to create a 9-hole golf course with a driving range on 41 acres and save the remaining acreage for condominiums and possible resort and commercial development.
• Members of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security held a meeting in Bellingham to listen to testimony from Blaine border patrol agents and local law enforcement officials. They concluded that ports of entry at the U.S./Canadian border are in need of more funding, staffing and resources to comply with federal recommendations for increased border security – especially with the anticipation of the 2010 Winter Olympics.
• Following years of uncertainty and changes to lease agreements, Stephani’s By the Bay owners Stephani and Eric Smith said they will close their doors forever, disappointing its fans such as Birch Bay residents Jody Fox and Teddy Boatwright. “It’s the best food and best service on the bay,” Boatwright said during one of her last visits to the restaurant in August. Stephani Smith said the couple had plans to move to eastern Washington and open a similar restaurant there.
• A proposal to forge a sister city relationship between the city of Blaine and Pugwash, Nova Scotia, was voted down a second time by Blaine City Council after council member John Liebert made a motion to reconsider the idea. The proposal was first rejected in April, after council members Jason Overstreet and Bonnie Onyon both said they had “serious concerns” that it would be “too political” and that the city of Pugwash had “serious political overtones.”
• After a long-standing debate over a sister city relationship with Pugwash, Nova Scotia and the politics of their international peace conferences, Blaine mayor Mike Myers showed his support for peace by endorsing a United Nations proclamation declaring September 21 to be a Day of Peace, as recognized by the city of Blaine.
• The Whatcom County Fire District 13 board of commissioners declares in writing to the county council that the district can no longer guarantee its ability to serve new construction projects in their district. The letters are required by Whatcom County Planning and Development Services before county officials are able to approve new developments. Fire chief Tom Fields said in order to provide the appropriate level of service, the district would need an impact fee of approximately $2,500 per living unit.
• Fire district 13 officials announce at an October 2 meeting at the American Legion Hall their decision to appeal a Whatcom County Council decision to approve Fred Bovenkamp’s 676-home Horizons development at Semiahmoo. In May, Bovenkamp had informally agreed to pay a voluntary mitigation fee to help with increased costs his development would impose on the district but later retracted his statement. Whatcom County Council member Barbara Brenner said that even with the steepest impact fee available, the district would not be able to make up costs that were lost with the passage of I-747, a state initiative that put a 1 percent cap on revenue increases from property taxes.
• By a narrow vote of 4-3, Blaine City Council voted to keep the Blaine Municipal Airport, halting any possibility of development for the 42 acres of prime industrial-zoned land on Blaine’s east side. Council members Bruce Wolf, Charlie Hawkins, Mike Myers and Ken Ely voted to keep the airport while Bonnie Onyon, John Liebert and Jason Overstreet voted to close it.
• Blaine city officials help unveil the Vigil, a bronze sculpture created by Blaine artist Bob McDermott, on October 14. The statue commemorates Blaine’s early fishing days and Icelandic heritage and was paid for largely through donations from community members and groups such as the Pacific Arts Association.
• A U.S. Customs and Border customs inspector in Blaine is charged with smuggling illegal drugs and acceptance of a bribe to allow smuggling of illegal drugs from a Vancouver, B.C. woman Canadian authorities described as a prostitute. Desmone Bastian, 30, an inspector at the Pacific Highway crossing in Blaine, was arrested by U.S. officials and held on a $20,000 bond.
• Brown and Cole, Whatcom County’s 97-year-old grocery store chain, filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy after their sales declined from $400 million to $300 million over the past seven years. Brown and Cole president Craig Cole said the company’s Cost Cutter stores throughout Whatcom County will remain open until further notice, although stores in Sedro-Woolley, Yakima and Sunnyside would close.
• A new program introduced by Washington governor Christine Gregoire could expedite border waits by utilizing hand-held scanners that would read bar codes on the back of Washington and B.C. driver licenses. Gregoire said she developed the program in response to anticipated economic setbacks as a result of a Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative passport requirement for all travelers both entering and leaving the United States.
• Two storms caused some of the worst damage residents in the Blaine and Birch Bay area have witnessed in years, knocking out power to more than 15,000 customers in Whatcom and Skagit counties and causing flooding to many residents in those areas. Officials clocked winds up to 80 miles per hour causing fallen trees and wide-spread power outages.
• A cold weather snap brought freezing temperatures, wind, snow and ice to most areas in Whatcom County, and caused 911 dispatchers to be flooded with calls regarding automobile accidents, injuries due to people falling on ice, water flow activations from cold weather, broken pipes, downed power lines and chimney fires. “We got to the point where we were triaging the calls,” said fire district chief Tom Fields. “We weren’t responding to everything.” Fields added the biggest problem was people not using good judgment with their vehicles, citing 12 or 13 vehicles stranded in a ditch along a single four-mile stretch of I-5.
• The controversy surrounding the Blaine Municipal Airport was stirred up again when Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials told Blaine City Council members during a conference call that Blaine should expect far less money than promised by the Blaine Airport Commission.
Commission chair Doug Fenton asserted he was confident the city could still recoup the original $2 million expected for 2007 through different funding sources but several council members said they remained wary.
• Property values for Blaine and Birch Bay nearly doubled following a quadrennial valuation assessment by the Whatcom County assessor’s office, increasing the assessed valuation of Blaine to nearly $500 million. Because of a 1 percent cap on increases in property tax revenues to the city, however, Blaine finance director Meredith Riley said residents should expect their property tax levy rate to decrease. Whether an individual’s annual property tax payments will increase depends on the amount their property value increased, she said.
• During a regular meeting of Blaine City Council, council member Ken Ely made a motion to re-examine the economic feasibility of the Blaine Municipal Airport, suggesting that the Port of Bellingham outline one or two development proposals for the 42 acres of land currently occupied by the airport.
Council members John Liebert, Jason Overstreet and Bonnie Onyon voted with Ely in favor of the proposal. Overstreet, however, added that even if the port suggests closing the airport he still would not be willing to go ahead with the current funding plan.