BNSF seeks demolition of Blaine train depot

Published on Wed, Oct 5, 2011 by Jeremy Schwartz

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The Blaine Train Depot officially opened on March 15, 1909. Photo courtesy of the Blaine Centennial Committee, 1984

Officials with Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railway want to demolish the 100-year-old Blaine Train Depot because it “no longer provides a viable function.”

Those were the words of BNSF spokesperson Gus Malonas as he described the railroad’s reasons for shutting off utilities to the depot and seeking its demolition by the end of the year. Malonas said railroad administration have been open to restoration plans from community groups over the years, but the lack of a concrete way forward has forced the railroad to do away with the depot.

Malonas added, however, the building is available for purchase, as long as the buyer agrees to move it from its current location. Malonas said the railroad has no immediate plans for the spot once the depot is gone. The property is worth about $39,000, according to the Whatcom County Assessor’s Office.

“We would like to see it preserved, but it has to be moved off the property,” he said.

Blaine community development director Michael Jones said a representative from the railroad submitted a demolition permit application to the city last week. The city is reviewing the permit, so Jones could not estimate how quickly the demolition might proceed.

If the depot is determined to be historically significant, Jones will decide whether the demolition will need a State Environmental Policy Act review, which would require gathering information on how the demolition would affect the surrounding environment and the state’s collection of historical resources and provide the public with an opportunity to comment.

However, Jones said the demolition process is still in the earliest of phases, and the state’s historical building authority has not yet offered comment on the depot’s historical significance. Jones declined to comment on how quickly BNSF could move to demolish the depot if it is not deemed historically significant.

BNSF has expressed a desire to demolish the depot in the past, and Blaine resident Richard Sturgill feels the same way about the depot’s preservation now as he did then: It should be saved. Sturgill, who’s still involved with the Blaine Coalition for Historic Preservation (BCHP), which worked to preserve the depot in 2007, said it’s up the city of Blaine to decide whether or not the depot will be saved.

“If the city wants to save it, it can be saved,” Sturgill said.

In 2007, the Blaine City Council expressed interest in moving the depot to the end of Milhollin Drive as part of a joint project with the Port of Bellingham to improve Blaine’s wharf district. At the time, the 3,100-square-foot building was floated as a possible cafe, community space and dock for the historic Plover ferry.

Sturgill said the BCHP was involved from the beginning in trying to broker an agreement between the city and the port to bring the depot back to life.

“It’s still one of the few remaining historical buildings in town,” Sturgill said.

In September 2008, the council voted 4-3, with council members Harry Robinson, Jason Overstreet and Scott Dodd voting against, to pay for a study examining how much it would cost to move and restore the depot. The estimated cost was $500,000 to $600,000.

The report estimated it would cost $25,000 just to move the depot, with new water, sewer and electrical hookups costing another $25,500.

Sturgill suggested the depot could be rented out to cover some of the costs of moving and renovation. At the time, a local yacht club had promised $20,000 up front and $300 per month to occupy the refurbished space.

The thought of a reborn depot seemed within reach in March 2010, when representatives from the city and the port discussed who would own the building. Port officials said they would entertain the idea of buying it from BNSF, while city staff floated the idea of purchasing it and entering into an agreement with the port, who would own the land on which the depot would stand once it was moved. BCHP was on board to help pay the moving costs, with the city’s approval.

A council vote later that year, though, halted that plan. A 3-3 vote on the effort to move the depot meant an automatic defeat. Onyon said the money just wasn’t there.

A little more than a year since the city council’s last vote on the depot, Onyon maintains the city cannot be held financially liable for such a large expense. She said the city had also been supportive of restoring the building in its present location, but representatives from BCHP seemed less receptive to that idea.

“I love old buildings, and would personally love to see it restored,” Onyon said. “The city just can’t do something like this right now.”

Top right: The train depot as it currently stands. Photo by Jeremy Schwartz.