Whatcom County Council debates reconveyance

Published on Wed, Jan 16, 2013 by Ian Ferguson

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In their first meeting in 2013, Whatcom County Council unanimously approved a request for the County Executive to enter into a contract between Whatcom County and Wilson Engineering, LLC, to assist with the Birch Bay Stormwater Asset Management Program, in the amount of $96,747. Council appointed Scott Hulse to the Birch Bay Watershed and Aquatic Resources Management (BBWARM) Advisory Committee. Most of the January 15 meeting dealt with a proposed reconveyance of land around Lake Whatcom from state timberland into a county park, but conflicting views voiced during public hearings gave the Council much to consider as they head to a vote on the proposal in the coming months. 

The land proposed for reconveyance currently falls under the jurisdiction of the Washington Department of Natural Resources, and its primary use is timber harvesting. While recreation such as hunting, fishing and hiking is allowed on the land, no facilities are in place to support such recreation.

If the county were to acquire the land, it would become a county park and the  Council would have to decide how best to manage the land, as well as come up with the funds to manage it. Most council members who voiced their opinions at the meeting said that the park, if approved, should facilitate non-motorized use such as mountain biking, hiking and horseback riding. The overriding concern is that the land is within the Lake Whatcom watershed, which supplies drinking water to Bellingham. Council members said any use or development that would contribute polluting runoff should be avoided.

Opponents of the reconveyance took issue with the expense of management, which would fall to the county, and argued that since recreation is allowed on the land, it should be left alone. They also expressed support for local logging companies who occasionally harvest timber from the land. Supporters of the reconveyance said they liked the idea of a county park for various reasons: more bike and hiking trails, prevention of further development, and prevention of logging that they said increases runoff and pollution into Lake Whatcom and disrupts local habitat.

The council unanimously approved a request for the county executive to enter into a contract between Whatcom County and Whatcom Counseling and Psychiatric Clinic for behavioral health services in the jail, in the amount of $374,321. 

Accepted for introduction to future meetings was an ordinance establishing a project fund for the new jail. 

A meeting of the Finance and Administrative Services Committee and Council to discuss this fund is scheduled for January 29. The next regular council meeting will be January 29 as well.