Steal this Waterfront: Costs without BenefitPermalink +
Sat, Dec 07, 2013, 8:23 pm // Tip Johnson
Bellingham and Whatcom County just got taken for possibly the biggest ride since European settlers bamboozled native residents and took the place over. We are living with a gang of master thieves and have just been royally fleeced. Someone will benefit. It's just not clear who or how. What is certain is that it will not likely benefit taxpaying citizens.
According to the Military Highway Water Supply Corporation, extended aeration wastewater treatment plants they built in 2000 cost a bit over $2 million for a capacity of 510,000 gallons per day. By extension, the 50 million gallon per day facility G-P left behind would be worth about $2 billion. Wrecking it for a marina leaves the local sewer rate base holding the bag for far higher future replacement costs. None of this has ever been publicly examined. Requests have been repeatedly refused or ignored. The review was intentionally rigged to avoid this issue from the beginning. It is theft, pure and simple. Pretending it doesn't exist, the port turns it into a stream of moorage revenues, with the public paying for both the marina and future treatment capacity.
There is no special public cost to using the ASB for water treatment. It is already approved for that. It has an approved perforated mid-bay outfall and a permitted mixing zone. This is golden. Industry dreams of this and spends millions to get it. G-P got it. We now have it. It's literally irreplaceable. The plan review doesn't even acknowledge it exists. DIscussing uses other than a marina has been systematically prevented. Hence, the ramifications have not been examined. An inter-local public process has somehow sentenced the municipal rate base to higher future replacement costs for their next 50 million gallons per day of treatment needs - something we already own. Guess who will also pay the bill for mucking out the lagoon and disposing of it's toxic sediments?
Then there's the yet unmentioned cost of building an unneeded marina for yachts no one in Bellingham owns. That's many, many millions more.
Perhaps the biggest hidden cost is breaking the industrial water supply/treatment system our so-called environmental review was designed to ignore. The plan fails to look at the potential of the lagoon as a sediment repository or for industrial, storm and sanitary water treatment. This system includes a 48" stainless steel industrial water supply to the site - worth ten or more million current dollars. Once the port-owned lagoon is wrecked, the city-owned water supply becomes worthless, and not just because the city will never again receive water rate revenues from that public asset - more costs the study never accounted.
Breaking this supply/treatment system will severely and possibly irreparably foreclose our ability to host living wage jobs. Even good, clean industry needs water and treatment capacity. When the treatment is gone, the water is useless. That could cost many more billions in lost opportunities. For instance, Whatcom County agriculture took a big hit when Bellingham upgraded their wastewater treatment plant and could no longer handle the rich carbohydrates from vegetable processing. G-P's lagoon could help restore vegetable production in Whatcom County. That's jobs and food security. There could be light manufacturing opportunities that would like to dovetail with the university, our marine services, or our various design labs, building electric cars or solar panels. No one will ever know. None of this was reviewed.
We are blessed with surplus water supply and treatment capacity left behind by G-P. Any other community would flaunt it to recruit good jobs. Most would want to preserve the water right. The port, ostensibly charged with promoting economic development, has refused to try. Recruiting jobs was never considered. The port is set on a yacht basin. They pretend the system doesn't exist because they will rely on revenues from moorage and selling off our waterfront land. That is what benefits their jobs at the port, not farmers growing peas.
Further, when the facility is no longer available for treating stormwater, the public will spend yet more on expensive end-of-pipe stormwater treatment options that have proven to not work as well as expected, to frequently fail during peak events and to discharge stored toxins in sudden surges directly into the nearshore habitat. We will get to pay much, much more for inferior water quality and habitat results. Even though federal and state mandates to treat stormwater are known to be coming soon, studying whether the lagoon could serve this need was intentionally avoided. Urban runoff has been identified as the single largest threat to the future health of the Salish Sea.
The very reason the lagoon exists at all is because an oceanographic study of Bellingham Bay in the 1960s discovered a "concentrating current" in the "inner harbor" area near the mill site which traps pollution, preventing it from mixing with tidal waters. Consequently, G-P built their lagoon with an outfall far from shore, beyond the effect of the inner harbor gyre. Urban runoff entering the bay in this area will remain and concentrate - just as mill pollution did - and forever increasingly inhibit the rehabilitation of the nearshore habitat upon which the entire ecosystem depends. What's the cost of that?
The costs keep coming. Because of shortcomings in our sanitary system, peak storm events overburden sewers, creating Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs). These are discharged into the mouth of Whatcom Creek, immediately adjacent to the treatment lagoon. The CSOs are violations of our discharge permit and are happening with increased frequency. The city gets fines and has an obligation to mitigate. CSOs could be transferred directly to the lagoon, where they could be treated and discharged far from shore. Instead, the city plans to spend many more millions building concrete boxes to capture and hold excess flows until they can be metered back into the pipe to the Post Point treatment plant. These facilities, with complicated pumps and valves, must be entered, cleared of debris and maintained after every use. Higher M&O budgets have not been mentioned.
These are just a few of the ramifications of the newly adopted plan, but wait, there's more.
The existing tax base downtown took a sharp decades-long downturn after less than one million square feet of retail space was opened at Bellis Fair. This new plan expects that six times as much development can be interposed between downtown and the waterfront without any ill effect. The port's policy is to put this property back on the tax rolls as soon as possible. This guarantees only sales and lease revenues for the port, not a boost to the city or all citizens. If the project harms downtown, we could see decades of blight, squalor and increased crime. Damage to the existing tax base was never considered in the review and could easily offset any on-site gains. How soon we forget.
Port boosters claim heavy development of the G-P site will benefit the public. But even slight damage to downtown valuations will so quickly offset any benefit from the port's waterfront development that the hundreds of millions in agreed city investments will soon seem absurd. Meanwhile, the financial obligations will hamstring any meaningful city response for years to come, further benefitting the port's waterfront competition.
As we unwittingly consign the Central Business District to second tier strip clubs, tat shops, and card rooms, we might also anticipate the port delivering their coup de grâce in the form of a tribal accord for a waterfront casino that strips even card room potential from downtown, oops, now soon to be "uptown." This deal may already exist. It wouldn't be the port's first secret accord with a tribe. That's just the way they roll. The city has already approved a plan that would allow this (preliminarily, with the final approval scheduled for December 9).
What a waste. We currently have, for the first time in any of our lives, a consolidated public waterfront. This could be an enormous benefit to Bellingham, as Stanley Park is to Vancouver. However, the port intends to sell it back into the private sector for development that will benefit only the port. They are literally stealing the benefit of a public waterfront from citizens without so much as a debate. These costs are less tangible, but extensive and enormous.
The benefits that a broad, open public waterfront might confer upon the existing tax base downtown, and for the county as a whole, were never considered. Imagine a place for visitors to arrive in buses from casinos, or in their campers and RVs, where Lyndenites can show their midwestern visitors the Salish Sea and San Juan archipelago, where folks can walk their dogs or play volleyball, or watch harbor seals hauled out on log floats or otters scrambling through rip rap. For minimal capital expense, and without heaping undisclosed fiscal indignities upon an unsuspecting public, we could have made this a beautiful place to benefit all the county for generations to come. How much will losing that cost us?
Instead, the plan benefits only the port, which has done such a miserable job of serving public needs that most citizens do not even understand they exist. Cloaked in this confusion, the upshot of the port's policy framework has been to shift all costs to the public while sparing polluters and creating unprecedented entitlements for developers.
Then there are the guesstimated costs of remediation, maybe $100+ million just for G-P - more than twice the original estimate, and perhaps still severely underestimated. There are costs of city-supplied infrastructure, maybe $200 million or more. There are further costs to capping the waterway, mucking out the lagoon, addressing discovery of pollution more extensive than expected. Recent revelations that the port tampered with public records to lower ASB marina costs by about 40% should give cause to suspect that public costs may end up much higher.
According to a presentation previously posted on the Sediment Management Working Group's website, actual project costs for contaminated sediment removal range between $220 and $1,670 per cubic yard. G-P's consultants and the multi-agency "consensus based" Bay Action Group detailed options ranging between 160,000 and 1,900,000 cubic yards of sediment removal. At the low end of this comparative actual project cost scale, really cleaning up all the contaminated sediments would cost $418,000,000. The high-end, at $1670/cubic yard, would cost over $1.5 billion. Even though the port unilaterally adopted a remedial alternative that will clean up the least possible contaminated goo, their proposal doesn't necessarily add up. Will we drastically skimp on actual clean-up, or end up holding a very big bag for costs much larger than are being represented by the port? Can we trust their numbers?
Even with proof that the port fudged numbers, city decision makers have accepted all without question. They have capitulated to the port on every aspect of every element of the plan. They have obligingly committed citizens to covering all these unknown costs. They have abandoned once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, and allowed the port to reap all benefits. They argue that the land sitting idle benefits no one. But who does it harm? We have already seen that development as proposed could be far more expensive and harmful than advertised.
Several Growth Management Hearings Board cases I recently reviewed impose a very high SEPA standard on non-project GMA actions like this. They repeatedly reason that reviews must adequately inform policy makers of the potential impacts of their decisions before subsequent project permitting creates ballooning impacts that adversely affect other capital facilities or service area planning. Bottom line? Plan comprehensively. Don't piecemeal, and be consistent. Both the port and city have been extremely consistent, but with a remarkably contrary willingness to obfuscate, deceive and conceal rather than comply with these simple principles.
It is worthy of note that public fatigue and participatory drop-off seemed highly engineered in the final phase of this issue. After a decade of public process, a new plan was conceived. This last year of the new plan included supplemental environmental reviews without public input, vast project re-scoping without inviting public comment, documents unavailable for review or too illegible to read. It has defined a new low in participatory democracy, and perhaps a new high in institutional collusion.
The review for this plan refused to evaluate many billions in potential costs to the public. It refused to compare the relative benefits of many other viable options. The port knew what they wanted and stuck doggedly to it, chipping away inexorably, wearing out first the public and finally the stalwart protectors we elect to guide our fair city. The port's practice of using fraudulent numbers should have clouded the validity of the plan when finally discovered, but officials are either complicit, apathetic or so worn out they can't be bothered to ask questions.
Long before acquiring the property, when the port first invoked eminent domain to seize the lagoon for the public purpose of a marina, G-P arrived at the hearing to advise the port that touting a public purpose for condemnation included a duty to demonstrate it was the "highest and best" public purpose. G-P suggested it would be difficult to show that a marina was a higher and better use than water treatment. Of course, G-P was right, so the port completely avoided any such comparison by assuring, structurally, that the review would never even consider it. That's fraud.
This plan now reflects few of the goals and objectives outlined over years of robust public participation. It mostly reflects the new "Framework and Assumptions" most lately adopted and relentlessly pounded through for approval with little public involvement. The impending final approval is worth challenging. It will be far more difficult to amend the plan after this Monday's final vote. Citizens should let their council members know. Ask them why they would do this to constituents who trusted their judgement. Ask them who is really calling the shots.
Perhaps Bellingham can generate social movement sufficient to correct this corrupt misdirection of our waterfront resources and avoid being saddled with the incalculable costs of this boondoggle of billions. Only time will tell, and there is precious little left.
Write your Reps jointly - email@example.com
Related Links:-> Check this search for many more articles
-> The Port's fudged numbers
-> Concentrating currents
Sat, Dec 07, 2013, 8:23 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein the direct, indirect, hidden and lost opportunity costs make this a waterfront boondoggle of billions
2 comments; last on Dec 09, 2013
Thu, Nov 14, 2013, 1:39 am // Tip JohnsonDear Mr. President, There's a sucker born every minute, and two to take him.
7 comments; last on Nov 21, 2013
Mon, Oct 28, 2013, 10:19 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein we discover why we exert our rights - and grab some more petitions before it's too late
3 comments; last on Nov 06, 2013
Sun, Jun 02, 2013, 12:41 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein various comments are compiled and compounded, and citizens encouraged to act
2 comments; last on Jun 11, 2013
Sat, Apr 13, 2013, 8:19 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein we see how the Ds do the work the Rs can't get away with
7 comments; last on Apr 17, 2013
Sat, Apr 13, 2013, 2:47 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein the people who call capping a clean-up say toxics safe enough for day care.
1 comments; last on Apr 25, 2013
Mon, Apr 08, 2013, 11:56 am // Tip JohnsonWherein we complain about the City and Port stealing from the public
6 comments; last on Apr 13, 2013
Sun, Mar 24, 2013, 3:01 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein the Cattlemen define 'small scale' as an unlimited number of facilities of up to 50 million live pounds per year.
3 comments; last on Mar 26, 2013
Sat, Mar 23, 2013, 10:53 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein the rate base gets a soaking while officials keep big-bubble toking
7 comments; last on Apr 08, 2013
Tue, Mar 05, 2013, 3:20 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein it's even worse when the legislation is about sausage
Sat, Mar 02, 2013, 8:03 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein the ironies of life are explored and the necessities of life are contemplated
2 comments; last on Mar 12, 2013
Mon, Feb 25, 2013, 5:51 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein artists have to eat, too!
Fri, Feb 15, 2013, 12:20 am // Tip JohnsonWherein the Slaughterhouse Ken and Barbie show present Slaughterville, their new vision for Whatcom County
9 comments; last on Feb 19, 2013
Mon, Dec 03, 2012, 3:26 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein citizens must hold their representatives' feet to the fire
6 comments; last on Dec 09, 2012
Sat, Nov 03, 2012, 1:21 pm // Tip JohnsonAn letter to the County Council on opening the county to the slaughter industry
8 comments; last on Nov 09, 2012
Mon, Oct 08, 2012, 2:53 pm // Tip JohnsonThe Lummi Nation Declares Their Sovereign Objectives at Cherry Point
2 comments; last on Oct 14, 2012
Sun, Jul 15, 2012, 12:54 am // Tip JohnsonWherein we see the Railroad walking it's walk while we get ready to talk our talk.
1 comments; last on Jul 16, 2012
Thu, Jun 07, 2012, 7:37 pm // Tip JohnsonHereby hoping to stimulate discussion of what expanding the Port Commission is meant to achieve, what constitutes good government and how we might best achieve it.
18 comments; last on Jun 14, 2012
Wed, Jun 06, 2012, 9:32 am // Tip JohnsonWherein the port proves they are incompetent to do the public's business
Thu, May 17, 2012, 9:43 am // Tip JohnsonFootage overlooking the Fairhaven area
5 comments; last on Jun 19, 2012
Sun, Apr 22, 2012, 6:28 pm // Tip JohnsonWill donuts prove more important than street trees?
10 comments; last on May 02, 2012
Sun, Apr 08, 2012, 10:33 am // Tip JohnsonWherein the shenanigans start smelling too fishy to tolerate
1 comments; last on Apr 11, 2012
Mon, Jan 09, 2012, 9:27 pm // Tip JohnsonWe have a new mayor!
4 comments; last on Jan 10, 2012
Sun, Dec 04, 2011, 5:53 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein the sooty prospect of economic necessity rears its ugly head
2 comments; last on Dec 05, 2011
Sat, Nov 26, 2011, 4:30 pm // Tip JohnsonO.K. Who's in charge of all these ungulates?
14 comments; last on Dec 02, 2011
Fri, Nov 11, 2011, 4:11 pm // Tip JohnsonDaydreams of a recovering politician
2 comments; last on Nov 12, 2011
Thu, Sep 29, 2011, 8:00 pm // Tip JohnsonI think we've got a winner!
3 comments; last on Sep 30, 2011
Sun, Sep 25, 2011, 11:59 pm // Tip JohnsonEeny, meeny, miny, moe
15 comments; last on Sep 29, 2011
Sun, Sep 18, 2011, 5:16 pm // Tip JohnsonSpoiler Alert: If you are enjoying your blackberries this year, read no further
2 comments; last on Sep 19, 2011
Wed, Sep 14, 2011, 12:38 am // Tip JohnsonA bad deal, but good enough - for now
1 comments; last on Sep 15, 2011
Mon, Sep 12, 2011, 1:44 pm // Tip JohnsonLegislation and Sausage: Very hard to watch being made.
2 comments; last on Sep 13, 2011
Sun, Sep 11, 2011, 9:36 pm // Tip JohnsonRepublished from Whatcom Watch - Let's Save Vendovi Island!
2 comments; last on Sep 15, 2011
Mon, Aug 15, 2011, 10:49 pm // Tip JohnsonShould we accept or dig into Chuckanut Ridge?
21 comments; last on Aug 30, 2011
Mon, Jun 20, 2011, 10:42 am // Tip JohnsonWherein something smells a bit fishy
2 comments; last on Jul 29, 2011
Mon, May 30, 2011, 10:40 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein blackened hearts and minds are initially examined
6 comments; last on Jun 02, 2011
Thu, Mar 03, 2011, 1:16 am // Tip JohnsonOr, The Village That Once Was. Or, I Didn't have Time to Write Something Short, Again.
7 comments; last on Apr 24, 2011
Thu, Feb 24, 2011, 2:09 am // Tip JohnsonYou've gotta be kidding!
13 comments; last on Mar 01, 2011
Fri, Nov 26, 2010, 1:09 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein surrender may be the key to success
5 comments; last on Dec 11, 2010
Thu, Aug 26, 2010, 3:01 pm // Tip JohnsonLegal or Political Football?
4 comments; last on Aug 27, 2010
Fri, Aug 20, 2010, 4:26 pm // Tip JohnsonIslanders need a new game
1 comments; last on Aug 24, 2010
Wed, Aug 18, 2010, 5:07 pm // Tip JohnsonIgnoring the real problem
3 comments; last on Aug 19, 2010
Sat, Aug 14, 2010, 1:20 pm // Tip JohnsonTime for hardball?
Thu, Aug 05, 2010, 2:50 pm // Tip JohnsonWhere, oh where, are our federal representatives?
6 comments; last on Aug 06, 2010
Mon, Jul 19, 2010, 12:53 pm // Tip JohnsonFor-Profit Non-Profits - Pulling the Plug on Services
Mon, Jul 19, 2010, 12:20 pm // Tip JohnsonTaxation without representation
4 comments; last on Apr 16, 2011
Mon, Jun 21, 2010, 5:40 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein the absurdity of the Lummi Blockade is explored in yet more excrutiating detail
1 comments; last on Jun 22, 2010
Tue, Jun 08, 2010, 10:31 pm // Tip JohnsonI mean, come on!
3 comments; last on Jun 09, 2010
Tue, Jun 01, 2010, 8:33 am // Tip JohnsonOil Addiction: All Day Every Day
Sun, May 02, 2010, 5:31 pm // Tip JohnsonMore problems with secret government
1 comments; last on May 03, 2010
Sat, May 01, 2010, 8:53 pm // Tip JohnsonIn which the perils of a police state are only barely considered
2 comments; last on May 04, 2010
Fri, Feb 05, 2010, 1:23 am // Tip JohnsonLummi officials and Lummi Island residents meet -Village to Village
2 comments; last on Feb 07, 2010
Wed, Feb 03, 2010, 2:31 pm // Tip JohnsonWhatcom County lacks both authority and leverage to negotiate a Lummi Island ferry deal
Sat, Jan 23, 2010, 7:15 pm // Tip JohnsonThe Lummi Nation appears prepared to implement a threatened blockade of Lummi Island commencing February 14th
1 comments; last on Jan 24, 2010
Tue, Jan 05, 2010, 12:17 am // Tip JohnsonPort of Bellingham in the news
Thu, Dec 31, 2009, 6:15 pm // Tip JohnsonTip writes a letter to President Obama about Health Care and about his concerns that Obama has sold us short.
8 comments; last on Jan 04, 2010
Mon, Dec 21, 2009, 2:59 pm // Tip JohnsonIt looks like we've got a pretty watered down climate accord. It doesn't provide accountability and won't limit warming to within the two degree Celsius out-of-control climate tipping…
9 comments; last on Dec 23, 2009
Sat, Dec 05, 2009, 8:00 am // Tip JohnsonI always hate public issues that involve decades of history and require integration of multiple points. I refer to it as 'the indignity of explanation.' Public interest advocates…
9 comments; last on Dec 09, 2009
Wed, Nov 25, 2009, 12:25 pm // Tip Johnson
Paul de Armond's recent article about Leonard Zeskind's new book, "Blood and Poli
3 comments; last on Nov 29, 2009
Sat, Nov 14, 2009, 11:19 am // Tip JohnsonWe don't make special offers like this very often, but if you act right now, you'll not only continue getting free access to fresh views, news and opinion…
14 comments; last on Nov 18, 2009
Tue, Oct 27, 2009, 12:20 pm // Tip JohnsonThis is probably old news to Responsible Development advocates, but just in case, here's a little heads up on TIm Stewart. He appears to have experience with developments…
3 comments; last on Oct 28, 2009
New LinksJulia Ioffe/New Republic
Current InterestCommunity Wise Bellingham
Friends of Whatcom
Lummi Island Quarry
League of Women Voters
Paul Krugman - economics
Local Blogs & NewsBellingham Herald
Bham Herald Politics Blog
Bham Politics & Economics
Friends of Whatcom
Get Whatcom Planning
League of Women Voters
Western Front - WWU
Local CausesBellingham Police Activity
Chuckanut Community Forest
Citizens of Bellingham
City Club of Bellingham
Community Wise Bellingham
Cordata & Meridian
Facebook Port Reform
Futurewise - Whatcom
Lummi Island Quarry
N. Cascades Audubon
NW Holocaust Center
Reduce Jet Noise
Salish Sea Org.
Save the Granary Building
WA Conservation Voters
Port of Bellingham
US - The White House
WA State Access
WA State Elections
WA State Legislature
Weather & ClimateCliff Mass Weather Blog
Two day forecast
Watts Up With That? - climate
Edge of Sports
Famous Internet Skiers
Good LinksAl-Jazeera online
Foreign Policy in Focus
Innocence Project, The
Intrnational Herald Tribune
Julia Ioffe/New Republic
Middle East Times
New American Century
Paul Krugman - economics
Personal bio info
Portland Indy Media
Project Vote Smart
Talking Points Memo
War and Piece
NwCitizen 1995 - 2007Early Northwest Citizen
Internet At Its BestTED
Quiet, Offline or DeadBellingham Register
N. Sound Conservancy
No Leaky Buckets
Protect Bellingham Parks
The American Telegraph
The Crisis Papers