Birch Bay group mulling form of government
Blaine’s governing body and those trying to determine who should be governing Birch Bay had a little uneasy flirtation this week.
“We don’t want to invite ourselves to the dance,” Mike Kent of the Birch Bay steering committee’s governance subcommittee told members of Blaine city council. “If we go that direction we want to know if we have someone to dance with.” The dance would be Blaine’s annexation of approximately 6,000 acres and an estimated 6,000 full-time residents of Birch Bay, forming the second largest city in the county. It’s one of three options Kent said his committee is considering, along with leaving the area an unincorporated part of Whatcom County, or incorporating to form a new city.
“I’m feeling a little awkward here,” said city council member Ken Ely at the January 10 council meeting. “We might be willing to start up the band and have a dance if we thought someone would come.” Ely was joined by other council members in asking for a clearer idea of what the community of Birch Bay favored before entertaining any ideas of annexation. “It would seem the city council could indicate they were open to a study of the question but it doesn’t seem practical for us to spend time and money deciding if we want to annex Birch Bay,” said city manager Gary Tomsic. “It behooves Birch Bay to look at the issue and see for themselves what makes the most sense. If annexing to Blaine makes the most sense then we’ll think about it.”
Kent said his committee would be holding a series of public meetings to answer that question, but they wanted to extend Blaine city council the courtesy of asking their opinion so it could become part of those discussions. “Where would you like to see Birch Bay go? What do you see to be the best thing for Blaine?” he asked. “We’re not sure what the pros and cons are so we’re here with open ears.”
While his group was committed to an unbiased look at all three options, Kent admitted initial discussions pegged annexation to Blaine as the least favored. “We have far more going together than apart. Nevertheless, we might really want our own address,” he said. “The two options on most people’s minds seem to be our own city or the status quo.”
The status quo, remaining an unincorporated area of the county, is something the county is trying to push the area away from, Kent said, as the population grows and the demand for services becomes greater. The Birch Bay Community Plan, adopted by county council in September 2004, recognizes the three options for the area but only annexation and incorporation are long-term solutions for the area. “Staying in the county as an unincorporated area is an interim solution,” said county planner Sylvia Goodwin.
Tomsic suggested there could be a middle road between Birch Bay being absorbed by Blaine and standing completely on its own. “You could incorporate but contract out all the services you’re not providing,” he suggested. “In California contract cities are very common. There may be some options where the city could be willing to work with you that would benefit both of us.”
Tomsic cited law enforcement and streets as two areas where Blaine could provide service to Birch Bay.
Blaine community development director Terry Galvin added that by state law the city couldn’t annex outside it’s own urban growth area, not to mention annexing an entire neighboring urban growth area. “We would need the cooperation of both the state and the county to make something like that happen,” he said.
Mayor John Liebert said the city would be willing to at least talk about any option his committee selected. “ We’re not saying ‘no, we’re not interested’ but let’s just see what happens,” he said.
The next meeting of the governance subcommittee will be at the fire station on Birch Bay-Lynden Road February 7 at 7 p.m. and a representative of the state Community Trade and Economic Development office has been invited to discuss the process of incorporation.