Waterfrontplan to improve wharf, save historic train depot

Published on Thu, Nov 22, 2007 by ack Kintner

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Waterfront plan to improve wharf, save historic train depot

By Jack Kintner

A major piece of Blaine’s history, the 98-year-old former Northern Pacific depot just south of the Marine Drive crossing, is likely to be preserved for future use thanks to city council action last week that included a feasibility study of the depot in its waterfront plan.

Though much is left to be done, including penciling out the various costs involved, supporters would like to see the two-story 3,100 square foot depot that’s constructed of local old-growth fir moved to the west side of Mulhollin Drive, the road that connects Marine Drive to the public boat ramp.

It would be located in an area that the city’s plan calls “Plover Park” where it would serve as a terminal building for the Plover ferry. Along with the projected pedestrian overpass connecting the boat launching area with the H Street plaza, the ferry could provide easy pedestrian access to downtown from Semiahmoo.

“What would it be like now if we could have saved the lighthouse in 1947?” said Richard Sturgill, founding director of the local non-profit Drayton Harbor Maritime.

“Instead of doing that, we lost it and now we’re building a replica. Well, we still have the train depot, so let’s use it.” Sturgill added that the building is large enough that there could be several different kinds of income-producing activities housed there to help with operational costs.

Yet to be decided are some possible deal-breakers like the costs involved in moving the building and the presence of lead-based paint, asbestos or other hazardous materials. Sylvia Goodwin of the Port of Bellingham pointed out that though a lot needs to be decided, “Now that the city has a plan then Blaine and the port can begin working together on this.”

Goodwin said that the city’s feasibility study would include proposals for ownership and operation. “I wouldn’t think the port wants to own it, although I can’t really speak for them,” she said, “but the city could own the building, for example, and allow it to be run by a non-profit on land that the port might decide to make available for a reduced rate. For example, the Port of Bellingham currently allows the non-profit Marine Life Center aquarium in Bellingham to operate on port property free of charge.

“There are also parks that the port owns that include public restrooms, so another idea is to include them in a relocated and renovated train depot to encourage the port to participate in some arrangement,” she added.

The depot was first used on March 15, 1909, when a Consolidation steam engine made its way south on a new coastal line that Great Northern Railway owner James J. Hill built to connect with a railway and ferry service to Vancouver Island.

Until then, trains ran through town roughly along 8th Street and then southeast along the east side of Yew Avenue where the old road bed can still be seen. Hill’s new line, built by a Great Northern subsidiary called the Victoria Terminal Railway and Ferry Company, avoided both the hilly terrain south of Cloverdale, B.C. and a swampy area south of Blaine that was a track maintenance headache.

Today, almost 100 years later, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) wants to put in a third track in front of Blaine.

The depot is in the way and will be demolished unless plans can be made to move it. If so, the railroad will give it away. Moving costs are estimated to be roughly $60,000.

“But the enhancement to Blaine’s waterfront could be priceless,” Sturgill said.