Locals seek support to save Blaine depot

Published on Wed, Jan 18, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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The historic Blaine train depot could be placed on a statewide list of endangered historic properties as discussions continue over establishing a commuter rail stop in Blaine.

Two Blaine preservation groups have come together to submit an application to the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation to get the 100-year-old Blaine train depot included on the trust’s list of most endangered historic properties. Trust field director Chris Moore said the list comprises historic properties across the state that are most in danger of being demolished or destroyed by other means, such as neglect.

While the trust, as a nonprofit organization, has no power over what eventually happens to the depot, Moore said the point of the endangered properties list is to call attention to historic resources in danger of being lost. The trust’s board of directors will announce 2012’s list in May.

Moore said many attributes of a specific historic property are taken into account when the trust’s board of directors considers it for the list, including the property’s condition and the amount of community support around the property. The trust’s board wants to see a certain level of community involvement in the restoration of a property considered for the list because they are most likely to be eventually preserved.

“The community has to embrace the structure [and] has to want to see it restored,” Moore said.

With eventual restoration in mind, two community groups in Blaine are leading the charge to save the Blaine train depot and even transform it into an operating train station. But as has often been the case during the economic downturn, what happens next will depend on funding.

Bill Becht, an organizer with the Save the Blaine Station group, said he has always been a strong supporter of refurbishing the depot into a operating commuter rail station. He said numerous residents in the lower mainland of British Columbia have expressed a desire for a way to take a train from Blaine to Seattle rather than battle I-5 traffic.

To promote these interests, city leaders from White Rock, B.C., and Blaine are planning to meet with representatives from the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to discuss the possibility of designating Blaine a commuter rail stop. Blaine city council member Bonnie Onyon said while these meetings, one of which will be held in February, are still preliminary, she is hopeful the result will lead to concrete solutions sooner rather than later.

“It’s moving in a more productive direction than it ever has,” Onyon said.

Onyon said representatives from the Cascadia Center for Regional Development, a Seattle-based transportation advocacy group, are working with WSDOT to determine where to get funding for a Blaine train stop. The Cascadia Center’s goal is to impress upon WSDOT officials how much Canadian and U.S. interest there is for such a project, and Onyon said this will hopefully be achieved in future meetings.

“Things are progressing and looking better all the time,” Onyon said.

Moore said restoration of historic Washington train depots into operating train stations is not the most common preservation route, but he thinks restoring a station to its original use is typically the best way to go. Other restored train depots across the state have been turned into museums and cafes.

Richard Sturgill, an organizer with the nonprofit Blaine Coalition for Historic Preservation, said restoring the Blaine train depot as an operating station should be the first priority, but as an alternative Sturgill also supports moving the depot to the Blaine Marina, where it could serve as a museum and terminal for the historic Plover Ferry. This option would only be considered if Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF), which owns the depot, decides it cannot stay in its current location.

Sturgill said he supports the depot’s listing on the endangered historic properties list because it will help drive home the importance of the depot as an historical landmark to the residents of Blaine. BNSF representatives have expressed a desire to demolish the depot, and Sturgill said the goal of any restoration project should be to preserve the station for future generations.

“Ultimately, we want to save the building,” Sturgill said.

For more information on the restoration efforts for the depot, visit www.blainestation.com.