A marathon Whatcom County Council meeting that lasted until midnight Tuesday, November 20, resulted in an approved biannual county budget of approximately $179 million, the establishment of both the Birch Bay Drive and Pedestrian Facility Project Fund and the Birch Bay-Lynden Road/Portal Way Signalization/Improvement Project Fund.
Several Birch Bay residents voiced enthusiasm for the Birch Bay Drive and Pedestrian Facility Project along with their concerns over the construction process. Claudia Hollod, who lives on Birch Bay Drive, said that the rumored widening of the road to a 60-foot right-of-way would take out 30 feet of her front yard, and would do nothing to slow down the speeders she and 132 other petition-signers are concerned about. Gary Vogt, owner of Edgewater Resort and Trailer Park and other property on Birch Bay, spoke against the berm and widening the road.
“The road is fine now,” he said. “You widen it, we’re going to take issue with it. You take our beach away, and we’re going to take issue with it.”
Patrick Allesse offered his opinion that the pedestrian parkway should be built from Alderson Road, because that’s where the pedestrians are. “Parking has always been an issue in Birch Bay,” he added, “and I’m hopeful something can be done in regards to it.”
Council members said they would review all the information before agreeing to allow any work to be done and went on to unanimously approve allocating funds for the project. Council member Barbara Brenner assured Birch Bay residents that she would not support any form of eminent domain.
Council members next opened the floor to public comment about the signalization project at Birch Bay-Lynden Road and Portal Way. Several residents voiced enthusiastic approval, relating stories of near misses and accidents at the problem intersection. Council member Bill Knutzen announced that $2.95 million in federal Surface Transportation Program-Rural (STP-R) and Resource Allocation Program (RAP) funds have been earmarked for the project, and the council unanimously approved the Birch Bay-Lynden Road/Portal Way Signalization Project with an initial project budget of $3,620,000.
After a long debate that led to no alterations, the 2013-14 budget was approved 6-1. The budget does not raise property taxes, but includes a new $19 annual fee on the property tax bill of all county residents who have septic systems, to cover the county department of health’s water quality programs. Brenner voted against the budget because it does not incorporate her proposal to consolidate several departments.
Much of the debate over the budget involved contracts with the Whatcom Medic One ambulance program. Council member Sam Crawford asked the council to eliminate the county’s share of funding for the program, suggesting the service could operate with a $400,000 cut. The rest of Medic One’s funding comes from Bellingham.
Other council members agreed that Medic One’s costs should be decreasing under the existing system, which has less critical calls going to other emergency medical services, but ultimately approved the Medic One contract between the county and Bellingham. Crawford’s motion failed to find a second vote.
In other news, the council voted to add up to $100,000 to the Conservation Futures Fund to support the Purchase of Development Rights Oversight committee. The committee had lobbied for the funds to support additional staff, arguing that the work was too much for their small staff. The motion passed 5-2, with Knutzen and Crawford opposed.
Several residents made reference to the Gateway to the
Pacific Terminal Project at Tuesday’s meeting, arguing that the council should be more involved in the scoping process for the environmental impact statement (EIS). Council members, on the advice of its attorneys, are withholding their own views on the project until the 100-day public comment period, which began September 24, ends. That will leave them 20 days to review all the comments – thousands so far – and other data before making a decision on the project. The scoping period ends January 21, 2013.