Candidates share their views with Birch Bay residents at forum

Published on Wed, Oct 16, 2013
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At the Birch Bay candidates’ forum October 15, hopefuls for county-wide seats got a chance to introduce themselves and answer questions directly from Birch Bay residents.

Birch Bay residents Kathy Berg and John Gargett moderated the well-attended forum at the Birch Bay Bible Community Church. Audience members submitted questions to the candidates in attendance: four candidates for two seats on the Port of Bellingham commission and eight candidates for four Whatcom County Council seats. 

Northwest Parks and Recreation District 2 commissioner Jeff Carrington appealed to the audience to vote for a four-year levy for the district that will appear on the November 5 ballot, and Katie Montfort, who is running for re-election on the parks and recreation district commission, also spoke.

Due to space, only one question for county council candidates is included. For the full transcript, see the article online at

Birch Bay has a census bureau population of 8,500, which makes it the highest populated non-city in Whatcom County. It pays a considerable amount of taxes to Whatcom County. If elected, how will you represent Birch Bay?

Ken Mann: Who here knows Kathy Berg? Here’s my theory in representing Birch Bay. I call Kathy Berg, and I say, ‘What do I need to know about this issue? Explain to me the background, give me the pros and cons,’ and that is my number one resource because she knows everything out here. She really is the defacto mayor. So, number one, Kathy Berg. Number two; we get a lot of stuff from you guys on the council. The Birch Bay berm is obviously a huge issue that I think everyone is on board with right now. I support it, I assume everyone here supports it; the project is a big one and I will continue to champion and support our staff in that work. Another one is the property along Birch Bay Drive that I know a lot of people would like to see purchased as a park. There’s a lot of park fatigue on the council right now, our budgets are stretched, but that is a point that I have an open mind about. At the moment, we don’t have the money for it.

Ben Elenbaas: The city of Bellingham has a city council, the city of Lynden has a city council, Sumas, right on down the line. But Birch Bay really counts on the county council to be their government. So I think what I would do is what I’ve done on the planning commission: listen to the citizens of Birch Bay, hear their concerns. Ken mentioned the park, and said there wasn’t enough money for it. I think that’s a shame because we put all our eggs in one basket with the 8,800-acre park in Bellingham. The point of the forum is to draw a contrast, so I’ll draw one for you. My opponent voted for the reconveyance, and I don’t think I would have supported it, not because I’m anti-parks but because it does put all our eggs in one basket.

Michelle Luke: The Birch Bay community makes it easy. I first knew how the Birch Bay community worked when you were all working on your subarea plan. You got it right. You elected a committee, you were careful about having stakeholders from as many areas as you could, and you did excellent work. Since I’ve worked with your community on issues that have come before the planning commission, and you come organized – you have everything already worked out in the community – I don’t think I’ve yet had an issue at the planning commission level where there’s been varying points of view. I’ve been to some council meetings where that’s happened, but you make it easy and you also show all our communities in Whatcom County, helps us not have weak links.

Carl Weimer: The Birch Bay [subarea] plan was an amazing thing. I spent a lot of quality hours up at the old church listening to them and trying to support that moving forward. Birch Bay is really an example of an un-incorporated area that has set up a communication system with the council that continues to work. One of the things I’ve been really interested in trying to do – I think it was my first year on the council – I brought people up from counties south of here where they set up a more formalized system of community councils in rural areas like Birch Bay, like Lummi Island, like Point Roberts. I’m still interested in trying to move forward with that. You’ve got it kind of covered out here, the ferry task force on Lummi Island is kind of the voice for Lummi Island, Point Roberts has an advisory committee, but they all kind of act differently, and I think it would be nice to formalize those, so the rural areas really have as strong a voice as the cities do when we’re doing our planning.

Bill Knutzen: I’m going to do the same thing I’ve done the last four years. I’m going to listen to the stakeholders, I’m going to continue to work for the good of the community and I’m going to continue to work behind the scenes. For those of you that don’t know, for the past couple of years I’ve been over at Puget Sound partnership, working to try to get funding for the berm project – some which has materialized. Also working with state legislators to try to find funding for some of these things. These are expensive projects, and we can’t do it alone, so we need help and assistance on some of this stuff, and we need partners in the community that we can do that with, and that’s why I’m going to continue to try to find partners, try to find groups that we can work with and I’m going to continue to listen. You know, you’re real fortunate in Birch Bay that you have some very active lobbyists for you. I don’t think a week goes by that I don’t get an email from you, Kathy [Berg]. And just because I don’t do what you say doesn’t mean I’m not listening. And that’s what I’m going to do for the next four years.

Rud Browne: Having been in the business that I was in, you do market research, and the market research in this place is really simple in terms of economic opportunity. It usually has a B.C. license plate. These people come down and spend money in terms of sales tax, they spend money in terms of property tax and they use very little of the social services, which is primarily where those taxes go. So the opportunity to bring more Canadians in, have them spend their money and then leave, is a great economic leverage point. The issue of the Lake Whatcom grants came up. It’s a great point because to me it’s a good example of the way I look at things. It was a tremendous return on investment. We got to protect more than 8,000 acres of land for $40 an acre, and at the same time replace land that the DNR had taken away from the mountain biking community. So it was a great recreational opportunity, and I would just point out as a comparison, the amount of money going into the Lake Whatcom reconveyance is about the same as the money we spent fighting the growth management act.

Kathy Kershner: I’ll echo that I would listen to Kathy [Berg] and Doralee [Booth]. A couple things that haven’t been mentioned: one is the Bay-to-Baker tourism committee that is helping to promote Birch Bay and Mt. Baker and all things in between. County council supported that, and I would continue to do that. Also, a couple years ago there was a low impact development set of regulations that was being worked on around here so that property owners could build their homes and lower their impact to the environment. It was designed that way so that stormwater issues could be handled better, and I supported that. It’s shelved right now; we’re waiting for the department of ecology to come together with their NPDES [National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System] report.

Barry Buchanan: I certainly support all the projects that have been talked about – the berm, the little park down along Birch Bay Drive – but there’s something that I think is more important. If I get elected, I want to come out and spend time with you. I want to come out here and talk to you. You have a very, very active community, and how better for us to get the input we need than for us to come out here in forums like this, and be able to communicate with each other and talk about our goals and talk about what we can achieve together as partners. I think that’s important.