Members of the public still have a chance to voice their opinions on a proposed program Whatcom County planning staff say will encourage environmentally friendly development in Birch Bay.
Written comments on the Birch Bay Watershed Action Plan can be submitted to county planning staff up until Thursday, January 12. Whatcom County planning commissioners, who extended the comment period for this program at their December 8 meeting, will hold a work session on the proposal at their January 26 meeting.
The core of the voluntary program is a collection of incentives available to developers who utilize low-impact development practices, such as preserving trees and forestland and protecting wetlands and streams. The incentives would include an accelerated permitting process and the option to pay a fee instead of improving wetlands on-site.
The program would give landowners the option of paying into a fund set aside for use on wetlands improvement projects in the Birch Bay watershed. Developers could pay into this habitat mitigation fund in lieu of mitigating environmental impacts on their own property.
The program encountered opposition from the public after opponents of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal claimed the terminal’s builders, SSA Marine, could use the mitigation fund program instead of mitigating the terminal’s impacts on-site. Senior county planner Peter Gill later removed the program language that terminal opponents claimed would be beneficial to SSA Marine, but controversy remained over the program’s implementation. Planning commissioners agreed to delay voting on recommending the program to the Whatcom County Council until the commissioners could study the program further.
Written comments can be emailed to county planning coordinator Becky Boxx or sent via regular mail to Whatcom County PDS, 5280 Northwest Drive. Bellingham, WA 98226. Public comments so far received on the program can be found here.