Meeting Location Change: County planning commissioners to discuss Birch Bay watershed plan

Published on Wed, Jan 25, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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As of Wednesday, January 25, the meeting location has been changed to the Whatcom County Council chambers in Bellingham. The meeting time, 6:30 p.m, is still the same.

Whatcom County planning commissioners will once again discuss a proposed voluntary program that county planning staff say will lead to more environmentally friendly development in Birch Bay.

The planning commissioners will hold a work session during their January 26 meeting at which the proposed Birch Bay watershed action plan will be discussed. The work session will not include a public hearing on the plan, but the meeting will include a comment period where members of the public can speak on any issue they wish.

County planning staff have made myriad suggested changes to the program and are bringing it to county commissioners for further consideration. The changes came after public concerns arose over the ability of heavy industry to use the program in the Birch Bay area.

The main changes to the program bar developers in the Cherry Point Industrial area from using the program. Language was also altered to clarify the boundaries within which the program can be used and make clearer the requirements for use of the habitat mitigation fund proposed as part of the program.

The formal comment period for the proposed plan closed on January 12. County planning staff received nearly 150 individual written comments from members of the public concerned over how industry in the Cherry Point area south of Birch Bay might use the plan.

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 hit a bit of a roadblock, however, when opponents of the $600 million Gateway Pacific Terminal proposed for the Cherry Point area became concerned the terminal’s proponents, SSA Marine, could use the program to pay into the mitigation fund and forgo the wetlands mitigation necessary for the project. Planning commissioners delayed a vote to recommend the program to the Whatcom County Council in December so planning staff could make changes to it.

County planning staff are unsure of what the planning commissioners' final decision on the program might be. The commissioners could vote to recommend the program to the county council, send it back to staff for more changes, or scrap it altogether.

Click here for a list of documents associated with the program, including the public written comments and the full text of the program itself (look under the "January 26, 2012" heading). Here's a summary of the changes made to the program, written for the planning commissioners. 

The planning commission meeting will take place at the county’s northwest annex at 6:30 p.m. on January 26 at 5280 Northwest Drive in Bellingham. As of Wednesday, January 25, the meeting location has been changed to the Whatcom County Council chambers in Bellingham. The meeting time, 6:30 p.m, is still the same.


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