The High Cost of County Planning Incompetence / Facebook post, Whatcom Hawk, Wendy Harris

bb-berm

6:07am  October 3, 2016  Wendy Harris

Is there anyone not aware of this $11.5 million project, which involves a pedestrian walkway and bike path on top of and next to a berm being constructed on a 1.6-mile stretch of Birch Bay Drive, beginning at the mouth of Terrill Creek?

In theory, the berm is for storm water protection, and what else.. habitat restoration, but in reality it is, as with most things in this county, really about money… tourist money. It will create a pedestrian and bicycle trail.

In a 2014 community meeting, the public felt that the staff was not well prepared, was not communicating well with the locals, and noted a “NEED TO ENGAGE THOSE WHO OPPOSE BERM IN FRONT OF THEM.” To bad the staff did take those concerns more seriously. After reading public comments, this project does not seem to have the strong support that the administration has continually asserted. http://www.whatcomcounty.us/DocumentCenter/View/1125.

Here we are two years later, and at the point when the project was to begin,it is now being delayed for at least one year. Why? The county marched forward with this project without bothering to obtain easements necessary from local property owners to build the berm. Opppsy. The county has obtained only eight easements and needs to obtain another 30. That is more than a 75% failure rate.

Whatcom County Council approved an amendment to its contract with the Birch Bay Drive and Pedestrian Facility Project contractor at the May 3 council meeting. The amendment authorizes an additional $48,660 for “unforeseen costs” for the project, reflecting, in large part, problems with easement negotiations. It does not sound like much progress has been made since that expenditure.

A May 18, 2016 article in the Northern Light noted, “The county has been working on the project with the community since 1990 and – since it benefits property owners, county special programs manager Roland Middleton said at a February 2016 open house – expected negotiations to be straightforward.
(http://www.thenorthernlight.com/…/birch-bay-berm-project-ma…).

A county document describing the scope of extra work, however, said the easement negotiations received a “higher rate of negative responses from property owners than was understood from open house feedback…” (I believe that “ignored” is a more appropriate term to use here.)

Middleton said in a phone interview that the negative responses are not negative toward the project as a whole. Rather, property owners are negotiating about park benches, access ramps and stairs, and other details. For the most part, the community is still very excited about moving forward,” Middleton said.” Uh, sure, Roland. (http://www.whatcomcounty.us/DocumentCenter/View/18893. Please see page 6 and review the body language from the third public meeting and see if “excited” sounds accurate to you. )

The county project page from May 31, 2016 fails to mention any of these problems, but again, a review of the photos of the public meetings speaks much louder than the statements of the county.
http://www.whatcomcounty.us/…/Birch-Bay-Drive-Pedestrian-Fa…

It is simply incompetence for the county to move forward with such a large, expensive project without ensuring the right to construct and develop. COB did this with the overwater walkway and that did not turn out very well either. (And speaking of which, has the county ever consulted with the Lummis on this project? If they have, I have not heard about it.) This reflects an arrogant and out of touch administration willing to impose its will on the public, be it willingly or unwillingly.

And amazingly, all of this has gone forward before there has been a SEPA hearing! Could there be a louder signal that the administration does not give a damn about the environment?. And while we are in a holding pattern during negotiations, wouldn’t this be a good time to examine the environmental impacts? It has not been scheduled yet, but when the public comment period opens, I hope everyone will tell the county what it thinks about such a sloppy planning approach.

Read Wendy’s post in the Whatcom Hawk Facebook group.

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