Consider actions to protect beach access in Whatcom County / Noisy Waters Northwest

Click the image to access the March 8, 2022 Bellingham Herald article, “After public outcry, Whatcom Council rethinking its closure of this popular beach”

March 10, 2022 Dena Jensen

From The Belingham Herald article, “After public outcry, Whatcom Council rethinking its closure of this popular beach” by Robert Mittendorf:

“Oregon and California give their residents broad freedom to cross private property to reach public tidelands, through the 1967 Oregon Beach Bill and the 1976 California Coastal Act.

“But Washington state’s 1972 Shoreline Management Act, established by referendum, has much less explicit language.”

It seems like it’s time we call for similar clarification to protect public access in Washington State. 

Also, an introduction item was approved by the County Council at their March 8, 2022 meeting to hold a public hearing regarding an “Ordinance repealing Ordinance 2022-005, temporary closure of Gulf Road.” 

We can watch for that hearing (an announcement of a potential hearing is not yet posted on the County Council’s webpage) and show up to call for repealing the recently approved ordinance restricting public access to this road to the beach. 

At the March 8, 2022 Whatcom County Council Public Works & Health Committee meeting, the Vice President of Project Management for Pacific International Holdings, Skip Sahlin, indicated his company only grants access for specific group events on rare occasions to the beach at the end of Gulf Road that his company controls. 

Sahlin gave the impression there were over 40 “No Trespassing” signs, however he didn’t say where these signs were and County Council Members Kathy Kershner and Kaylee Galloway indicated seeing only a couple of these signs when they visited the property recently. Those signs were in places that didn’t necessarily give an impression that the warning was regarding the beach. For example, one sign is posted on the big conveyor that is on the property. Additionally, Council Member Galloway said there are “Day Use Only” signs. 

It’s important that people stand up for our government agencies always proactively consulting with our local indigenous tribes and nations regarding their access to treaty protected territories. After the Council’s original vote to permit the closure to Gulf Road, Council Member Galloway indicated in a 2/24/22 email to me that she and Council Member Frazey would be meeting with a couple Lummi Indian Business Council Members and would bring up the issue of this beach access issue with them. There was no indication at the May 8 meeting of Lummi Nation’s current position on this issue. 

It’s important for people to stand up for what little public beach access remains and can be secured for environmental protection and community well-being. 

It’s also important for people to stand up for themselves, which Council Member Galloway did – at around 14 minutes into the meeting recording – when Skip Sahlin interrupted her, after she had listened to his statements without interrupting him during the Council’s committee meeting.

Council Member Galloway: “First, I think, you know, at the time of the vote, the information we were given, it seemed very focused on the alleged illegal activity. As many of you know, I reached out to our sheriffs -“

Skip Sahlin: “Let me, I’ll correct you. There is illegal activity out there that has been well-established. So it’s not alleged.”

Council Member Galloway: “Sure, Mr. Sahlin, I’d like to finish, thank you. I would like to say that I checked with the Sheriff’s Office. They did say that over the course of three years, they had responded to 17 calls, two of which they deemed were a little more serious. Those were recovery of a stolen vehicle and a rape investigation. Neither of those serious crimes were listed in your letter. When I asked again, there was some concern about under-reporting of data. That might be the case, but the data that we do have suggests 17 calls in three years. I live in downtown Bellingham. I see 17 calls a day. I don’t know if that’s a lot. It didn’t seem like a lot to me. It didn’t seem like justification to close down a road.”

Until the public hearing, people can continue to contact Council Members to call for protecting and further codifying public access to beaches, protecting tribal treaty rights, and making sure corporations that have proposed projects that would abrogate tribal treaty rights – like SSA Marine and their subsidiary Pacific International Holdings have done – do not take actions that will threaten our valuable lands, air, water, and life forms. 

Contact information for our Whatcom County Government representatives:

Whatcom County Executive:

Satpal Sidhu <>; 

Phone: 360-778-5200

Whatcom County Council:

Entire Council (for the record) <>; 

Barry Buchanan <>;

Todd Donovan <>;

Carol Frazey <>;

Kaylee Galloway <>

Tyler Byrd <>;

Kathy Kershner <>;

Ben Elenbaas <>

Kaylee Galloway

Phone: 360-489-9192 and 360-778-5023

Todd Donovan

Phone: 360-483-8474

Tyler Byrd

Phone: 360-778-5021

Kathy Kershner

Phone: 360-220-7535

Ben Elenbaas

Phone: 360-778-5025

Barry Buchanan

Phone: 360-224-4330

Carol Frazey

Phone: 360-778-5024