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Status quo on Lake Whatcom not good enough

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By Editorial board
The Bellingham Herald

Bellingham's daily newspaper editorial board urges citizens to speak up for creating a Lake Whatcom Forest Preserve. "...leaving the land in logging is a mistake. This land transfer is good for the community and we urge [the Whatcom County Council] to support it."

 

When it comes to taxes and government spending, our editorial board is strongly in favor of fiscal responsibility and respect for taxpayers' limited funds.

But we can see the long-term financial and community value of paying to preserve more than 8,000 acres in the Lake Whatcom watershed.

Apparently the Whatcom County Council is not so sure. At 6 p.m. Monday, state officials will hold a public hearing on a proposed exchange of state trust lands in the watershed that would that would put the county in charge of the 8,000 acres for use as a low-impact park.
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In a recent story by reporter Jared Paben, council members indicated they are leaning against approving the plan. The council has approved steps toward bringing the plan to fruition since it was first suggested by then-councilman Dan McShane in 2008. County administrators have worked with state officials on details for three years. But it appears that there is no majority on the current to take the final steps to create this long-term benefit to the community.

On the contrary, it appears that the majority of the council today would rather leave the state in charge, citing the cost of managing such a big piece of property.

That's short-term thinking. Yes, it will cost something to take control of the land. Yes, there will be some maintenance costs. But those should be minimal. No one wants, or expects, the county to turn that land into a full-fledged park with parking lots and amenities. The whole point is to stop the land from further development or change, either from logging or some other future use.

We are well aware that careful logging is not the worst thing that could happen in the watershed. Much worse would be more housing development in which large swaths of trees are removed.

But the status quo on Lake Whatcom is not good enough. Leaving things as they are, in property development rules or timber harvesting, is not going to turn the tide on the lake. And that's what needs to be done. The lake is listed as an "impaired waterbody" under the federal Clean Water Act. State ecology officials have set forth a standard for reversing the lake's continual deterioration from high loads of phosphorus.

Action has to be taken.

We don't believe that preserving this 8,000 acres is the end of what needs to be done for the lake. Limits on future housing development are much more important. But it's a positive step forward for the long-term health of the lake.

The DNR manages different types of land to raise revenue for different trusts. Under state law, one type, called State Forest Transfer trust, can be transferred to the county for parkland.

But the DNR's property around the lake is scattered in a checkerboard fashion under several different trusts. State officials have been working to rearrange properties so that a transfer would make better sense. The state has incurred costs for appraisals and other services.

The county agreed to reimburse the state up to $291,000 for those costs. The county already has reimbursed the state $170,000, and other invoices will soon be sent to the county for payment.

We applaud council members for being cautious with the public's money. We urge them to get the best deal for the citizens. But leaving the land in logging is a mistake. This land transfer is good for the community and we urge them to support it.

We urge citizens to attend Monday's meeting and learn more details. And we urge citizens to contact their County Council members and express their support for the plan.

MEETING MONDAY

What: State Department of Natural Resources hearing on the proposed exchange of state trust lands with other trust lands in the Lake Whatcom watershed.
When: 6 p.m. Monday, May 9.
Where: County Council chambers, 311 Grand Ave. in Bellingham.
More information: Go online to 1.usa.gov/fwrwAS.
Comment letters: To comment in writing, email Lakewhatcomreconvey@dnr.wa.gov by 4:30 p.m. May 31.

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