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1998 Citizen Advocates for Lake Whatcom

The story behind Citizen Advocates for Lake Whatcom and their work to protect the watershed. In 2014 the deed was signed creating a new Lake Whatcom park and protecting 15-square-miles of Bellingham's watershed.

Linda Marrom and Jamie Berg
Linda Marrom and Jamie Berg

The power of two "ordinary moms"

In March of 1998, Linda Marrom and Jamie Berg were surprised by blasts of dynamite on Lookout Mountain above Lake Whatcom and behind their homes. After a phone call to Sudden Valley Security, they learned the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) was using explosives to prepare the road to Austin Flat, a 212-acre lot, for a timber sale.

Panicking, Linda and Jamie made phone calls to the DNR, watershed committees, and local elected officials.

[16 years later? A new park is born] [Full timeline]

Home-grown activists

The two women could not believe that with the ongoing focus and controversy over the health of Lake Whatcom, and with the past history of terrifying landslides, no one seemed aware of this proposed clearcut near one of the main tributaries of the lake. These home-grown activists wanted details, so they set up a meeting with representatives from the DNR.

The DNR shared information about the proposed sites for heavy road construction and timber harvesting near Austin Creek. Certain areas of the access road on Lookout Mountain are not wide enough for logging trucks. The DNR plans included blasting away 7 to 10 feet of extremely steep slopes along portions of the road that cross over and run adjacent to Austin Creek.

In 2014, their work came to fruition, the deed was signed creating a new Lake Whatcom park and 15-square-miles of Bellingham's watershed. Lookout Mountain above these homes is now protected as one of two main park parcels.

Then, because the geography of this land had been identified as "a high hazard mass wasting area" according to the Lake Whatcom Watershed Analysis, the DNR had planned to remove all vegetation and soil from these forested slopes with the hopes of minimizing the inherent potential for landslides.

The problem of slides

In addition to the potential problems to drinking water, a primary concern was public safety. Just years earlier, landslides triggered by DNR logging sent debris torrents sweeping down the creeks around Lake Whatcom, including Austin Creek. Houses, cars, and 65 acres of timber debris went into the lake. Cleanup costs totaled over $12 million (in 1983 dollars). Since then, a neighborhood of around 6,000 residents had grown along Austin Creek;  a similar landslide would be devastating.

In their own words, as "ordinary working moms," who did not know anything about forestry, geology, hydrology, or any other science, their common sense alone told them this was not a good idea. Greatly concerned about the risk of landslides to the safety of their families and neighbors, as well as water quality in Lake Whatcom, Linda and Jamie decided they could not let this happen quietly.

Jamie and Linda quickly educated themselves about logging and made sure the sale got noticed. They began calling everyone they could think of and by July of 1998 they taking  state and local elected officials, geologists, hydrologists, and forestry experts to the forest to look at the proposed sale. In the fall of 1998 at a town hall meeting in Bellingham they presented to then-public lands commissioner Jennifer Belcher a petition with over 3,000 signatures in favor of stopping the sale.

Sen. Harriet Spanel believed their work was important and introduced Senate Bill 5536 during the 1999 legislative session. Revised into a second substitute bill, it brought forth the Lake Whatcom Pilot Project, which included a moratorium on state clearcutting in the watershed until July 2000. It also directed the DNR to establish a Lake Whatcom Watershed Advisory Committee consisting of representatives from state agencies, Whatcom County, City of Bellingham and three citizen members. Linda Marrom was fortunate enough to be a citizen appointee.

The committee's final recommendations were released in February 2000 to the public, but the public had already taken their concerns to the legislature. State Sen. Harriet Spanel introduced the legislation, SB 6731, to create a Lake Whatcom Forest Management Plan.

A true community project

The public faces of the Lake Whatcom bill campaign were the two dynamic moms from Sudden Valley but it was a true community project. Every step of the way they had the support of the County Executive, the County Council, the Mayor, the Bellingham City council, the local Water District, the Sudden Valley Community Association, a Bellingham School Board member, all of our legislators from the 40th and 42nd Districts, Conservation Northwest, and thousands of local citizens.

Jamie Berg, Linda Marrom and a group of citizens, including representatives from the County Council, Water District 10 and the Sudden Valley Community Association, traveled to Olympia several times to speak at hearings. Jamie and Linda stayed behind to talk to every legislator they could find about the importance of drinking water and public safety in Whatcom County. The bill passed unanimously through the House and Senate, and the Lake Whatcom bill, ESSB 6731, was signed by the governor into law on March 30, 2000.

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