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Proposed Port/City property exchange promotes job creation, access to waterfront

Harbor photo by Kim Friberg

A proposed property exchange announced Oct. 3, 2012 by the Port and the City is expected to boost economic development and job creation, and provide opportunities for early public access to the waterfront. The Port of Bellingham Commission and the Bellingham City Council will consider the proposal and have scheduled public hearings on it later in October.

The proposed exchange, if approved by both legislative bodies, will result in the Port owning additional property in the Marine Trades Area of the Waterfront District and the City consolidating property ownership in the Cornwall Beach area. The agreement is proposed as a land swap, with no money changing hands.

Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville and Port Interim Executive Director Rob Fix said the property exchange meets multiple community goals, in particular strengthening the area's potential to attract additional maritime economic development on the waterfront and meet commitments to public access.

It simplifies a jigsaw puzzle of land ownership, allowing each government to focus on its areas of strength and interest. While this land exchange is separate from the joint Waterfront District master planning effort, if approved it will resolve land use and ownership issues that were unnecessarily complicating planning efforts.

Supports economic development

As part of the Whatcom Waterway clean up and to encourage additional marine industries, the Port is poised to make an infrastructure investment of approximately $3 million on the Central Waterfront shoreline facing the Whatcom Waterway, including on a portion of land that presently is owned by the City but would be part of this property exchange. The Port is working with the Department of Ecology on a clean up plan that readies a portion of the shoreline for continued marine industrial use.

"Having a single owner for this section of shoreline will allow the Port to manage the property so that multiple businesses can make use of the public investment in the shoreline improvements," said Port Interim Executive Director Rob Fix. "We anticipate this land swap will result in a more efficient use of public lands and will create new jobs within the next year."

Linville said the proposed exchange provides several opportunities for early public access to the waterfront, and allows for the best possible and most efficient development and management of the properties.

"It aligns interests for each government, allowing us each the opportunity to do what we do best," Linville said. "The Port is responsible for managing and promoting marine trades on the waterfront. The City creates outstanding community parks, trails and other public amenities. This land exchange allows both governments to move forward on the shared goals of job creation and public access to the waterfront."

Waterfront public access

She said the Cornwall Beach area has long been envisioned as an area for waterfront public access with parks, trails and mixed-use development, and consolidating City properties simplifies planning for development of that area. She said the public will have a chance to weigh in on land use proposals for this property during the waterfront master planning legislative process next year.

The proposed property exchange also calls for the Port granting the City access to the breakwater surrounding the former Georgia Pacific treatment lagoon, as well as access to adjacent property for public parking.

Linville said she expects to propose, as part of the Waterfront District plan, that a public trail be built along the breakwater within the next couple of years.

"This agreement will allow the community to experience a spectacular waterfront trail with unique views of the city and the bay," she said. While earlier plans called for this trail in later phases of development, she said with necessary approvals it could be built as early as 2014.

The proposed exchange does not affect the timing or plans for environmental clean up, and requires that both governments retain clean up responsibilities and liabilities that are already in place, as described in various consent decrees and other agreements.

The exchange proposal is spelled out in detail in a proposed interlocal agreement between the City and the Port:

Remaining exhibits noted in draft interlocal agreement but not displayed here will be included in the packets for the Port Commission and City Council public hearings, as well as added to this webpage.  This information also is available on the Port of Bellingham website. The interlocal agreement and associated exhibits also can be viewed at the reception area in the Lobby of City Hall.

Public hearings schedule

Public hearings and consideration of the proposal by City and Port legislators is scheduled as follows:

Linville and Fix said the proposed property exchange is the result of extensive collaboration between the City and the Port, and is an important step forward as City and the Port jointly complete a proposed Waterfront District master plan, expected to be submitted to the City's legislative process prior to the end of the year.

More information


Published: Oct 3, 2012

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