Miscellaneous  Comments Off on Hello!
Jul 062010

This is a new blog to keep members of the Chums of Terrell Creek (Birch Bay, WA) and their friends informed about what’s up.

Next big thing – Birch Bay Discovery Days Parade – July 17, 2010. Photo shows Samantha, the street puppet, in the 2008 parade.

Changed policy on comments

 Miscellaneous  Comments Off on Changed policy on comments
Mar 112010

In the past, we have declined to print comments from those who did not identify themselves.

But we’ve seen that most blogs do allow aliases and “anonymous” entries.

So, from now on, we welcome all comments. Use any name, including your own.

Bring ’em on.

Al & Ruth

All communities lose as Whatcom County works to comply with the state Growth Management Act; Bill Grant won some back — will he get more?

 Miscellaneous  Comments Off on All communities lose as Whatcom County works to comply with the state Growth Management Act; Bill Grant won some back — will he get more?
Sep 212009

The few smiles in the rotunda of the county building last Thursday evening, 9.17, were the result of changes County Executive Pete Kremen recommended for Birch Bay, reinstating the town center node at the intersection of Blaine and Alderson roads. The main beneficiary of this change is Bill Grant, Birch Bay‘s biggest builder, who owns property there and has a multi-use plan. *

Lisa Guthrie was not smiling. She is the public face of Homestead Northwest that would lose zoning for more than 200 family homes at the eastern end of the Sea Links property. Proposed zoning is one home to five acres; Ms. Guthrie says that would mean only three houses could be built there.

Inside, the chamber was packed for a joint hearing – actually listening – by the county council and the planning commission. After Whatcom County Planning Director David Stalheim briefed the council and commission members on the highlights of Mr. Kremen’s revised recommendations, representatives of the county’s communities, starting with Mayor Pike of Bellingham, spoke. Most are unhappy with the lack of significant changes from Mr. Kremen’s original proposal.

But Kathy Berg, who serves as chair of the Birch Bay Steering Committee, was thankful for Mr. Kremen’s change from his first recommendation that she called “draconian”, cutting the heart out of the Birch Bay Community Plan. She was the only representative to recognize the need for the UGA revisions: “Lack of compliance cuts the county off from funding sources that are needed to address pressing issues in Birch Bay.” (Like The Berm.) For her full presentation and more Birch Bay information, see www.birchbayinfo.org.

Blaine, according to an earlier memo from Mayor Onyon to Mr. Kremen, would like to keep 400 acres in its west side that Trillium wants to develop. However, neither Ms. Onyon or anyone else from Blaine was at this hearing.

Representatives from Columbia Valley and Everson supported Mr. Kremen’s general recommendations, but suggested improvements relating to their borders.

Dennis Rhodes, Ferndale‘s planner who formerly was on the county planning staff, spoke vigorously about the county not recognizing his city’s need for commercial development space. (Is Ferndale preparing to sue?)

Amy Haskel, who is popular with the county staff, represented the city of Lynden. During the public period, she was followed by a handful of other speakers beginning with Mayor Jack Louws. Each of these speakers, council members, planning commissioner, city administrator, and city attorney, presented a different argument portraying Lynden as a model city. Included was a letter from prominent farmers stating that the land the county plan reserves for agriculture is not good for growing crops.

After two hours, when all of the council members and commissioners still appeared to be paying attention, we left. (Jared Paben of the Herald reported that 58 people spoke for over four hours.)

*A bigger challenge is coming for Mr. Grant Tuesday night, 9.22, when the county planning commission takes up “LAMIRDS” issues. These include the “land grab” near

Birch Bay Square

.  Mr. Grant’s Gold Star Resorts owns undeveloped land where

Birch Bay–Lynden Road

meets I-5, which would lose considerable value if downzoned.


We enthusiastically welcome comments.

Now a Trench

 Miscellaneous  Comments Off on Now a Trench
Sep 152009

First it was pot-holes, all over the beach at low tide. Now it is a trench, threatening to exceed the Mariana Trench dimensions.
Please, clammers, fill in your holes.

Apart from making an unsightly moon-scape of the beach, the holes are walking hazards.

But most importantly, marine life is disturbed by clamming activity and the best you can do to minimize that impact is to return the material as close as possible to its original state.

Residents, visitors and future clammers thank you.


Reason Prevails

 Miscellaneous  Comments Off on Reason Prevails
Aug 232009

At the end of last week the fire district published a revised Capital Facilities Plan with marked down mitigation fees reducing the total revenue projection to $11,446,217 from a previous $23,903,505. [This reduced request is also based on growth Alternative Y that anticipates 17 thousand more people in the fire district by 2031.] This new amount would finance the cost of two new fire stations and two new fire engines and aid cars. The figures below represent discounting to nearly 48 percent of the original requests.

Adjusted Concurrency Mitigation Fees by Land Use

Land Use

Dec. 31, 2008


Mitigation Fee

Per Unit of


Unit of


Adjusted Concurrency Mitigation Fee

per Unit of Development


Singe Family and Duplex


Per dwelling unit




Per dwelling unit





Per square foot



Nursing Home


Per square foot




Per square foot





Per square foot




Per square foot


Leisure Failicites


Per square foot




Per square foot




Per square foot





Per square foot




Per square foot


Special Public Facilities


Per square foot


Adapted from Table 41 of NWFRS Capital Facilities Plan

The district also reduced the amount of a bond issue required to finance upgrading existing stations from $4.050 million to $3.400 million

The purpose of this exercise is to gain the approval of Whatcom County as part of the county’s updated Growth Management Plan. In that regard the district’s plan ends with a statement of financial feasibility of interest Birch Bay residents:

The probable sources of revenue described above indicate that it is financially feasible to build and operate two new stations {with engines and aid vehicles} during the period 2008-2031 if Whatcom County implements the district’s Concurrency Mitigation Fee Program. If Whatcom County does not implement the Concurrency Mitigation Fee Program it would not be financially feasible for the district to pay for capital needs to build and operate two new stations {with engines and aid vehicles} during the period 2008-2031 necessary to serve urban growth in the Birch Bay UGA. [Emphasis added.]

Of course, with developers now struggling to survive, this Projection Y stuff is yammer. But the state’s Growth Management Act requires a plan, so plan we must.


Clarification from Chief Fields

 Miscellaneous  Comments Off on Clarification from Chief Fields
Aug 192009

I have reviewed the latest information in your blog and would like to offer one correction. In the article titled “Peace Parley on Mitigation Fees,” you identify August 20 as being a “significant date” where the fire district will be submitting the Capital Facilities Plan (CFP) to Whatcom County.That is not entirely correct. The August 20 date is significant only in that it is the date of the second public hearing on the proposed CFP. The Board cannot make any decision on the CFP until after August 26, as that is the close of the official comment period on the DNS issued by the fire district’s Deputy SEPA Official. Oral comments will not be received after August 20. However, written comment can be received until the August 26 deadline.

I would anticipate that the Board will review any and all comments prior to the September 3 Board meeting and would consider making a decision on CFP adoption at that meeting. I believe the actual submittal of the CFP must occur before the end of September.

The CFP has gone through another revision based on comments received from those who attended the various workshops. We received the revised document from our consultants late yesterday afternoon. Having reviewed the document and finding it acceptable, we will be placing the revised version on our web site within the next twenty-four hours.

Thank you so much for being a non-biased communication conduit for those we serve. Hopefully, we are nearing the end of this complicated issue, and that the end result will be a living planning document that will serve the fire district through the planning period.

T. M. Fields
Fire Chief
North Whatcom Fire and Rescue


Chief Field’s Response to Rumors/Concerns Regarding Fire District‏

 Miscellaneous  Comments Off on Chief Field’s Response to Rumors/Concerns Regarding Fire District‏
Aug 122009

Sent: Tue 8/11/09 10:35 AM

To: birchbayblog@hotmail.com

Good Morning Al:

Having been on vacation for the past three weeks, and I am somewhat behind in responding to the 200+ e-mails and voice mails. Please accept my apology for not responding sooner to your questions listed in the Birch Bay Blog regarding the fire district and the Capital Facilities Plan (CFP). I will try and answer herein and if you have any additional questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me.

1) Is it true that some developers, including those who eventually sued you, offered to pay you mitigation fees that you refused? If so, how much did they offer? How does that amount compare with the mitigation fees in your draft capital facilities plan, dated June 20 ($2,078.45 per single family residence and $2,983.70 for multi-family housing)? The plan states that amounts as much as 50% lower might be sufficient due to a variety of factors. That could mean as little as $1,039.23 for a single-family home. Is that more or less than the developers offered?

It has been over three years since the issue of growth, concurrency, and mitigation surfaced. The first development that initiated the mitigation fee concept was the Horizons at Semiahmoo project. The fire district filed an appeal to that project’s MDNS at the public hearing. During that hearing the statement was made that the developer would be willing to pay the mitigation fee, at that time estimated to be $2500. I believe this is on the record. However, at a meeting of the Planning Committee of the Whatcom County Council, the attorney for the developer identified to the committee that there was a slight grammatical error in the documentation and that the term “mitigation fee” should be replaced with the term “impact fee”. The Planning Committee agreed to the change. The fire district was never advised of this meeting and was not aware of this change. Unfortunately, as you know, fire districts do not have “impact fee” authority; resulting in the developer acquiring approval for their project without any fees being paid. This occurrence is what started this entire issue.

To the best of my knowledge, that is the only official offer the fire district has ever received with regard to paying any mitigation fee. In our various discussions, there may have been informal comments by developers stating that they would be willing to pay a lesser fee, but a check of our files does not indicate that the fire district has ever received a written official offer from any developer to pay a lesser fee.

2) Is it true that you want to charge mitigation fees only to developers and not single home builders –- thus if an individual family buys a lot in the middle of a developer’s project and builds it’s own house there, you would not charge the individual home but would charge the developer of adjacent houses?

This is somewhat of a convoluted question in that my response is dependent on the area where the home is to be constructed. Does the home reside in an Urban Growth Area (UGA) and is it part of a development? Or, is this home outside a UGA in a rural area, or inside the UGA but not part of a development?

The mitigation fee would be imposed on the properties within an approved development within a UGA regardless of who applies for the building permit. It would be a condition of development approval through the SEPA process. If the developer constructs “spec homes” for resale within that development, that developer would be required to pay the fee. If a single home builder were to build within that development, he/she would be required to pay the fee. The Board of Fire Commissioners has agreed that the fee would be paid at time of building permit application, and therefore a permit could not be issued until the fee is paid. It would be the responsibility of the person applying for the building permit to pay the fee. The mitigation fee is a condition of the development approval, and as such, is identified on the title as an encumbrance to that title.

A single home built on an already approved lot within the UGA but not part of an approved development would not be required to pay the fee as there is no means in which to assess the fee. Single family residences on existing approved lots do not go through the SEPA process, thus eliminating the ability for the fire district to assess the fee. Single family homes built outside the UGA would not be assessed a fee for the same reason. Also homes being constructed in a rural area receive a rural level of service which is different than the level of service provided to UGA’s. The district currently is not being impacted on its ability to provide a “rural” level of service, as indicated by data within the CFP. However, the question I ask is: Will there be an accumulative effect over a long period of time as rural service areas receive more and more single family residences? I think the answer is “yes”. Currently we do not have the means to “fix” this problem.

Should the legislature for the State of Washington approve “impact fee” authority for fire districts, all new construction within the fire district could be assessed an impact fee.

3) Is it true that, because Blaine contracts for fire district services, you are dependent on the Blaine city council to impose mitigation fees, and so far they have not?

First of all I need to correct you question. The City of Blainedoes not contract to the fire district for fire protection services. In 2004 the City of Blaine actually annexed into the fire district and therefore is a part of the fire district. The city is provided the same service as all residents and businesses within the fire district jurisdiction. The City of Blaine residents and businesses pay the same levy rate as any taxpayer within the fire district. The City of Blaine does have some unique fire protection requirements similar to Birch Bay with regard to large commercial development, but for the most part they receive an “urban level of service” very similar to level of service provided to the Birch Bay UGA.

Because the city is part of the fire district, we are not dependent on the city council to impose a mitigation fee. Such fees if imposed will be the decision of the Board of Fire Commissioners. Of course, out of respect to the Blaine elected officials and city staff, the Board chooses to work with the city and strives to keep them informed of our progress on this issue. It is unfortunate that within a “non-municipal UGA” such as the Birch Bay UGA, there is no elected governing body to which the Board can communicate.

Much like proposed development within the Birch Bay UGA, the imposition of mitigation fees within the city are still being discussed and mitigation fee agreements are still being developed. It is our hope that once the CFP is completed and adopted by the Board of Fire Commissioners and WhatcomCounty, The City of Blaine would incorporate the fire district CFP into the City of Blaine Comprehensive Plan. If and when the mitigation fee issue is resolved, whatever applies to development within the UGA’s will also apply within the City of Blaine. There has been one development in the city much like the previous development project mentioned in Question #1, that received approval without mitigation fees being applied.

4) Is it true that Jon Sitkin, the fire district legal counsel, is also city attorney for Blaine? Does Mr. Sitkin have a conflict of interest?

It is true that Mr. Sitkin is legal counsel for the fire district and is the city attorney for the City of Blaine. However, to date there has not been any adversarial issues between the City of Blaine and the fire district where legal counsel for either side has been required. There are areas within land use planning and the provision of fire protection services that will require legal counsel. The fire district has retained Mr. Phil Talmadge as legal counsel for any legal proceedings between the city and the fire district. I am not aware of who will represent the City of Blaine should an issue with the fire district arise requiring them to have legal counsel.

The fire district and the City of Blaine have on file, letters of agreement with regard to Mr. Sitkin’s legal involvement with either agency that describe his limitations appropriate to representing either the fire district or the city. This letter removes any question of conflict of interest.

A Question you raised while I was on vacation:

Your plan states that the district needs two stations. Are these replacements or additions? For example, the Lynden station is within the city limits and you do not cover the city; I have been told the Semiahmoo station is inefficient and should be replaced by a station near Birch Bay Village. Are any of the rural stations redundant?

As you heard yesterday, the plan, using the highest population forecast, “Alternate Y”, requires the addition of two additional full paid stations. In other words, we will need additional “staffed” stations. This could be the construction of a new station at a location specific to growth, a remodel of an existing station to accommodate additional full paid staffing, and/or the replacement of a station at a location commensurate with growth. As of this letter the fire district does not have a specific sight for a new station and/or a specific plan to replace or relocate any station. Such planning will occur as growth occurs.

The fire district does have a station (Station 71) located within the City of Lynden. This station does not serve the city, but does serve the entire area surrounding the city. Station 71’s response area ranges from the Canadian border to the north, to almost the city limits of Bellingham to the south. Their response area also ranges from our east most boundaries (approximately Noon Rd.) to a west imaginary line drawn down

Delta Line Rd.

Although that station does not serve the City of Lynden its location is excellent as a “center point” for response to this large rural area.

The GIS specialist contracted to the fire district has mapped response times for each station using staffing components of volunteer and/or full paid personnel. That mapping has revealed that the current ten station locations are excellent in providing appropriate response levels to the fire district. However most of those stations (seven to be exact) lack the amenities to accommodate full paid staffing or even part paid/volunteer staffing on a twenty-four hour basis.

The Semiahmoo fire station does have some operational limitations and will require renovation. As to the adequacy of the Semiahmoo station location, we have not made any decisions regarding relocating that facility. Again, much will depend on the growth and development within that area.

As I am sure you are aware, this planning effort is very complex. We continue to work and develop our plans to ensure we can provide the appropriate levels of service. I hope I have answered most of you questions. If you have additional questions or concerns, do not hesitate to contact me.

T. M. Fields

Fire Chief

North Whatcom Fire and Rescue

Peace Parley on Mitigation Fees

 Miscellaneous  Comments Off on Peace Parley on Mitigation Fees
Aug 112009

There was accommodation in the air as the Northwest Whatcom Fire & Rescue Commission’s facilities plan was discussed with developers Monday afternoon.

First Randy Young, the consultant who developed the facilities

plan, explained that proposed mitigation fees are based on Whatcom County‘s “Y-choice” population estimate 28,246 to 45,742 residents for the district by 2031, an increase of 61.94 percent. This highest of four estimates, he said, was chosen to “get us over the bar” of possible growth. But after a lengthy discussion of his process, he offered that “policy” considerations could enable the commissioners to reduce the requested fees. As the discussion progressed, 50 percent reduction looked likely.

Here’s what the fee schedule the commission will take to the county on August 20 might look like:

Single Family, originally $2,078, could be cut to $1,039;

Apartments and Condos, originally $2,983, could go to $1,492 *;

Retail Space, originally $2.95 a sq.ft., could be revised to $1.48;

Commercial Space, originally $3.75 a sq.ft., might go to $1.89; and

Maximum Care Facilities, originally set at $30.00, might be lowered to some indefinite amount **.

* While multi-unit buildings have sprinklers and other fire-

retardant elements, once a fire starts, more equipment and fire fighters are required to contain a blaze.

** Commissioners make clear they don’t want to drive away nursing homes. (The counter argument is that care facilities call ambulances to transport their patients.)

August 20 is a significant date. Then the fire district submits its facilities plan for approval of the county as part of the 2031 requirement under the state’s growth management act. If developers, who recently won a recent appellate court decision over the fire district, disagree, the county could balk.

Monday afternoon the four-finger handful of developers – along with one attorney and one land-use consultant – seemed amiable. As one developer put it, “My situation now is more about survival than about success.” But this was not a quorum.

Chief Tom Fields was also amiable. “My learning curve since we started this three and a half years ago has been vertical,” he said. Adamantly, he said he doesn’t want the district to be viewed as anti-development, “We just want to be on your door step when you need us.”


(comment is not only encouraged, but actively sought)

Who Will Pay for News in the 21st Century?

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Jul 282009

When young journalists get tired of talking about sex, they ask what is going to happen to the news business. Older journalists talk about that first. What they’re reading is ‘Free: The Future of a Radical Price,’ a book by Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired Magazine. Unlike his earlier book, ‘The Long Tail,’ about how the Internet enables companies such as Amazon and eBay to exploit niche markets, ‘Free’ is getting panned. The most critical review we’ve read was by Malcolm Gladwell, the supermind at the New Yorker, celebrated for popularizing the term “tipping point.”

Gladwell, after recognizing all the things that are free, ends his review by noting:
“And there’s plenty of other information out there that has chosen to run in the opposite direction from Free. The Times gives away its content on its Web site. But the Wall Street Journal has found that more than a million subscribers are quite happy to pay for the privilege of reading on line. Broadcast television – the original practitioner of Free – is struggling. But premium cable, with its stiff monthly charges for special content is doing just fine.”

Two Saturdays ago, July 18, we attended the Bellingham Visual Journalism Conference that is in its fourth year at Western Washington University.

Organized by Professor John Harris and others of the WWU Journalism Department, this meeting is becoming internationally recognized. For some of the presenters, most notably Alan Berner, photographer of the Seattle Times, photojournalism is about stunning color photos. For others from newspapers, photojournalism is about new and more dynamic ways to present information.

Our hero of the day was Michel du Cille of the Wahington Post, a native of Jamaica, the winner of three Pulitzer Prizes for photos, most recently for the 17-article series of the failures of Walter Reed Army Hospital. As reported by Jenifer Jacquit, conference attendee and writer of The Guilty Planet blog, in 2004 du Cille, then photo editor, had 32 photographers in his department. Now he has 15 people. However, as an assistant managing editor, he has five video journalists, five multi-media editors, plus five technicians.

He showed a moving video that is still on the Washington Post website – for free! Part way down the washingtonpost.com home page, see in the right frame, “Video – In the Moment”.

We are voracious consumers of on-line material. We subscribe to print versions of the New Yorker, the Economist, Atlantic, Writers Digest, Foreign Affairs and the Sunday Seattle Times (which delivers the daily paper for free.) Most evenings, after 9 o/clock, we read or watch selectively on line, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Nation, the New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, the Bellingham Herald, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Seattle Times. Also, we read some blogs, most notably, truthdig.com and firedoglake.com. By the time the Seattle Times arrives the next morning, we find little that is new or interesting.

We don’t pay for any of the on-line reading. Even Gladwell’s example, WSJ, provides quite a lot, including the opinion pages, for free. What’s remarkable is that in our on-line reading/watching, we see very few ads and are moved by none.

After his presentation, we talked privately with du Cille. He is adamant that newspapers will survive. “But how are they going to make money?” we asked.

“They are all going to need to agree to charge,” he said.


Checking Out More Fire District Rumors

 Miscellaneous  Comments Off on Checking Out More Fire District Rumors
Jul 282009

Rumors are flying around Birch Bay about the fire district’s litigation with developers and its capital facilities plan.

Two of our primary objectives in producing this blog are to:
1) encourage voters to participate by attending meetings to get informed about important issues, and
2) replace rumors with facts.

The fire commissioners – see last post – have not yet answered our previous question, so here are a few more rumor-based ones they may want to answer:

1) Is it true that some developers, including those who eventually sued you, offered to pay you mitigation fees that you refused? If so, how much did they offer? How does that amount compare with the mitigation fees in your draft capital facilities plan, dated June 20 ($2,078.45 per single family residence and $2,983.70 for multi-family housing)? The plan states that amounts as much as 50% lower might be sufficient due to a variety of factors. That could mean as little as $1,039.23 for a single-family home. Is that more or less than the developers offered?

2) Is it true that you want to charge mitigation fees only to developers and not single home builders –- thus if an individual family buys a lot in the middle of a developer’s project and builds it’s own house there, you would not charge the individual home but would charge the developer of adjacent houses?

3) Is it true that, because Blaine contracts for fire district services, you are dependent on the Blaine city council to impose mitigation fees, and so far they xhave not?

4) Is it true that Jon Sitkin, the fire district legal counsel, is also city attorney for Blaine? Does Mr. Sitkin have a conflict of interest.

By way of background, John Stark reported in the Bellingham Herald after the Washington Court of Appeals ruled against the fire district:
“The issue flared in the fall of 2006 when the Whatcom County Council approved a 200-home development in the Birch Bay urban growth area, Horizon Village at Semiahmoo, over the fire district’s objections.

“Fire district commissioners wanted county officials to allow to collect “voluntary” impact fees to cover the district’s costs to provide the added services they said the new development would need. While fire districts have no legal authority to demand impact fees, they do have the power to grant or deny the concurrency letters.

The county’s concurrency ordinance states that such a letter is required before a new subdivision can be approved, but developers and county officials contended that the levels of emergency service were deemed adequate when land use plans for the Birch Bay area were updated effective in 2005. In their view, Horizons Village and other developments could be approved on that basis, without further view by the district.”

With Blaine opting out and the fire district not charging mitigation fees in rural areas, it appears that Birch Bay alone, with about a third of the district’s assessed value, is being asked to pay for the district’s new development.

Because the capital facilities plan must be approved by the Whatcom County Pllanning Commission and the County Council in the process of updating the county’s growth plan, the fire district commissioners – normally not forthcoming – find themselves required to schedule discussions with the community. A series of public workshops are scheduled for next month including:

Developer Specific
Monday, August 10 3 p.m Lynden Fire Station
307 19th St., Lynden

Blaine City Officials
Tuesday, August 11, 3 PM, Blaine Fire Station
9408 Odell St., Blaine

West Side Communities including Birch Bay
August 11, 7 PM, Blaine Fire Station
9408 Odell St., Blaine

Some people with whom we’ve discussed these issues say they are reluctant to challenge the fire commissioners because they will be branded as “pro development.” Our first response is that practically everyone in the Birch Bay community is affected by development stalled by litigation since 2006; Birch Bay has abundent opportunity for growth before the community would be overbuilt. Our second response is the overriding issue from the standpoint of voters and taxpayers: Quality management is essential from elected officials. With their opaque nature, the fire commissioners are not revealing their decision-making process. Taxpayer questions and oversight can change that. There will be elections.


(Comments are not only welcome, they are eagerly sought.)