Lake Whatcom Area Reconveyance
Whatcom County is proposing a park in the Lake Whatcom area consisting of approximately 8400 acres — 7400 of which are inside the watershed itself. Currently, this land is managed by the Department of Natural Resources and provides revenue to the county, the Mt. Baker School District, and a number of other local entities. Our school district will lose $187,000 annually via this proposal. There is no plan to replace this money. Timber harvests on this land occur under the Lake Whatcom Landscape Plan to ensure best management practices. Logging will continue in the watershed irrespective of this proposal, and may increase on private lands in the watershed as landowners who are not subject to the Landscape Plan will continue to harvest trees under lax forest practice rules.
Figures from Whatcom County Planning presented at the Lake Whatcom Forestry Forum in 1990 — when compared to current levels of timber harvest – show forest practices in the watershed have decreased from around 1000 acres annually to 400 acres per year. This decrease in forest practice activity has not produced any noticeable effect on decreasing water quality. In fact, water quality has decreased substantially in the last two decades. The continuing degradation of the Lake Whatcom Reservoir is due to development and failure to enforce existing regulations intended to mitigate its deleterious effects.
The park will mean increased taxes and thousands of more visitors boating on the lake, hiking, camping and recreating in the watershed. If this land becomes a park, it will be rezoned at some future time and more development may occur on adjoining rural lands. There is no conservation easement currently included in the proposal and consequently nothing to prevent a future county government from building watershed-damaging parks facilities. A conservation easement has been discussed, but it would be of limited scope and is unlikely to provide sufficient protection for this land.
Whatcom County will assume liability for current and past uses of the transferred land. Responsibility for police and fire protection will rest with the county. Development of the park will cost millions of dollars and its annual maintenance cost is grossly underestimated at $150,000 annually. It has been proposed to use funds from the Conservation Futures Fund (CCF) to partly fund the land transfer. The purpose of the CCF is to acquire private lands and development rights. This fund cannot — and should not – be used to purchase publicly held lands or to pay for the costs of their maintenance or operation.
A panel selected by County Executive Pete Kremen, consisting of eleven citizens, one of whom is a paid employee of Whatcom County contractor Conservation Northwest (CNW), voted to endorse the plan. The majority of the committee is city residents, and three out of the four rural residents voted against the land transfer. Additionally, three panel members had written significant media pieces in favor of the proposal before the panel even met, and no critics of the proposal were included in the discussions.
Whatcom County currently anticipates a $7 million budget shortfall and the 2008-2009 Mt Baker School District budget was short $700,000. Neither the county nor the school district can afford this park at this time. The County Council voted in October 2008 to accept the MOA (memorandum of agreement) with the DNR which allows this project to move forward. In 2009 and 2010, it is anticipated that there will be public hearings held by the DNR to determine if this plan is in the best interests of the citizens of Whatcom County.
Please contact the council and the county executive. Tell them that the best way to protect Lake Whatcom is to enforce current development regulations and not to short change a rural school district and further burden all county taxpayers