Citizen Journalism: Port of Bellingham Meeting Report for Mar. 5, 2019

In Economy, Local Government, News by CTNW News

Providing high-speed internet access to rural residents of Whatcom County and a project to reduce energy costs at Port facilities were the main points of interest at the Port of Bellingham Commission regular meeting on Mar. 5, 2019.

The public meeting was called to order at 2:00 pm and immediately recessed to a closed executive session so board members could discuss potential real estate transactions pursuant to RCW 42.30.110(1)(i). The meeting reconvened at 4:30 pm. Board President Ken Bell, Vice President Bobby Briscoe and Secretary Michael Shepard were all present. No formal action was taken during the closed executive session.

Three  items were on the consent agenda.

Approvals on a 3-0 vote were the following:

A. Approve the minutes of the February 19, 2019, regular Commission meeting.

B. Authorize the Executive Director to execute a contract with Barron Heating and Air Conditioning of Ferndale, Washington for the Fairhaven Station Air Handling Unit Replacement project.

C. Authorize the Executive Director to execute Amendment No. 3 to the Professional Services Agreement with Berger ABAM, Inc. for design and permitting of the Blaine Harbor Industrial Peninsula Bulkhead Replacement project.

Presentations –

Small Business Development Council (SBDC) Update

The SBDC provides advising services for one-on-one business development at no charge to clients. The SBDC receives support, funding from the Port of Bellingham. CJ Seitz, Director of SBDC at Western Washington University, gave a presentation to the commissioners; sharing that in 2018 the SBDC gave one-on-one counseling to 325 clients, and provided answers and advice to 209 additional non-clients. The SBCD applied market research on 91 projects, was an academic collaborator on 36 projects, and provided 13 training sessions.

SBDC clients invested $12.8 million into their businesses. In addition to this public benefit, SBDC helped 6 business startups and transfers, helped to create or retain 315 local jobs, and their Rural Outreach Program helped 81 rural Whatcom County businesses to create or retain 76 rural jobs.

Seitz also shared some of the stories of businesses that the SBDC were able to help in 2018 and their plans are for the future.

Rural Broadband Feasibility Study

The Port’s Communication and Research Coordinator, Gina Stark, spoke about the results of their study, what is needed to build the fiber backbone, the financial modeling and potential revenue, and necessary next-steps to realize this upgrade to the fiber optic communication network. Stark said, It’s an implementation more than a study.

The Port is studying how to build a publicly-owned fiber infrastructure which can serve areas that currently lack cell coverage and restricts a community’s ability to reach First Responders.
There currently exists a privately-owned fiber company in the county, but coverage is inconsistent and broadband fiber companies will not expand capacity to these areas because it is not economically feasible.

The Port’s goal is to build a county-wide, carrier-grade open access fiber network. The Port hopes to encourage Internet Service Providers to lease strands on this network and to develop the incentive for competition which will affordably provide service to local internet-deserts. Stark said fire districts, school districts, businesses and communities in rural Whatcom County would benefit from this network. It’s estimated cost is $6,748,824 to build and $60,860 each year to operate.

Action Items –

Action Item 1: Authorize the Executive Director to execute an Energy Audit Funding Authorization under Interagency Agreement No. K556 with the Washington State Department of Enterprise Services’ Energy program for various 2019 Capital Improvement Projects and energy saving measures, for a total Investment Grade Audit Fee of $22,934.

The Port’s Environmental Specialist Adrienne Hegedus said this Investment Grade Audit is the next step in several currently-approved capital improvement projects aimed at reducing energy costs at Port facilities.

The plan is to install rooftop units & a full HVAC system at the Bayview Center Building, lighting upgrades at the Squalicum Esplanade, a shop rooftop make-up air unit at the Squalicum Harbor Office, and new gas furnaces at 625 Cornwall Ave.

Integrity Energy Services will perform the audit and develop an Energy Services Proposal for these projects.

Approved 3-0.

Other Business –

Commissioner Shepard said he has requested the Port’s Economic Development Team to look into interest in Mexican air travel to the BIA. Shepard will attend a Port of Seattle conference about: making jet fuel from sustainable non-petroleum sources and take a tour of the Philips 66 plant later this month, to learn about Philips 66’s research into conversion of animal tallow into jet fuel. Shepard attended an event at the Ferry Terminal where local union members gathered to send a message to the Governor of Alaska to keep the Alaska Marine Highway open.

The Port’s Economic Development Director Don Goldberg spoke about Blaine’s efforts to attract a B.C. chocolate company to the city.

Manager of Marinas Alan Birdsall said their effort to clear out weblockers is going well.