Citizen Journalism: Port of Bellingham Meeting Report for May 7, 2019

In Economy, Local Government, Local News, News by CTNW News

A progress report on the Waterfront Redevelopment Project was one of the main points of interest at the Port of Bellingham Commission regular meeting on May 7, 2019.

The public meeting started with a closed executive session so board members could discuss potential real estate transactions pursuant to RCW42.30.110(1)(c). No action was taken by the Commission during the executive session. The meeting reconvened at 4:30 pm. Board President Ken Bell, Vice President Bobby Briscoe and Secretary Michael Shepard were all present.

Link to May 7, 2019 Port of Bellingham – Meeting Agenda

Video of the full May 7, 2019 Port Commission Meeting

First Public Comment Period –

Bellingham citizen Pete Granger spoke about plans for a Community Food Campus near the Waterfront and possibly including the local seafood and commercial fishing industries.

Video starting at Pete Granger’s public comments

Six items were on the Consent Agenda. Approvals on a 3-0 vote were the following:

A. Approve the minutes of the April 23, 2019, regular Commission meeting. Commissioners approved a text correction to the minutes.

B. Authorize the Executive Director to execute the 2019-2021 Collective Bargaining Agreement between the Port of Bellingham and the International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 106, including any necessary budget adjustments.

Commissioner Bell asked why the annual projected costs in the agreement appear to higher than 3 percent. Elizabeth Monahan, Director of Human Resources, said there are a couple of automatic step increases for new employees built into the projections. Zach Rushing from Local 106 said both employees and management got some things they were looking for.

Video starting at discussion of Consent Agenda Item B

C. Approve Resolution No. 1383 for a 401(a) plan for Airport Rescue and Fire Fighter employees.

D. Approve Transfer of Capital Improvement Project funds for additional work to secure existing buildings in the Waterfront District.

E. Authorize the Executive Director to apply for and accept a grant as funds become available from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for reimbursement of 90% of costs associated with the disposal of an abandoned vessel.

F. Approve a Third Amendment to Option Agreement to lease real property between the Port of Bellingham and Fairhaven Workstudios, LLC.

Action Items –

1. Approve Resolution No. 1381 authorizing the refunding of existing Revenue Bonds.

Port Director of Finance and Marina’s, Tamara Sobjack, told Commissioners these bonds were issued to fund the airport terminal expansion. She said refunding the bonds will save the Port more than $2 million in interest payments over the next 10 years

Approved 3-0.

Video starting at discussion of Action Item 1

Presentations –

Legislative Report Update

Tom McBride with McBride Public Affairs, working on Port matters in Olympia, gave an overview of the recently finished 2017-19 legislative session. Here are some highlights from his presentation:

The legislature passed a bill creating the nation’s first long-term care benefit trust program, which would add a 0.58 percent fee on employee wages and create an insurance benefit to pay for costs like wheelchairs and caregivers.

The Clean Energy Bill will require 100% of the state’s electricity to come from carbon-free renewable sources by 2045. McBride called it “a very aggressive bill”.

A bill to switch to permanent Daylight Savings Time passed the legislature but will require U.S. Congressional approval.

An Affirmative Action Bill passed on last day of the legislative session that changes the law that prohibited affirmative action in the state of Washington.

The capital budget includes Remedial Action Grants for several of the Port’s hazardous cleanup projects.

Senate Bill 5993 makes major changes to the Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA) that will affect refineries in Whatcom County. It changes the hazardous substance tax (HST) on petroleum products from a value-based rate to a volumetric rate of $2.52 per 42-gallon barrel, which McBride said will create a more stable fund. He said the bill also allows more flexibility to use the funds.

House Bill 1817 sets up new rules for workers at high-hazard facilities such as refineries, including new safety training and certification. McBride said, “It’ll be interesting to see how the non-union workforce adjusts to comply with these laws.”

Councilmembers had questions about funding for rural broadband infrastructure and dam removal, and ensuring that money collected for MTCA gets used for its intended purpose.

Video starting at Legislative Report Update presentation

Waterfront District Update

Max Duffy, Development Surveyor for Harcourt Developments, gave a progress report of their work on Bellingham’s Waterfront. The 3 remaining buildings on the waterfront – the Granary, Boardmill and Alcohol Plant – are in the process of being redeveloped. Duffy said the Granary Building is Phase One and it should be completed this month – May 2019. Harcourt had to strip the Granary down to the core and do some structural stabilization. Now the facade has been redone, shop fronts have been installed and businesses are starting to move in.

Chris Erdman, Managing Broker for Bellwether Real Estate, said businesses are showing a lot of interest in the Granary Building and they’ve had up to 5 showings a day. The ground floor of the building is an open-air food market, and Erdman said they have many different vendors already signed up. Some of the tenants on the ground floor include a coffee shop, breweries and several restaurants. Duffy said they’d like to possibly include some retail business tenants on the ground floor. The third floor is leased to Bellingham Yoga Collective which is already open and running. The 4th and 5th floors are being leased to Honey Salon, which Erdman said will have 40 stylists and host a certification training program.

Duffy said Phase Two will be the development of three residential waterfront buildings after some permitting issues with the City are ironed out. These will include 94 total units, as well as underground parking and more commercial space. Construction is set to begin late in 2019 and take about 2 years. Duffy said a one-bedroom unit in these buildings is expected to sell for $350,000 – $400,000, with the 3-bedroom penthouses selling for about $1 million. Phase Three will be constructing the Gateway Office Building, which will be dedicated to “Grade A” office space with blue-chip tenants. Then the former Pulp Mill building will be converted into the Boardmill Hotel, which will be styled after the Titanic Hotel in Liverpool, UK.

Commissioners recommended that Harcourt should provide more information and updates to the public, saying the lack of information makes people feel like the project isn’t getting done. They recommended pitching more newspaper articles, getting more publicity about the progress made on the waterfront, and being transparent about any missed deadlines. “The best advantage you can have in Whatcom County is to let the people know all-the-time what’s going on,” Commissioner Briscoe said.

Video starting at Waterfront Update presentation

Working Waterfront Coalition (WWC) Report

Jim Kyle, Vice President of the Working Waterfront Coalition (WWC), asked the commission to consider adopting a “no-net-loss” policy for working waterfront property owned by the Port; the same as had been adopted for wetlands. Kyle said it would help guide commission decisions but is not intended to tie their hands.

Commissioner Briscoe said he would like to see the policy move forward and recommended WWC work with Port staff to draft a more formal proposal. Commissioner Shepard said the “no-net-loss” language is strongly associated with wetland protection and that “could become a sensitive sticking point.” Commissioner Bell said the Port’s job is to create demand for the marine trades. “This is not an issue that we need to address if we have more demand,” Bell said.

Video starting at WWC presentation

First Quarter 2019 Financial Report Update

Port Director of Finance and Marina’s Tamara Sobjack, told Commissioners that total assets increased and total liabilities decreased during the first 3 months of the year. The Port’s expenses have increased over the same time period last year. Port Executive Director, Rob Fix, said de-icing was the biggest budget bust for the airport in the first quarter.

Video starting at Q1 2019 Financial Report Update

Other Business –

Commissioner Shepard reminded everyone that the Blessing of the Fleet event at Squalicum Harbor is happening Saturday, May 11, 2019. Commissioners also discussed a request for an ATM at Squalicum Harbor.

Commissioner Briscoe talked about progress on fixing the road to the dock in Blaine Harbor, and possibly building a small covered shelter for the telescopes being installed at the pier in Blaine.

Video starting at Other Business

Meeting Adjourned