By Meg Olson
Whatcom County Council has unanimously approved a resolution offering county council support for plans to build a lighthouse at Lighthouse Marine Park, and establishing their “desire for this project to move forward.”
Approved at the January 12 county council meeting, the resolution recognizes “that a lighthouse at Lighthouse Marine Park would have a positive economic impact on Point Roberts and the county as a whole by serving as a community gathering place, a recreational focal point, and a tourist attraction.”
It also recognizes a $500,000 pledge by Darrel and Dorothy Sutton for the construction of the lighthouse, and “encourages county staff to work with the Lighthouse Society to bring this proposal to fruition.”
“We need to make it work,” councilmember Barbara Brenner said at the December 8 meeting, following a presentation to the public works committee by members of the Point Roberts Lighthouse Society, which all councilmembers attended. “We had a wonderful discussion and a whole bunch of people from Point Roberts came down.”
Lighthouse society treasurer Mark Robbins said they had been working with the county parks department since 2009 and that progress has been “admittedly slow.” He said the group developed near-complete blueprints and, with the Suttons’ pledge of financial support, feels ready to move forward. “We think we are now in a critical go or no-go situation,” he said.
The proposed lighthouse would be operational, housing the Coast Guard’s beacon currently in operation. It would also include meeting space and a viewing deck. The lighthouse society has obtained a construction estimate of $445,192.
They had proposed building it on public land as a private construction project and gifting it to the county, but county legal staff determined it needed to be built as a public works project, which would increase costs.
“We estimate it’s going to be more,” said county parks director Michael McFarlane, perhaps as much as a million dollars. “The challenge we have is we don’t have additional funds.” Seeking grant funding to make up the difference would likely push the project out to 2018 or later.
McFarlane added that while they had “kind of reserved a footprint at the park,” they are not prepared to move the project forward. “We don’t have the capacity right now, nor do we have it in our work plan in the next year to tackle this project.”
County councilmember Carl Weimer said they could find creative ways to get the project moving.
“It seems to have a lot of economic development opportunities,” he said. “We have economic development funds, we have money that comes in through tourism. There are lots of ways.”
Departing councilmember Pete Kremen suggested this was an opportunity for the county to address frustration from Point Roberts residents.
“They feel they don’t get enough focus and attention and enough investment in that community, especially compared to the amount of taxes they pay,” he said. “I think this is an optimum way to address that and to realize an asset that is going to pay huge dividends in the future.”
Following up the January 12 vote, Brenner has requested McFarlane meet with the public works committee to “figure out how to make the Point Roberts Lighthouse Project work financially.”