By Meg Olson
“I’m very sincere about helping you do what you need to get done,” said new Port of Bellingham commissioner Bobby Briscoe at the local taxpayers association meeting. “Point Roberts is a hard area for a lot of people to remember is here and I’m trying to change that.”
The hot topic at the May 2 meeting of the Point Roberts Taxpayers’ Association, attended by Briscoe and the port’s director of planning and development Sylvia Goodwin, was how the port could help with a proposal to build an operating lighthouse at Lighthouse Marine Park.
Goodwin said that while the port did have a small program for economic development those funds were directly tied to a project’s potential for job creation. “Growth is the key word,” Briscoe said, and the community needed to compile information to show that the lighthouse would be a benefit to local businesses, and potential new businesses like Blackfish Resort. “Is the lighthouse going to enhance that business and the businesses that are here? That’s what you need to bring forward.”
Goodwin said that the amount of funds the port had available for economic development were not enough to make up the construction budget for the project, and suggested the county’s economic development investment (EDI) program would be a better option. “The port has not been able to fund big projects in communities,” she said. “We have small money. They have big money.” She suggested the port could work with the Lighthouse Society to put together an application for funding through that program.
In the past, county executive Jack Louws has been less than enthusiastic about using county funds to build the lighthouse, suggesting instead the project be scaled back to fit the $500,000 gift from local residents Darrel and Dorothy Sutton that is the heart of the current project funds. “In light of all the capital needs we have in the county the contribution we could make through the parks department is to facilitate the project – staff time,” he told the county’s public works committee at their March 22 meeting.
EDI funds are earmarked to replace the failing roof and exterior of the county courthouse.
Goodwin also said there was a precedent in Birch Bay for a local group to lease land from a park to build and operate a facility. “The port might be able to assist in such an arrangement,” she said.
Audience member Judson Meraw asked what Point Roberts was getting in return for the property taxes the community pays to the port.
In 2015, the Port of Bellingham received approximately $172,300 from property taxes collected in Point Roberts, according to the county treasurer’s office. In 2016, that figure is expected to be approximately $162,000.
“The port operates port-wide facilities so if you’ve ever flown out of the Bellingham airport or launched a boat in Blaine…” Goodwin said. “You’ve paid more in taxes than you’ve gotten back in direct services but it’s really hard to put a figure on those port-wide services.”
In the last 20 years the port has paid for two studies on the Point: the 1999 Point Roberts Economic Development Strategy and the 2004 feasibility study for a new pier at the end of Gulf Road as well as early permitting for the project. The port discontinued the permitting for that project as construction funding and a sponsor to get the pier built were not located.
“Could we surmise it’s our turn to get a brick-and-mortar project?” Meraw asked.
“I’d certainly like to see something done besides feasibility studies,” Briscoe answered. However, when asked if he felt the port would be able to budget enough to make up the lighthouse project’s budget shortfall of an estimated $500,000, he said, “that probably won’t fly.”