Much of Whatcom County Council's first meeting in 2013 on January 15 was spent discussing the creation of a new county park. The county is considering a proposed reconveyance of land around Lake Whatcom that would convert its use from state timberland into a county park, but conflicting views voiced during public hearings gave the council much to consider as they head to a vote on the proposal in the coming months.
The land proposed for reconveyance currently falls under the jurisdiction of the Washington Department of Natural Resources, and its primary use is timber harvesting. While recreation such as hunting, fishing and hiking is allowed on the land, no facilities are in place to support such recreation.
If the county were to acquire the land, it would become a county park and council would have to decide how best to manage and fund its operations. Most council members who voiced their opinions at the meeting said that the park, if approved, should be limited to non-motorized use such as mountain biking, hiking and horseback riding. The overriding concern is that the land is situated within the Lake Whatcom watershed, which supplies drinking water to Bellingham. Council members said uses or development that would lead to pollution of the watershed had to be avoided at all costs.
Opponents of the proposal took issue with the expense of management and argued that since recreation is already allowed on the land, it should be left alone. They also expressed support for local logging companies who periodically harvest timber from the land. Supporters of the reconveyance said they liked the idea of a county park for various reasons: more bike and hiking trails, prevention of further development, and prevention of logging that they said increases runoff and pollution into Lake Whatcom and disrupts local habitat.
In other business, council unanimously approved a request for the county executive to enter into a contract between Whatcom County and Whatcom Counseling and Psychiatric Clinic for behavioral health services in the jail, in the amount of $374,321.
Accepted for introduction to future meetings was an ordinance establishing a project fund for the new jail. A meeting of the Finance and Administrative Services Committee and Council to discuss the jail fund is scheduled for the afternoon of January 29 immediately prior to the next regular council meeting.