HELP SAVE BELLINGHAM'S ONLY HERON COLONY! The herons need a good lawyer.
The City of Bellingham planning department has awarded a Critical Areas Permit to a developer for two building sites within the critical area denoted by the Great Blue Heron colony, the sloped bluff to the shoreline, and the restored lagoon at Post Point. The sites are partially within and adjacent to, the established 197-foot protective buffer surrounding the heron colony. This buffer is the minimum
recommended by the Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife, the regulatory body for Priority Species, including Great Blue Herons, and was enacted by the city as part of its 2003 heron management plan.
These particular herons arrived at Post Point in 2000 after being flushed out of their nesting colony on Chuckanut Bay for the development of the "Blue Heron Estates." To our great delight, the current colony is growing with 44 active nests recorded during the 2018 nesting season, although some of the birds are mostly likely refugees from the much larger and older colony on Sammish Island that was flushed out in 2017.
The Critical Areas Permit constitutes a variance to the city's Critical Areas Ordinance which was designed to protect and conserve natural, sensitive areas such as wetlands and wildlife habitat. Although it's true that the Post Point herons have endured enormous pressures such as the nearby railroad track and off-leash dog park, they can still be very sensitive to human disturbance. There is no science to tell us whether the proposed development of the "Heronwood Cluster" will be the human trigger that sends the city's only heron colony packing. Where will they go? And what a loss to all of us of this unique natural treasure. The herons need a good lawyer.
To its credit, the city has spent over $400,000 to protect the heron colony on its northern flank adjacent to the water treatment plant. And now we risk losing that investment as well as the herons themselves by allowing a housing development right on the colony's southern flank on Shorewood Drive. Furthermore, the removal of large trees on the plat will likely undermine the all-important buffer against the south prevailing winds which the herons cannot tolerate.
There are serious flaws in the mitigation plan submitted by the developer to offset the risks associated with the "Heronwood Cluster" project. These flaws pose unacceptable risk to the heron colony and form the basis of an appeal of the Critical Areas Permit filed by me, with the North Cascades Audubon Society petitioning to be an additional party to the appeal.
The Mt. Baker Group of the Washington State Chapter of the Sierra Club will also be helping at the upcoming hearing. Across the table from us will be two attorneys, one for the City of Bellingham and one for the landowner, as well as the developer. The herons need a good lawyer.We are raising money to help defray the costs of hiring local attorney, Phil Buri ,
to represent us and the herons through the upcoming appeal process before the city Hearing Examiner. Thwarting the Critical Areas Permit is an urgent first step to ensuring true and permanent protection for our city's only remaining Great Blue Heron colony. And we will work for a lasting solution so that the herons are protected, there is no threat of further development encroaching upon their remaining habitat, and the owner of the property is satisfied with whatever deal emerges.Please give what you can, as soon as you can.
We are getting our legal arguments, exhibits, and witnesses ready for the upcoming hearing, now tentatively scheduled for late July. We thank you most sincerely, and the herons would too, if they could speak a language we understood.
For more information about the effort to protect the heron colony, plus more great photos of the birds this year, visit www.nwcitizen.com/page/herons
Thanks to Nancy Downing and Linda Wright Photography for the photos of the Great Blue Herons on the nest at Post Point and down at Marine Park.
Jamie K. Donaldson
Audubon and Sierra Club member
Member, Fairhaven Neighbors