Mainland Dock Relocation Feasibility Report

UPDATED link: Public Works, sometime in 2009 (after this story broke) added links to study on the Whatcom County Ferry website


Prior to 2006, someone in the County (minimally  the County Executive, and Jeff Munson, then head of the Dept. Public Works) must have learned of the Lummi Nation’s disinterest in renewing the Gooseberry Pt lease in 2010 and moving the dock elsewhere.

By 2006 or 2007 at the latest, the County decided to undertake a feasibility study of alternative mainland dock locations. ~$300,000  of County Funds were allocated to this project. (I don’t know and haven’t tried to check whether this allocation of funds was approved by the County Council or whether it was an Executive decision.)

By 2007 (see p. 53, above section 4.8 in Lummi Nation 2007 Transportation Plan), a scope of work for the project was developed and apparently a consulting firm was hired. (discovered when Wynne Lee  read that report online on 12/28/2009)

Date the report was completed:  unknown. The date on the official final report now available is December 21, 2009.

December 12/28/2009.  I emailed Barbara Brenner, Sam Crawford, Carl Weimer, Pete Kremen, Frank Abart (cc’d to; Art Thomas;; Colleen O. McCrory) an email asking what happened to that report.  Later that day, Barbara Brenner forwarded that email to several people in the County Executive Office, DPW and others asking for a response to my email.

December 29, 2009. Abart sent an email to all involved parties saying the report had been found, copies would be made and distributed to County Councilors, the Executive Office, etc. no later than Dec. 31, 2009, with the document posted sometime the first week of January, in all likelihood.  I asked Abart for a CD, he agreed and it was picked up 12/29/31.

January 3, 2009.  The Report has been posted on this site (site to be launched today, January 4, 2009) and I emailed the report to Barbara Brenner and Carl Weimer, expressing concerns about how the process has been handled.

Wynne Lee

The Report

Click here for the County’s  pdf version of the report (Warning: Very large file – will be slow or impossible for some people to download).

Some materials haven’t yet been posted here (e.g., Report Appendices)  but are on the CD.   Hopefully the site will include them soon, but we only have so much time and energy. Please be patient with us.

One thought on “Mainland Dock Relocation Feasibility Report

  1. Partial Evaluation of the Whatcom County Dock Relocation Study [Page 1]
    From reading the Dock Relocation Study, which seems to be the basis that Alternate Mainland Terminal sitings are based on, I find a significant number of flaws present. While there may be more flaws, the following are those that seem the most obvious.

    Site Finalists

    1. The differences in the criteria of the two Gooseberry Point sites are insignificant. The existing site was given a 0 rating in the matrix of Appendix A on all categories, which placed it a 5th place. The positives of the West Site included deeper water, better transportation possibilities, permittable, and more land availability. The existing site has adequate water depth for most any Ferry that would likely call there, already exists so new siting permits are needed, and with the proper planning has just as much property and transportation opportunities available as the West Site. Further, the West Site is in the middle of the Gooseberry Point Gillnet Salmon Drift, is more exposed the weather, would be a cross-tide landing, and would adversely interrupt the best view available from Gooseberry which would severely impact Tourist related activities. None of these criterion we weighted. The existing dock site has none of these issues.

    2. I find the 2, 3, 4 ratings of the three Downtown Bellingham locations, extremely questionable. The following is the text from the Study taken from Chapter 4, Page 36:

    Downtown Bellingham Sites (Hilton Harbor, Whatcom Waterway, Mt.
    Baker Plywood)
    The waters of Bellingham Bay are more sheltered from the predominant winds that blow from the southeast. Because of the configuration of the coast line, the fetch in Bellingham Bay is much less than the fetch in Lummi Bay. However, a ferry crossing from Lummi Island to any of the sites in Bellingham Bay would have a longer crossing time, which translates to less frequent arrivals and departures. In addition, a ferry on this route would be subject to greater winds and currents than the present route and would, at times, be traveling perpendicular to the prevailing winds and currents. Because of the need to cross a larger expanse of open water and the longer route, a new, larger boat would be required for any of the Bellingham Bay locations. This larger boat would require larger dock facilities at Lummi Island where the dock could either be modified or replaced depending on the specifics of the boat that was obtained for this route.

    A. In this writers, and many area resident’s opinion, the crossing from Lummi Island to these locations is dangerous. The weather in the area locally know as the “Triangle” near the southern end of Lummi Island bounded by the Island, Point Francis (Portage Island) , and Eliza Island is one of the most dangerous pieces of water in Puget Sound. At this point three tidal systems come together, the flow from Bellingham Channel/Chuckanut Bay, Bellingham Bay and Hales Passage. At certain tide/wind configurations short choppy waves, sometimes exceeding 7 feet, appear in very quickly with little warning. There have been a number of fatal larger and small vessel sinkings in this area and countless near accidents. A consistent southeast wind will also build [Page 2] tall waves, due to the confines of Southern Hales Pass, which again would result in cancelled Ferry runs.

    Further, the prevailing Southeast winds would put a Cross Route trough on the open parts of Bellingham Bay from just past the “Triangle” to the Downtown Landings which will make for a very uncomfortable crossing. The “fetch” as referred to the above writing starts building near Edison in Skagit County and culminates near the Downtown Landings. In bad weather, the route would have to avoid the open water and divert toward Fairhaven and follow the shore of the Bay to the Landings. In worse weather, the Route would cross over to about Chuckanut Bay before following the shore around Fairhaven Point and then the Bay to the Downtown Landings. In extreme weather, the sailings would have to be cancelled. This would result in very long uncomfortable crossings meaning that a reasonable schedule could not be kept. From this writer’s observation this crossing has a far worse wave situation then that in Lummi Bay.
    Of Northwest Mariners, this is common knowledge. Bellingham Bay is considered by some to be the roughest Harbor in the lower 48 States north of San Francisco, some consider this crossing to be worse than the notorious crossing of Admirality to Port Townsend. . The local Native Americans call it the Devil’s Sea. How this could have escaped those who wrote this plan is inconceivable.

    In the Relocation Document, there is considerable discussion of “Fatal Flaws”. This is a Fatal Flaw to any Bellingham Bay location, including Fairhaven, although it is somewhat better than the Downtown Landings due to distance and not having to directly cross the open expanses of the Bay.
    There is absolutely no weighting in the Study for length of Crossing. The Current Crossing is .75 Nautical Miles/.9 Statute Miles. The “Downtown Crossings are about 12.5 NM/14 SM. The Study On-the-Water estimate is one hour transit time. With automobile and passenger loading/unloading this translates to a 3 hour round trip, in good weather, bad weather could double the transit time. Currently we have a 20 minute round trip and a maximum 60 car/300 passenger per hour (one way) passage rate which is used a commute times. To equal this capacity, a 180/900 passenger Ferry would have to be obtained. To put it another way, the longer the route, the bigger the Ferry needed. This is simply an impossibility for this Route due to capital and operation cost considerations, not withstanding the ability of the Island Terminal to handle a Ferry of this size. About the biggest Ferry we might be able to obtain would be a Pierce County (PC type) based on the 54 car Steilacoom II, which would be extended/stretched with the addition of a 54 feet section, to 72 car/400+ Passenger capacity. This would only carry rate of 24 cars per hour, in good weather. Further this is a lighter weather Ferry than those used by the State Ferry System. The State boats of the same size would cost about 4 times as much. This 72 car Ferry would require a minimum crew of five, burn about five to six times the fuel of the current Ferry at it’s current location and have to cancel in bad weather. Even with a huge subsidy, this is unaffordable. To my take this is another Fatal Flaw to these locations.

    3. Other discarded landing locations, according to the Site Rating Matrix. [Page 3]

    If the three Downtown Landings are discarded from the Matrix in Appendix A this leaves the Gooseberry Point Landings in first position and moves several up in the ratings.

    A. The next rated location is Fairhaven with it’s 10NM/11.2SM transit. Again, due to the weather relate problems of the “Triangle” as enumerated in 1A above, this crossing is too dangerous, and ought to be deleted as a possibility.
    B. The next possibility is the end of Slater Road. This is a 6.5 NM/7.28SM crossing resulting in a 1.5 hour Round Trip, good weather passage of 36 car per hour with a 54 car Ferry, 54 cars per hour with a 72 car ferry, in average weather. While this route will not be as pleasant as we have now in below average weather, it is far safer than any of the Bellingham Bay routes including Fairhaven, even though it was improperly rated in the Study as a worse crossing than those in Bellingham Bay and Fairhaven. In normal southeast and northeast winds the waves are well within tolerance. Only in higher velocity westerly and other extreme winds would it have to cancel.
    One of the negatives to this location, which supposedly made it less desirable than the Downtown ones was having to build a long dock or having to dredge. Included is the following here to show the inconsistency of the document . Having to dredge or use a long dock was not expressed in the rating matrix for the Downtown locations, however, in the text of the study is the following:

    Chapter 3 Page 22 Mount Baker Plywood Location;
    The bay is shallow, which will require either a long pile-supported dock or a filled causeway to reach waters deep enough for ferry loading. Alternatively, extensive dredging could be required to deepen the waterway and reduce dock length.
    Page 24 Hilton Harbor Marina Location;
    The tidelands are shallow and slope gently into the bay. A dock would need to extend out far enough to obtain the depth necessary for ferry operations, necessitating a pile supported structure or causeway. Alternatively, dredging could be required to deepen the waterway and reduce the length of the dock.
    Page 26 Whatcom Waterway Location;
    The tidelands are shallow and slope gently into the bay. A dock at the southern site would need to extend far enough to obtain the depth necessary for ferry operations. Alternatively, dredging could be required to deepen the waterway and reduce the length of the dock. The northern site likely deepens more quickly and is less likely to require a long dock or dredging to develop adequate vessel depth.

    The study is contradictory:
    While the Slater Road Location is not a favorite, it is the closest Off Reservation possibility. If the closer locations are ruled out, this is the next best option we have as included in the study.
    Other positives not noted of this location are the possible future Landing for [Page 4] Mainland to Orcas and Point Roberts Crossings. The Lummi Nation would likely give it’s blessing to it as it totally removes the traffic from the Reservation, and the traffic that it would generate would pass by their Casino, Hotel , and Gateway Retail/Industrial area.

    4. Other Included Locations:
    All these are on the Reservation and for brevity sake I am not going to do any further evaluation of them except to say the closer ones are the more desirable ones. Readers can make their own choices of their favorites, they do merit consideration.

    5. Others not included in the Study:
    A. Foot of Cornwall Avenue.
    This is about two miles closer than the Downtown locations and would be on a slightly modified route as to Fairhaven. While no better than Fairhaven, deep water, a landing slip and considerable paved unused open area exists here. I only note it as I wonder how it was missed.

    B. Upper Lummi Bay .
    This is on the Reservation, to a point of land inside and east of Sandy Point on Lummi Bay. It would require extensive dredging, something the Lummi Nation is planning to do to relieve the flooding of the Red River area. One of the Red River Channels runs through this site which coupled with prop wash of the Ferry would contribute to keeping the area passable.
    It is protected from all of the usual winds; the westerly by Sandy Point, the southeast by Lummi Island, and northeast by the hill to the north. A 4 NM/ 4.48 SM transit would result in a 1 hour round trip. A 54car /225-300 passenger per hour rate would result from this route with the Standard Pierce County (PC) type 54 car Ferry.
    Unfortunately there is no firm date on when this dredging will happen. The similar positives to the Slater Road Terminus would result as the traffic generated would not pass through critical areas of the Reservation, pass their Casino, Hotel. Industrial/ Retail Areas, and provide a possible future Landing for Orcas and Point Roberts. It has undeveloped available land for the terminal, parking and queue lanes and would be far less expensive to build than the Slater Road location.


    The results of the Ferry Relocation Study are deeply flawed and some of the preferred locations would result in long, dangerous and very expensive crossings. It ought to not be a factor in determining a future Mainland Ferry Landing Location.

    Jim Dickinson

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s