Written and posted by Wynne Lee
Whatcom County’s Department of Public Works continues to expand its proactive communications with the county’s citizens, this time with a map of upcoming road construction projects for this spring and summer. Bravo to Frank Abart, Director of Public Works, for his unstinting and intelligent leadership in these and other communication efforts, and thanks to Jared Paben of the Bellingham Herald for posting the map on his Transportation Blog. If you open the map (a moderately large pdf file) and expand it, you’ll see that the planned work on the Gooseberry Point dock this summer is described as Bridge Maintenance and Repair.
Yes, just as many islanders have pointed out many times, the County considers the ferry docks to be bridge elements — one end of the bridge on the mainland at Gooseberry Pt, the other end on Lummi Island. Bridges aren’t bridges unless the two ends are connected, of course. The County ferry completes the bridge, operationally fulfilling the long-standing legal road right of way from the mainland to Lummi Island (see Tip Johnson’s recent comment about this). It doesn’t matter that part of this bridge is mobile, any more than it matters that other bridges around the state, country and world have mobile elements such as drawbridges or centers that raise and lower or rotate.
I think we should stop inaccurately describing our transit to the mainland as a ‘ferry’ system. It’s a bridge that implements a decades-long (since the 1920s), federally approved road right of way between the mainland and Lummi Island, through reservation land. How is this different from the road right-of-way for Haxton Road or, for that matter, all the other County roads that members of the County and Lummi Nation negotiating teams (and all other citizens and visitor) use daily to travel to and from their homes to work, shopping, schools, medical appointments, entertainment, etc?
Why is this particular bridge the only one in the County (unlike other bridges on reservation lands) subject to repeated expensive and secret lease negotiations? Why do all Whatcom county taxpayers, county government, the Lummi Nation (and of course ferry users) have to spend time, energy, money, goodwill, worry, and spirit every 25 years or so to ‘settle’ on a lease arrangement for the Gooseberry Pt dock/bridge end?
Really – why do we do this crazy dance every 25 years or so? Wouldn’t it be better to agree on a permanent solution based on the legal road right-of-way from the mainland to Lummi Island? This would benefit everyone by reducing the repetitive (and uncertain) time and financial costs spent on each round of negotiations. Plus, eliminating the need for adversarial lease negotiations could remove one barrier to better long-term relationships between the Lummi Nation and the Whatcom County government.