Comprehensive Planning for Lummi Island – What role does the ferry play?

Sub Plan Cover
Are those bagpipes I hear down there?

If you want to open a can of worms, then read on, as many from the 2003 ‘Comp Plan’ Committee will attest – “there are as many opinions as there are worms”.  The point of this post is not to preach an outcome, or even to question our personal preferences, but merely to continue a dialog started over 10 years ago by our neighbors who volunteered two years of their time in intensive discussion on this very subject.  The Citizens Committee consisted of 24 islanders from all walks of life who  gathered the communities voice all along the way, debated the issues of the day and influenced the current planning documents that guide us.

Without digging too deeply into our current Sub Area Plan, adopted in 2003 and updated in 2009, it’s important to understand how ‘Preserving our Rural Character’ is based on current land use, zoning, population trends, and  key components of the plan which identifies three main factors that restrict future growth on the island – build-able lots, water resources, and ferry capacity.

The plan discusses the context for growth and its related impacts on the island, identifies
potential strategies and techniques to preserve the rural character and mitigate the impacts
of growth. It concludes by laying out clear policies to guide the implementation steps
necessary to achieve the vision outlined by the community. [Comp Plan 2009]

I encourage you to read, or at least browse the current plan before reading further.

Ben Frerichs and I presented a demographic and land use study to a group of 62 islanders on Sep 24th at the LICA (Lummi Is. Comunity Assn) potluck going back to 1990 and looking forward to 2025.  Several main points emerged about how we have grown in the last 24 years.

  1. We have become much older as a population (from 35 to 55 years old on average).
  2. We have 1/3 fewer families with children (born out by census and declining school enrollments)
  3. We are a wealthier population (growing as much as 40% faster than Whatcom County)
  4. We continue to double our population during the ‘Summer Peak’ season as in the past.
  5. 50% of all lots now have a dwelling unit on them.

All of these indicators point to us becoming a retirement/tourist community with fewer working families and  a likelihood of continuing that until the constraints on growth dominate that trend.  Those constraining variables were well described in the Comp Plan and continue to play the dominant force in how we will evolve.

  1. Maximum build-out on existing lots has reached the midpoint of development under current zoning laws.
  2. With a current population of about 1,000, and double that in the summer, we are approaching the maximum ability of our current water supply [aquifer and surface water] during peak periods of demand.
  3. Our current 20 car ferry (Whatcom Chief) and crew continue to provide excellent service to islanders during off-peak times of the year and continues to struggle to meet demand during summer peaks, when population doubles.

The long and the short of all this discussion is setting the stage for both LIFAC Subcommittees to produce recommendations for how Whatcom County deals with replacing the Whatcom Chief sometime in the future.  I’ll stop here for today, but would like to provoke some additional discussion on how you view the ferry as one of those ‘limiting’ factors in the list given above.  I’m sure some would be happy to have Lummi stay just the way it is, or even was in past years, and probably an equal number would be just as happy returning to a younger more diverse population of just 20 years ago.

Some additional food for thought here could focus on how you think additional unknowns will play out.  These will likely include, but not be limited to the following:

  • Climate Change ‘Refugees’ coming from a dryer Southwest, and flood prone Eastern Seaboard.
  • Immigration from abroad and more Canadian ownership of island properties (currently less than 10%)
  • Effects of Baby Boomers retiring to Lummi Island over the next 20 years

Where do you think Lummi Island will be in 20-40 years and is that a good or bad thing?

4 thoughts on “Comprehensive Planning for Lummi Island – What role does the ferry play?

  1. Nothing ever stays the same, and I’m sure our Island population and demographics will continue to gradually change, too. However, we can have some intentional influence over how that happens and what direction it takes.

    Re: the ferry limitations, I’d hazard a guess that the significantly higher ferry fares implemented over the past decade have had an enormous effect on families leaving and wealthier people moving to the Island. Other than that, I think the ferry’s effect is relatively insignificant (except that it’s a fact of life for anyone who wants to live here). People can either deal with it or not. I don’t think the size or age of the ferry matters.

    Personally, I think maintaining and increasing the diversity of our population should be the biggest priority. Becoming too homogeneous, I believe, would seriously impact the overall health of our community life. Diversity among us fosters better choices when our community organizations plan changes. It helps us be aware of how our actions affect others–a core aspect of our strong sense of community here.

    Loss of families is a major concern as far as I’m concerned. The world needs people raised in an environment like this–both our human, community environment and our natural, rural environment. Few places offer the kind of lifestyle experience found here. As most of us know, I think, it’s really quite special and deserves our conscious support.

    Finally, with regard to the direction I’d like to see things go, here’s my personal interest. I’d like to see a return to more farming on the Island. In the past, there were many farms. The number dwindled after WWII when factory farming began in earnest. Economic conditions have changed again so that a return to small family farming featuring “boutique” products (organic produce, grassfed livestock, etc.) is once again viable. Cottage industry laws have also changed recently so that value-added farm products are more practical to make and sell, too. That kind of farming is fairly labor intensive, and could create some on-island jobs appropriate for young people, including those with children. It could also reduce the need for trips to town on the ferry just for groceries–which could be a lot of trips for some of us.

    Thanks for posting this article, Mike. I love to see this kind of discussion happening!

    • P.S. Revitalizing our Island farm business would also help keep some of our undeveloped land undeveloped (i.e., less new structures, paving, etc.) though utilized more. Much of the farmland on the Island was cleared long ago.

  2. A couple of thoughts regarding my last question (musing 20-40 years out).
    Our average age is over 55 now, so factor in most of us answering will be dead!
    That certainly effects the discussion and with most of us gone, being replaced by others coming here to purchase our homes, I wonder how they would answer the question.
    Sorry to be so ‘dark’ this morning, but it’s raining and my back hurts.
    I suspect they would come here for all the same reasons we did, maybe even more so with climate change refugees making up the bulk of our influx in new arrivals. (NOAA is predicting a high chance of ‘super-drought’ for southern California and Arizona as our planet continues to warm, and millions of people in the east and gulf coast will be displaced due to rising high tides and more frequent storm surge events) It doesn’t take too many refugees to fill up our tiny speck of safe haven.
    Safety, beautiful natural settings, moderate climates, sense of community, abundance of opportunities, and reasonable cost of living are probably on everyone’s short list of why we settled on Lummi Island.
    Self sufficiency will become ever more important as economies become more micro-managed on a local level. With that said, your suggestion to become more Ag oriented seems absolutely imperative to consider for both those living here now, and all the ones to come after we’re gone.

  3. Mike — Could you please report the number of people in each demographic now and in 1990? If relatively more older people have moved (and aged) here, even if the number of new families increased by a lesser number, that fact alone would reduce the % of younger people on island. A graph would be great.

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