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Saturday, January 16, 2021

Bellingham City Council adopted the 2020 Stormwater and Comprehensive Plan

A screen shot from the Public Works and Natural Resources Committee presentation.
A screenshot from the Public Works and Natural Resources Committee presentation.

This plan will reevaluate the surface and stormwater needs.

By Courtney Gullett

Bellingham City Council adopted the Surface and Stormwater Utility Comprehensive Plan at their Monday night meeting. The plan was first introduced to the council on May 6, 2019. 

An independent consultant, HDR Engineering Inc., worked with the city to develop the draft for the plan. 

“We specialize in engineering, architecture, environmental and construction services. While we are most well-known for adding beauty and structure to communities through high-performance buildings and smart infrastructure, we provide much more than that,” according to the HDR Engineering website. 

National Stormwater Director for HDR, Jeff Eger, presented a plan to the Public Works and Natural Resources committee outlining a path for the city. 

“The plan updates that we used were to develop a capital program … looking at making sure we address these four key things: fish passage, water quality, flooding and capacity to evaluate your program,” Eger said. “We are happy to say, very few gaps.”

Public Works Director Eric Johnston said the Surface and Stormwater Utility has the goals of protecting aquatic resources, reducing flooding and damages, reducing the discharge of pollutants and improving fish habitats.

As a follow up to this vote, the council will hear plans for a change in rate structure. HDR recommended four different funding options for a Capital Improvement Plan in their draft.

“The proposal and the plan is that all users would essentially pay the same cost per-square-foot, regardless of the type of user,” Johnston said. “Currently, we have three different types of rate customers in the city: a small, medium and large user. The smallest customers pay higher on a per-square-foot than the largest customers.”

This would cause the larger customers to see an increase in cost, Johnston said. The majority of Bellingham residents fall into the medium category with an impervious surface area of 1,001 sq ft-2,999 sq ft, while the average square footage for small customers is 823 sq ft.

The last rate design was in 2012 and set a flat rate for small and medium users. For small users the rate was set at $14 every two months, Kevin Lorentzen said. 

The current cost per-square-foot averages out to have the smallest users paying the most per-square-foot at $1.06. The highest users are paying an average of $0.75 per-square-foot, Lorentzen said. 

Current Bellingham resident Lori Willows is considered a small user under the current Surface and Stormwater Utility Comprehensive Plan. Willows has issues with street flooding in her area. 

“It is plain wrong that the small users pay the most while receiving the worst care,” Willows said. “I live on a street that floods every time we get heavy rain. I feel like this is what I am paying in to fix, but it never gets fixed. I hope this new plan brings better prices and service.” 

While no fiscal plan has been adopted yet, the passage of the Surface and Stormwater Utility Comprehensive Plan will bring discussion on choosing rate changes to Bellingham City Council at a later date. 

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