Wednesday, February 29, 2012

City may relocate pieces from local sculpture park

The City of Bellingham may decide to move iconic art from local Big Rock Garden Park  to the downtown area. The Bellingham Art Commission  proposed the relocation of “State Street Totem” by Reg Akright and “Head” by David Marshall as a way of bringing new life to the city.

As part of it's  2012 Action Plan the commission hopes to, “assess the City’s public artwork collection to assist potential relocation and regrouping of artwork”. Rearranging sculptures is a good way for to bring more art into the city with out having to purchase new pieces, said Jeni Cottrell, an Art Commission and Friends of the Big Rock Garden Park member.

“It's just like re-arranging the furniture in your house to give it a fresh look,” Cottrell said.

David Marshall's "Head" nestled in Big Rock Garden Park
Photo by Mikey Jane Moran
But not everyone is in support of these proposed changes. The relocation of “Head”, one of four pieces in the park by Canadian sculptor David Marshall, drew opposition from members of the Friends of the Big Rock Garden and from sculpture donor and former park owner, George Drake.

“I think that the arts commission made a serious tactile error,” said Drake, who hopes that the piece he donated in 2001 will remain in it's original location. “They are shooting themselves in the foot.”

The Arts Commission is only an advisory board to the city, said Rae Edwards, Parks Volunteer Organizer, and even if the commission decided to move the sculptures, there would still be a long process ahead, including Bellingham Parks Board and city approval as well as funding grants to cover installation and transportation costs.

“It would be a process and there would be discussion and it is not going to happen overnight,” Edwards said. “Pieces don't just get up and move.”

Edwards also said she hopes the parks board would get the opinions of patrons and groups  such as Friends of the Big Rock Garden before it decided a course of action.

The commission is still in the discussion process of the proposal and nothing has been put on paper, said Edwards emphasizing there is a lot that will go into their decision.

Vandalism, for example, is a concern as the sculptures will be moving from a relatively protected area to the downtown streets.

“It doesn't make much sense to move a sculpture to some place where it is going to be vandalized,” Edwards said. “You don't just stick a sculpture on the needs to be a good place for the art and for people to see it.”
"State Street Totem" by Reg Akright stands in the park
Photo by Mikey Jane Moran

Cottrell said the commission has discussed moving, “State Street Totem” to State Street near Key Bank for several years. The piece is made of curb stones from the old road and has historical relevance to that location. Edwards, however, remarked that lots of other curb stone sculptures on display downtown already and that the location may not be as safe as the park is.

Drake said he is not attached to the notion of “State Street Totem” remaining in the park.

“I don't think that would be a loss to the park and it would be an addition to State Street,” said Drake. “The David Marshall piece is another story.”

Marshall's “Head” seems to have more of an identity at the park.  It is part of a collection  donated by  Drake, after an exhibition of 30 Marshall works that were on display in the lower gardens. Now nestled in a forested corner of the park, Edwards thinks it would be lost in a bigger area.

“'Head' is an intimate piece. It is meant to see up close, not far away,” Edwards said. “I think it is best in a setting where you turn a corner and see it and you can look it eye to eye so to speak, and that is the placement it has at Big Rock right now.”

Cottrell argues that there are definite benefits of moving “Head” where more people can see it.

Paths welcome visitors to the park
Photo by Mikey Jane Moran
“I think it is probably healthy to do a little bit of moving things around,” Cottrell said. “[It would] get people excited that there are other pieces by the same artist up at the park [and] bring people up to the park.”

The Big Rock Garden park is secluded in the Silver Beach neighborhood on Sylvan Street. It is home to 36 permanent sculptures dispersed along winding paths of a 2.5 acre garden.

Patrons such as Edwards admire the park for it's unique nature.

“I think one thing that is really nice about Big Rock and the way it's set up is that there's is quite a few very nice pieces and you can walk around and see them,” Edwards said. “People come to enjoy the park and the sculpture because it is such a different park from other parks.”

Drake thinks it would be a shame to see the park disassembled.

“That park could be a world class tourist attraction,” Drake said.

Drake and his wife, Mary Ann, owned and maintained the park for 11 years before selling it to the city in 1981. Since then, the park has remained very dear to Drake and he still has a vested interest in its livelihood.

“I am in my 80s now and I started the park 30 years ago. I don't want to see it torn apart before I die,” Drake said.

As the discussion is on going, there is no certainty about which pieces, if any, the city will move from the park. The Bellingham Arts Commission holds public meetings on the first Tuesday of each month to discuss issues such as the fate of Big Rock Garden Park and it's sculpture collection.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Phosphorus laden Lake Whatcom raises eyebrows of the city, neighbors

Another gray day on Lake Whatcom
Photo by Mikey Jane Moran
The Bellingham City Council proposed a $7 water rate increase per month to pay for phosphorus reduction efforts in Lake Whatcom. Engineering firm, CH2M Hill, also provided the city with a a cost-benefit analysis of a reduction plan in December 2011, which included retrofits, rain gardens and reorganization of roads.

The city has yet to implement rate hikes and the reduction plan is still under consideration by the city council, but water quality in Lake Whatcom continues to be an issue for all of the Bellingham residents who drink it everyday.

“It's a source of water for almost 100,000 people so it's something we should all pay attention to,” said Myron Wlaznak, Silver Beach resident and Neighborhood Association member.

The lake's phosphorus content is above acceptable levels according to the Department of Ecology, encouraging algae to grow, which limits the oxygen in the lake and contaminates the water pouring out of Belingham's taps.
A sign in Bloedel Donavan tells all
Photo by Mikey Jane Moran

The worth of current programs

The Silver Beach neighborhood, which lies on the watershed and adjacent to the lake, has been host to city projects like the Homeowners Incentive Program. This project provides grants to residents who re-landscape their property to minimize runoff and according to the cost-benefit analysis, Silver Beach will be the target of more programs like this one in the future.

The city also currently distributes rain barrels and circulates educational pamphlets through out the neighborhood to raise awareness of what city programs can offer residents.

Building designer and Sliver Beach resident Jan Hayes said the best way to deal with runoff pollution is to continue to expand these incentive opportunities. Hayes landscaped her property with the help of the Homeowners Incentive Program, which payed for the majority of the project.

“I have done what I can on my property to mitigate my runoff and I am hoping that is significant enough,” Hayes said.

Wlaznak is less confident in the effectiveness of existing programs. He said rain barrels often overflow during heavy rains, spilling rain water back on to the streets. He thinks small changes like rain gardens are not enough to bring about necessary improvements and the city is missing out on mitigating the largest source of runoff: roads.

Runoff flows onto the beach
Photo by Mikey Jane Moran
Roads are impervious, meaning water cannot soak into the soil. In addition, Wlaznak said roads in the Silver Beach area are rounded in the middle so runoff flows into shoulders, picking up dirt and phosphorous and depositing it directly into storm drains.

“Once phosphorus becomes soluble,” Wlaznak said, “it is extremely difficult to get it out through any type of filtering medium.”

He suggests ecologically conscious roadway programs, such as the one implemented on North Shore Drive which uses porous pavement so dirty water can be filtered by soil before reaching the lake. Road retrofits will be a feature of the city's reduction plan according to the cost-benefit analysis released by CH2M Hill.

The development debate

Development around the lake is also a concern and most of the money gathered from the water rate hike will go to pay for property purchases so land can be preserved and undeveloped, said Clare Fogelsong, Environmental Resource Manager for the Bellingham Public Works Department.

“We are looking for the most return,” said Fogelsong, who explained the city can maximize phosphorous loading reduction by protecting forested areas around the lake.

“Any disturbance in the land adds and contributes to more phosphorus in the lake so development is one of the big culprits,” Hayes said.

Municipal code prevents land development in Silver Beach during the rainy season from Oct. 1 to May 31 every year to limit phosphorous runoff from loose dirt.

The local perspective

Land acquisition is an important part of the lake's health and Wlaznak could not be a bigger proponent of the cause, but he also calls for a more hands on approach from the city. He suggested experienced gardeners talk to residents while they are working in their yards and offer suggestions about greener landscaping options.

“I think people will respond more to that than to getting a regulation crammed down their throats,” said Wlaznak, who advocated the city work more locally.

“I think the city's approach really needs to be much more interactive with the people, they need to get to know the people,” he said. “I can't tell you how many violations of the watershed rules happen on the weekends and unfortunately the city works nine to five.”

Fogelsong said that the city also hopes to have a more local focus and is “gearing up” it's employees to serve the community better.

“We have spent many years distributing fliers and mailers, and we were just not pleased with the results,” said Fogelsong, emphasizing the city's shift to more involved strategies. He said residents can expect to see more city officials conversing with individuals in the months to come.

But residents must also step up and do their part to limit phosphorus run-off, Hayes said.

A sign presents a call to action in the park
Photo by Mikey Jane Moran
“I think the city has done a reasonable job of putting [information] on their website. They've done public announcements and mailers and all sorts of things to get the word out, but people still have to respond,” she said.

Even with the lake in their front yard, many citizens are unaware of lake pollution issues. Boater and resident of Silver Beach, Alan Lipp, said he doubts community members understand the dangers of phosphorous in the lake.

“I don't know if [residents] know if there is a problem at all,” said Lipp while boating in Bloedel Donovan Park. “I just went to set my boat down and there is dog poop right there by the water.”

Because phosphorous is not visible like other forms of pollution, it can go unnoticed.

“Unfortunately, you can look at the water now and you can't see the problems,” said Wlaznak, though the issue still persists however unseen.