$3.3-million purchase tied into future cleanup of adjacent city dump site.
The City of Bellingham’s recent purchase of Peter Gaasland’s Colony Wharf property will not affect the more than 100 people who work daily at the site — for now.
The city on Jan. 31 bought The Boatyard at Colony Wharf’s six acres of property, located near the end of C Street with access to the Whatcom Waterway, for $3.3 million.
In coming years, said Public Works Director Dick McKinley, the city plans to move forward with cleanup efforts at its old garbage dump at Roeder Avenue. Because the landfill abuts the Colony Wharf property, and since the city would likely be responsible for some portion of future contamination cleanup of that property, too, McKinley said it was prudent to purchase the land at this time.
While no total cleanup cost has been estimated, McKinley figures purchasing the property now will save the city several million dollars in the future.
Since contamination investigation and master planning of the site will likely take several years, the city agreed to lease the property back to Colony Wharf for four years, McKinley said.
“No jobs will be interrupted, and after four years we’ll know more about what will come in the future,” McKinley said.
Gaasland, 69, the longtime owner of Colony Wharf, whose family owned the Central Waterfront property for more than 50 years, said he hopes city officials take the area’s history as a working waterfront into consideration when they consider redevelopment options.
“There’s a desire by some residents for more parks, but I hope having jobs on the waterfront will be a consideration on decision-makers’ minds when they decide what to do with this property,” he said.
Gaasland said he currently leases facilities to about 10 businesses on the Colony Wharf property that, in total, employ between 100 to 130 people.
In addition to Colony Wharf’s boatyard and other businesses, the 300,000-square-foot site also serves as a destination where barges, via the Whatcom Waterway, can unload cargos of lumber, crushed rock and other goods.
With the Port of Bellingham considering building a new marina and boat launch in the area, Gaasland said he also believes it would be wise to keep the boatyard in its current location.
Gaasland, however, said he likely will be retired by the time major developments take place on the property.
Earlier this month, The Landings at Colony Wharf LLC, made up of Colony Wharf’s seven employees, took over the operation of the boatyard and barge facility from Gaasland’s Colony Wharf, Inc.
McKinley reiterated the city doesn’t have any specific plans for the area yet, besides looking down the road at the cleanup of the dump sites.
“The master planning for waterfront redevelopment will help drive what we plan to do with this property in the future,” he said.
For the last seven years, said Satpal Sidhu, Dean of Professional Technical education at Bellingham Technical College, students at the school interested in becoming pilots have had limited opportunities to pursue their goals.
The college, he said, has offered a ground school and instrument school, but, when it’s come time for flight-school training, they’ve had to go elsewhere.
In recent months, however, BTC has been working with Bellingham Aviation Services (BAS) and the Port of Bellingham to pursue a new flight school at Bellingham International Airport.
With the bolstered offerings, BTC would be growing, because more and more companies and private people have planes for business,” Sidhu said. “There is a need for these kinds of skilled people.”
Under current plans, BTC would continue offering general aviation education classes, while BAS officials would provide the instruction for flight training. The port would provide space at the airport for the program.
Initially, Sidhu said, the program could accommodate between six and 12 students per quarter. A cost of the program has not yet been determined.
While BAS and Bellingham Aero both offer flight schools at the airport, Sidhu said BAS originally approached the college expressing interest in a partnership.
Martyn Harris, BAS’ chief flight instructor, said the company makes a logical partner because it already has flight instructors and equipment.
“It would be a big expense for BTC to start buying airplanes,” he said. “They can take advantage of what we already have here.”
BAS, Harris said, currently has a Cessna 72 for flight instruction and may add another plane in the future, depending on what happens with the program.
If BTC receives approval for the program from the state board, Sidhu said, the college will begin advertising the program this summer and offer classes in the fall.