A proposal to name a bridge in Ferndale after the late Sen. Doug Ericksen is on hold after critics of the Republican legislator threatened to vandalize the future overpass, a Ferndale city councilman said.
Initially, a draft resolution proposing that the Ferndale City Council name the new Thornton Street overpass the Senator Douglas J. Ericksen Bridge was scheduled for discussion at a June 15 council committee meeting, Ferndale Communications Officer Riley Sweeney said. Jon Mutchler, one of three council members sponsoring the resolution, pulled the topic from the June 15 agenda so the proponents could consult with Ericksen’s family first.
Then, on June 30, council members Mutchler, Erin Gunther and Herb Porter wrote a letter to the other council members and Mayor Greg Hansen saying they were taking the idea off the table for now.
“We are each sensitive to the emotional impact this proposal has had on the Ericksen family, and the strong reactions expressed by some in the community,” the three councilors wrote. “As you know, this project won’t be completed until 2023 and so all stakeholders, including you, will have plenty of time to give careful thought to this opportunity in celebrating the completion of a major Ferndale project and show gratitude to the resident and legislator who ‘made it happen.’”
As a state senator for north Whatcom County in 2016, Ericksen earmarked more than $19 million for the overpass project, which will ease the traffic pressures on Main Street by providing a quick route from Interstate 5 to homes in north and west Ferndale.
In an email to Cascadia Daily News, Mutchler elaborated on what he meant by some community members’ “strong reactions.”
“Shocking to those of us who knew the senator, and disheartening to the Ericksen family, were scornful remarks and comments indicating that the completed bridge would be vandalized, even though Sen. Ericksen should receive universal praise for moving this major project forward,” Mutchler wrote.
The Ferndale community has been deeply divided over the proposal to name the overpass in honor of the senator, who died in December 2021 after being diagnosed with COVID-19. Ericksen’s critics point to the work the senator did for the 2016 Donald Trump campaign, his opposition to climate-change legislation and pandemic mask mandates, and his anti-LGBTQ+ agenda.
The idea of dedicating a bridge to Ericksen has its supporters, however. Whatcom County Sheriff and Ferndale resident Bill Elfo urged the council on Facebook to bestow the honor on Ericksen, saying “it would mean a lot to his bereaved family.”
But the divisions the proposal have stoked were reason enough to reject it, some Ferndale residents said.
“Given the incredibly fractured and politically fraught climate of the nation and this community, naming our public infrastructure after the late senator seems destined to create political tension and community discord,” Ferndale resident Colleen Harper wrote to the council in May.
Mutchler told Cascadia Daily News he and the other two council members who sponsored the Ericksen bridge resolution remain open to the proposal, or any other idea for properly honoring the senator’s accomplishments.
“The goal remains the same: to find a lasting way for Ferndale to express its gratitude and remember the hard work of this public servant,” Mutchler said.
“None of us anticipated the depth of undeserved dislike for the senator,” Mutchler added. “Doug was a good man.”