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News in Brief: Dec. 1 – 7, 2023

Southbound I-5 near Iowa exit briefly delayed due to car fire

News in Brief is published online every Friday, and updated throughout the week with bite-sized news from across Whatcom and Skagit counties. Read a roundup of the week’s news in print the following Friday.

Thursday, Dec. 7

Southbound I-5 near Iowa exit briefly delayed due to car fire

A car fire resulted in the temporary closure of the right southbound lane of Interstate 5 near the Iowa Street exit, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation. 

Bellingham fire, Washington State Patrol and incident command responded to the incident around 3 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6.

The accident was cleared as of 3:35 p.m.

Wednesday, Dec. 6

Temporary emergency shellfish closure issued for Drayton Harbor

Heavy rainfall has prompted a temporary emergency shellfish closure for Drayton Harbor from Tuesday, Dec. 5 to Monday, Dec. 11.

Over 2 inches of rainfall in 24 hours has increased the risk of runoff pollution, according to a Wednesday, Dec. 6 announcement by the Washington State Department of Health (DOH).

Molluscan shellfish include clams, mussels, oysters and scallops. Pollutants, and algae that contain marine biotoxins, cannot be seen and must be detected by laboratory testing. During a pollution or biotoxin event, mussels and varnish clams usually contain the highest toxin concentration. Butter clams and varnish clams often retain toxins longer than other species.


Current biotoxin and pollution closures can be found at the DOH website: fortress.wa.gov/doh/biotoxin/biotoxin.html, or by calling the state biotoxin hotline at 1-800-562-5632.

County Council approves funding for winter shelter operations for women and children

Whatcom County Council approved funding at a Tuesday, Dec. 5 meeting for YWCA-run shelter operations for single women and their children this winter.

The funding, which totals $385,000, allows YWCA to provide up to 20 motel rooms for single women and their children this winter. Chris D’Onofrio, housing program supervisor at the county health department, said in an email that the plan is to use motel rooms on a seasonal basis, regardless of the day’s weather, unlike a typical severe weather shelter which is activated when weather conditions become dangerous.

“We’re hoping to start filling those rooms in the coming weeks, and intend to have them occupied until sometime in March, depending on fund availability,” D’Onofrio said.

This funding supplements severe weather shelters already in place in the county. The county is running its own severe weather shelter at 810 N. State St., which can hold 45 people a night. Ferndale Community Services runs a severe weather shelter at the United Church of Ferndale.

Road2Home’s 45-bed winter shelter, which will be open every night from Dec. 1 until Feb. 29, is located at 1355 Civic Field Way in Bellingham.

Monday, Dec. 4

Council aims for 45% tree canopy coverage in Bellingham

City Council unanimously approved a target of 45% for tree canopy coverage in Bellingham at the Nov. 20 council meeting.

The new target will shape the draft of the city’s first Urban Forestry Management Plan, which is near completion. The plan is intended to create a strategy to maintain a “healthy and desirable” urban forest. The urban forest consists of all the trees on both public and private property. 

The draft plan, including this 45% target, will be released for community feedback in early 2024, with the final plan to come spring 2024.

Early next year, City Council will be presented with a draft of the Exceptional Tree Protection Ordinance, for “individual, high value” trees, and later in the year, a tree incentive program to urge private landowners to plant trees on their property.

“So we’ll be seeing two of the first pieces that make the urban forestry target something that happens,” said council member Michael Lilliquist at the meeting on Nov 20.

Friday, Dec. 1

Amtrak adding 2 daily roundtrips between Seattle, Portland 

Amtrak riders will now have two additional daily roundtrips between Seattle and Portland, for a total of six roundtrip trains, starting Monday, Dec. 11.

The new schedule will have trains departing Seattle at 5:52 a.m. and Portland at 6:45 a.m., according to a Wednesday, Nov. 29 announcement. The last trains of the day will leave Portland at 7:25 p.m. and Seattle at 7:50 p.m.

The new trains also bring changes to existing schedules. There will be later morning departures on trains leaving in both directions between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia. Afternoon trains will depart earlier from Canada to Seattle and from Portland to Seattle to Vancouver, British Columbia.

Jason Biggs, director of Washington State Department of Transportation’s Rail, Freight and Ports Division, said the extra trains are much-needed.

 “Many of our trains are sold out, so the addition of these two trains between Portland and Seattle has long been awaited by our customers,” Bigg said in the news release.

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