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Chef Converting Old Cannery into Eco-friendly
Resort in Point Roberts, Washington

By Jared Paben, The Bellingham Herald, Wash.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

January 2, 2009 --POINT ROBERTS -- For its first three decades, the industrial building along the point's western shore held a salmon cannery, then a clam cannery.

Now, a local chef plans to transform the building, which at one point was nearly falling apart, into Blackfish Resort, featuring environmentally friendly technologies, techniques and foods.

"We're taking an old cannery, going up and then also adding an addition to it," resident Steve O'Neill said. "For it to keep the Northwest cannery sort of feeling is really interesting."

On Dec. 18 the Whatcom County hearing examiner approved permits for the project, on 4.3 acres just north of Lighthouse Park in southwest Point Roberts.

Current plans, which could still change, call for adding 25,000 square feet to the existing 17,000-square-foot building, built in 1932. The resort probably would have two dozen or more rooms, a restaurant/bar, micro-brewery, micro-winery, spa and outdoor hot tubs.

The building was falling apart before a previous landowner invested about a million dollars in 1996 upgrading it for a restaurant, which didn't pan out partly because tightened border-crossing requirements made travel tougher for potential customers, said David King, architect on the new project.

Blackfish Resort could have everything from heating systems that automatically turn off when a window is opened to high-tech solar panels for heating water. They would grow food on site, and they'd contract with locals to grow other organic foods to serve in the restaurant, said O'Neill, who hopes to spur farming activities on the point. The resort might have wind-energy towers, or it could have exercise equipment that generates electricity for the TVs, King said.

They're also discussing video cameras on the roof and underwater to capture orcas and other sea life and have it broadcast on TVs in the building. The county also approved building smaller and fewer parking spaces to reduce impervious surfaces, King said.

"I tried to do something that's in keeping with the natural environment," O'Neill said. "I wanted this to be a waterfront resort where you feel you're in an eco-resort.

"It's not meant to be a fussy place where you have two staff members for every guest," added O'Neill, who used to operate Lighthouse Cafe nearby out of a trailer.

It's exciting to hear he got the permits, said Jenner Urquhart, a board member for the Point Roberts Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau.

"In general, our perspective on it is it can't come soon enough," she said. "The economy here desperately needs that kind of addition to it."

After the July 4 parade, which had record turnout, people congregated for a festival at Lighthouse Park, where many visitors asked the chamber booth where they could stay overnight. Chamber staff had to tell them options were limited to bed and breakfasts with a few rooms or rental homes.

O'Neill said he hopes to start construction in 2010 and have the resort open by spring 2012.

Reach JARED PABEN at or call 715-2289.


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