Security Can Be Beautiful, as This Water Plant's Fencing Project Shows

A decorative fence at the water treatment plant in Bellingham successfully marries water source protection with artistic beauty

Security Can Be Beautiful, as This Water Plant's Fencing Project Shows

Artist Ries Niemi (right) and Shannon Taysi, Bellingham program specialist, with a section of the completed decorative fence.

Thanks to a new 300-foot security fence at the Bellingham (Washington) Water Treatment Plant, walking-trail users at a popular community park no longer have to enter the plant grounds just to continue on their way. They can view some nifty artwork, too.

“Before the new fence and gate were relocated, people using the trail would divert on the road leading into the plant then pick up the trail again,” says Bill Evans, chief operator. “Now a new connector lets them continue on the trail in the park uninterrupted.”

It’s not just any old fence; it’s an artistic security fence designed and fabricated by Ries Niemi, a local industrial artist. Thirty panels, each 7 feet tall by 8 feet wide, repeat seven designs featuring ocean waves, a water splash, a running water faucet, symbols for molecules and Mount Baker, a watershed contributor.  

Popular park

Fabricated from hot-dipped galvanized milled steel plate, the welded and flame-cut panels contrast and stand out against the greenery along the trail. Pointy raindrop-shaped hot-dipped galvanized steel toppers substitute for barbed wire.

“We moved the front gate toward Whatcom Falls Park and extended the fence to its parking lot so people can’t access the road into the plant, but will be able to stay on the trail,” Evans says. “That’s where the artwork is.”

Whatcom Falls Park is a 241-acre wooded area described as one of the state’s most beautiful parks. Nearly 4 miles of gravel-surface trails meander among four sets of waterfalls, several ponds and gardens, athletic fields, and playground and picnic areas. A fish hatchery site in the park contains a screen house that pre-filters all the water flowing to the treatment plant. A sandstone bridge built during the 1930s Depression is a park landmark. 

“The fence is protecting a water source, so we didn’t want to sacrifice on safety or aesthetics,” Evans says. “Marrying those two things was critical.”

Nationwide competition

The call for artists stated that the goal of the project was to create an area of interest between the water plant and the trail by enhancing the aesthetics of the fence and gate. “It certainly has met that goal,” says Shannon Taysi, the program specialist for the Bellingham Planning and Community Development Department who managed the selection and fabrication process. 

The fence and gate were relocated as part of a $13 million project to install a dissolved air flotation system (Leopold - a Xylem Brand) for pretreatment. Organics in the summer months had become a problem, especially during drought. Financing for the fence and gate was provided through an ordinance that assigns 1 percent of an eligible capital project’s cost to integrate artwork.

Niemi’s design was selected from among 30 responses to the nationwide call for artists. “We got responses from all over the county,” Taysi says. A five-member selection committee reviewed the concepts and selected four finalists. The committee included the president of the Whatcom Falls Neighborhood Association, a city council member, another public artist, the curator of a museum and a local sculptor. Evans and Taysi provided staff input to ensure that the artwork chosen would meet the city’s goals.

The pros and cons of the finalists’ models and mock-ups were reviewed for key elements, such as aesthetics and safety. The artist’s ability to perform the work was a key consideration. Taysi says the committee thought Niemi’s concept was different — a delicate abstract work, yet practical with its individual panel design.

“I really like the security aspect of the fence that complements our other security efforts,” Evans says. “And it looks good.”


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