Birch Bay State Park gets its boat launch back

Published on Thu, Mar 21, 2002 by Jack Kintner

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Birch Bay State Park gets its boat launch back

By Jack Kintner

Local boaters can breathe a collective sigh of relief. Whatcom County hearing examiner Michael Bobbink has ruled against a county planning and development decision that had closed the only public boat launch in Birch Bay, allowing the facility to remain open subject to conditions.
The launch, operated by Birch Bay State Park, who acquired it from neighbor Pete Hansen, was closed last October by county planning and development services staff when Hansen challenged the legality of the boat launch’s non-conforming use after improvements to the launch made by the state park increased traffic. The state park department appealed, and the decision Tuesday, March 19, reversed the earlier closure.

The hearing examiner pointed out the property had been sold to the park by Hansen who had obtained a higher price based on the value of the property as a boat launch. The park then proceeded with improvements, laying down gravel and putting up signs, that Bobbink said “were done without a permit. These improvements led to a marked increase in the use of this site for boat launching.”

The four conditions stipulated by Bobbink’s ruling include: the signs identifying the site as a public boat launch must come down; no further improvements to the launch or adjacent areas be made until permits are granted; permits must be immediately applied for and park staff must “actively monitor the site and inform members of the public that neither boats nor trailers are allowed on the tidelands of the area below the upper graveled beach portion.”

Park manager Ted Morris, who led the state park appeal of the original decision, was pleased with Bobbink’s ruling. “We can live with this. The conditions are already in our plans and we’re OK with what has been decided.”

Informed of the decision, Hansen’s attorney, Jon Sitkin said, “It’s disappointing the state parks didn’t work with us earlier. My client may not have challenged the use if they’d installed some controls on the activity levels. But they ignored us, which was disappointing.”

Sitkin went on to say that Bobbink’s conditions didn’t go far enough in his opinion. “There needs to be a physical barrier to preclude vehicles from the beach. I have no confidence that the state park will take any action to enforce any rules or requirements imposed by any agency.”

While local Birch Bay residents applauded the decision to keep the launch open while permits are sought, some acknowledged past difficulties.
“I’ve seen some pretty disgusting behavior,” said Katy Montfort, “with cars out where they don’t belong, but we have to have a way to launch small craft. It’s a good decision.”

Meg Grable said “It’s a wonderful decision, giving the community and state parks the opportunity to follow through now and make this launch a permanent addition to our waterfront.”..

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