City to begin wharf improvements
An ambitious plan to make the Blaine waterfront area a destination attraction for the city is moving rapidly toward implementation, according to sources at both the Port of Bellingham and the city of Blaine, with construction schedules to be set for some parts of the roughly $8 million project this spring.
But left undecided is whether or not to continue to provide vehicle access to the Fisherman’s Pier at the west end of Marine Drive. “We’d like that to remain accessible,” said Blaine resident and Port of Bellingham commissioner Jim Jorgensen, “but the last 300 feet or so of the road to it is falling apart, and the marine regulations about storm-water runoff make the price of keeping it open pretty steep. It’s just a question of where we want to put our money.”
The plan acknowledges that driving out to the pier is a long-standing tradition and provides two alternatives. One would provide four parking spaces about 300 feet away and barrier-free access to the pier, and would require no upgrade to the pier itself. The other would “...improve the most westerly 300 feet of the road for vehicle access to Fisherman’s Pier but also takes into account substantial improvements for stormwater treatment systems and upgrades to the structural integrity of the pier itself for continued vehicular access.
“You can see how some of the planks have been affected by the cars and trucks driving out there,” Jorgensen said, “with nails pulling out and chunks of wood gone.”
The port recently put about $75,000 into upgrades and improvements into the pier, and has had to repair the guard rail more than once due to vehicles hitting it or, on one occasion, going right through and into the harbor.
Blaine resident and the port’s planning and development director Sylvia Goodwin agreed, saying that “it’s becoming really impractical to consider allowing cars and trucks out onto wood piers when you have to capture all the run-off to keep oil, gas and anti-freeze out of the salt water.”
The plan adds that if vehicle access is limited then there should be an enclosed observation shelter of some kind for the colder months of the year.
Groups debate future use of aging structure
Marine Drive was originally built in the 1880s as the E Street or Milhollin pier. By the early 1900s there were several canneries and wood mills on the waterfront. The Army Corps of Engineers dredged the marina basin in the 1950s, providing much of the fill that created the marina uplands.
The plan covers about 105 acres of man-made uplands and marina. The city owns 9-acre Marine Park, the water treatment area and Marine Drive.
The port owns everything else seven acres of railroad right of way, and has management authority over 12.5 acres of state-owned aquatic and marine habitat that includes the last 300 feet of the west end of Marine Drive, the portion that would have to be improved if continued vehicle access to the public pier is to be provided.
The plan outlines projects in the 70-acre waterfront complex that are expected to be initiated sometime in the next 20 years.
While it assigns management responsibilities it does not specifically address funding, something that will be negotiated by the city and port. That would include pier improvements at the end of Marine Drive.
Some projects have been assigned “early action” priority with intended starting dates sometime this year or next. Those include $300,000 in improvements to the public boat launch at the south end of Milhollin Drive, replacing the wood decking on the marina’s promenade with concrete pavers between gates 1 and 2 for $800,000, a replica lighthouse and adjoining plaza for $650,000 and the second of a three-phase upgrade of Marine Drive for $900,000.
Other short-term projects could include a major expansion of the shipyard area, Jorgensen said, in which Westman Marine would take over space currently devoted to commercial but non-marine related businesses, including the fueling facility now operated by Blaine Marina furniture store.
Blaine’s historic train depot
Another local project just getting under way that dovetails with the plan but is not yet included is the intended move of the Blaine rail depot several hundred feet west to anchor commercial development in Plover Park, currently a field next to the boat launch.
The project is being spearheaded by local non-profit Drayton Harbor Maritime (DHM), which would use part of the building for a ferry terminal for the city-owned Plover passenger ferry.
“The city wants us to provide more transportation across the harbor to make it easier for pedestrians to get from Semiahmoo to the pedestrian railroad overpass they’re building,” DHM director Richard Sturgill said recently, “and the best way to pay for that is to use that building to generate income.”