Birch Bay residents will have to find another avenue for funding public restrooms after the Birch Bay Watershed and Aquatic Resource Management (BBWARM) district advisory committee made clear funding will not be coming from the district.
Whatcom County stormwater program specialist Ingrid Enschede, who works on BBWARM-managed projects, said the district’s advisory committee decided against funding permanent public restrooms in Birch Bay because the district was created specifically to manage stormwater and watershed issues in Birch Bay. In the eyes of the advisory committee, paying to build and maintain permanent restrooms does not fit this description.
Despite the decision, Enschede said the advisory committee members realize the need for public restrooms in Birch Bay. However, the committee thinks the district’s funds are best spent managing specific stormwater issues in the Birch Bay watershed, such as drainage issues in the Birch Point area.
“It’s not that we’re not acknowledging there’s a problem or a need,” Enschede said. “It’s just that it falls out of a stormwater focus.”
The lack of permanent public restrooms in Birch Bay has been an issue for years, but most recently Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce president John Gargett asked Enschede to look into the possibility of the BBWARM district funding new restrooms during a chamber meeting this summer. He said BBWARM’s final decision does not come as a huge surprise to him and other chamber members, but still proves disappointing.
Birch Bay pays significant amount of money to the county for basic services, such as roads, and Gargett said he doesn’t understand how the community can still lack public restrooms. With Birch Bay being one of the most popular tourist destinations in the county, Gargett said he’s heard complaints from visitors on numerous occasions about the lack of such basic facilities.
“We pay a lot of taxes but don’t have something as simple as that,” he said.
Gargett said outgoing Whatcom County Executive Pete Kremen has consistently supported public restrooms for the area. Kremen signed an executive order at the last minute to provide Birch Bay county-funded portable restrooms during the summer.
In Gargett’s eyes, public restrooms remain a complicated issue in Birch Bay for two main reasons: the proximity of the community to the bay makes restrooms a unique challenge from a water quality standpoint, and the lack of available publicly owned land makes finding space for the restrooms difficult. Related to this second point, Gargett said many private homeowners don’t want public restrooms across the street from their houses.
“It’s a lack of land that’s the issue,” Gargett said.
Gargett said Kremen has told him county parks director Mike McFarlane is considering purchasing private land in Birch Bay with the intent to build public restrooms, with specifically an eye on the golf course next to CJ’s Beach House. The golf course and the restaurant were previously owned by Lynden-based land development company Homestead Northwest but have since been placed into receivership.
County executive-elect Jack Louws, a Birch Bay resident, has also pledged support for public restrooms, as has Kremen in his capacity as the newest county council member. Gargett said it’s important to keep the issue in front of the county.
“It’s one of those things we have to keep forward or they’ll forget about it,” Gargett said.