The State Department of Ecology (DOE) has given its blessing to shoreline improvements for Birch Bay, making Whatcom County eligible for $7 million in state funding.
In a letter dated May 9 (see letter posted below), DOE director Ted Sturdevant told county public works officials that the Birch Bay Drive and Pedestrian Facility, formerly known as the berm project, will go a long way toward improving the Birch Bay shoreline. The proposed improvements will remove sea walls and groins along with adding a pedestrian bike path and beach berm on the west side of Birch Bay Drive, strengthening 7,400 feet of shoreline and adding stormwater treatment structures.
“The county’s project will provide a large-scale restoration of the substantially degraded Birch Bay shoreline habitat, significantly improve recreational use, and additionally improve stormwater management of runoff from Birch Bay [Drive],” Sturdevant said.
Whatcom County Public Works needed this letter of support from DOE to be eligible for a $7 million loan from the state public works trust fund, which issues low-interest construction loans to counties and cities across Washington. Whatcom County would normally be ineligible for trust fund dollars because county land-use regulations are out of compliance with the state growth management act.
County public works director Frank Abart said he is thrilled DOE officials were able to see the environmental improvements the shoreline project will bring.
“[The DOE] wants to be part of [the solution], and that’s great,” Abart said.
With the DOE’s letter of support, Abart said the county was able to apply for a $7 million loan from the public works trust fund before the May 11 deadline. With the application sent off, county public works staff will now work to answer any questions trust fund officials might have and gear up to seek other funding sources for the $10 million project.
“This is a several-year process, this whole thing,” Abart said.
If approved by the state public works trust fund board and eventually the state legislature, the loan will provide most of the funding for the project. The county would repay approximately $719,000 per year for 10 years at an interest rate of one-half of 1 percent, which amounts to just less than $194,000 over 10 years.
County public works staff estimate construction on the project could begin as soon as 2015. Abart said county staff will hold a meeting the first week of June to organize a preliminary timeline for the project.