Shoreline preservation is major focus of project

Published on Wed, Jun 5, 2013 by Ian Ferguson

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At a public meeting on the Birch Bay Drive and Pedestrian Facility project, concerned Birch Bay residents took advantage of an opportunity to voice their concerns and get their questions answered by the project manager.

More than 90 people attended the meeting at the Birch Bay Bible Community Church May 29. Whatcom County public works project manager Roland Middleton gave a comprehensive overview and fielded questions. John Gargett, former president of Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce, and Melissa Morin from the Whatcom County Health Department also spoke.

Middleton explained that a major goal of the project is to preserve the shoreline. With slides of aerial photographs, he showed how sediment in the bay moves east from Birch Point and north from Point Whitehorn over time, which has led to the building of beach along the north end of the Cottonwood neighborhood. In the 1950s the Army Corps of Engineers mined gravel from a section of beach south of Terrell Creek for the construction of a General Surveillance Radar and Air Force station in Blaine. The hole created by the mining has steadily moved north up the bay.

“As sediment moves away, there’s been no sediment to fill in behind it. Over time, this beach has moved up to Cottonwood. So if you live in Central Reach, you can tell people on Cottonwood I hope you enjoy my beach,” Middleton said. “The rip-rap and the seawall were constructed to hold back the water, but it doesn’t work. So we’re trying to restore the beach to protect the road.”

Gargett noted that a section of road just south of Eagle’s Roost restaurant appears to be in danger of collapse.

“There are multiple cracks that have occurred from under washing, and that road is going to collapse in the next couple years. It needs to be repaired,” he said.

Road repair is indeed one component of the $10 million project, which is still in the design phase. Middleton listed the county’s goals, which he said are consistent with the goals laid out in the Birch Bay Sub-area Comprehensive Plan.

“We want to remove the seawalls, rip rap, groins and the bulkheads, reestablish the beach profile and improve flood protection for the roadway and the adjacent structures, while at the same time improving habitat functions of the near shore. Also, replace and retrofit the existing storm water systems and the outfall. An additional goal is to underground utilities. Finally, to improve the roadway and pedestrian access along Birch Bay Drive as a component of the Coast Millennium Trail.”

The under grounding of utilities may have to wait for a later phase of the project, Middleton said.

“The reason for that is the funding that we had for under grounding the utilities, and the funding that Birch Bay Water and Sewer had to redo the water and sewer lines, went away. The water and sewer lines are functioning at the level they should be functioning at. It does not make sense to rip up capital facilities that are working. However, they do plan on replacing all of the water and sewer lines in the next 10–20 years. At that time, we would do a full under grounding of utilities.”

Gargett said there is still hope that funding for the under grounding of utilities could come from alternative sources, which would expedite that phase of the project.
 
Middleton said significant construction won’t begin for at least a year and a half, due to the permitting process as well as a few design hurdles. One hurdle is the Via Birch Bay building, which is the only structure on the west side of Birch Bay Drive.

“We have a standing order from our county executive not to impact any business or employee, so we will not discuss purchasing the property. If it becomes available, we will certainly look at that, but as it stands the project will be halted in front of and behind that property simply because it is built where the berm should go. You would essentially need a berm to go out into the bay around it. We’re not going to do that, so we’re in a bit of a quagmire there. It’s one of a couple spots that will be tough to design,” Middleton said.

In March, residents along Birch Bay Drive saw surveyors planting stakes to mark the boundaries of the county’s 60-foot right of way along the road, the surface of which is 30 feet wide. Many of the stakes were on private land, and they caused concern and controversy for many landowners.

“I understand the fear that you have when you walk out one morning and in front of your door is an orange stick that says Right of Way, and on the other side of it is your driveway and your car. We are not going to bulldoze that up,” Middleton said. “What we’re looking at now is the area from the mouth of Terrel Creek up through the resort area, most of that needs soft shore protection – the berm. If you live in Cottonwood, where there’s already a berm, we’re not planning on touching it because the natural beach there already protects the road. We are planning on adding an enhanced shoulder or additional pavement along there so that there’s a safer place to walk. We’re not planning on expanding the roadway surface a great deal.”

Middleton offered to meet with any concerned landowner on their property to discuss and show exactly what is planned for the project at that location.

He can be reached at 360/676-6876 ext. 50211 and at rmiddlet@co.whatcom.wa.us.

Morin discussed the healthy communities assessment, an effort to measure the health impacts of the berm project. Volunteers counted pedestrians along Birch Bay Drive on May 9 and May 11; other counts will be conducted Tuesday, July 2 and Saturday, July 6.

“We’re not so much concerned about the specific numbers as we are generally about the patterns we see,” Morin said. “We’re wondering if the project will result in a more active community, and these four pedestrian and biker counts spread throughout the year before the construction begins will give us baseline data to compare to future data.”

Anyone interested in volunteering for the count can contact Morin at 360/676-6724 ext. 32027 or at mmorin@whatcomcounty.us.