New designers sought for Birch Bay shoreline enhancements

Published on Wed, Mar 12, 2014 by Ian Ferguson

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After a breakdown in negotiations, Whatcom County Public Works officials have cut ties with the original design team and are now seeking other engineering firms to lead the Birch Bay Drive and Pedestrian Facility Project.

Reid Middleton, the Everett-based engineering firm originally assigned to the project, will not design the first phase of the project after the two parties could not agree to contract terms.

“We were unable to come to an agreement on the cost of the design, as well as some of the requirements that we needed to see. Both parties decided it was time to cease negotiations and move on,” said project manager Roland Middleton (no relation to Reid Middleton). “We were spending too much time on negotiations and we wanted to get the project back on track so we can get to work.”

The first phase of the project will focus on stormwater protection for Birch Bay Drive, restoring the beach profile by removing groins, riprap and seawalls and constructing pedestrian facilities along 1.6 miles of Birch Bay Drive from Lora Lane to Cedar Avenue.

Whatcom County Public Works has issued a request for qualifications from design firms. Interested firms and individuals have until Tuesday, March 25 to submit their sealed statements of qualifications for designing the first phase of the project to the Whatcom County administrative services finance office. Public works officials will then decide which firm best meets their criteria, and preliminary design for the project will proceed after that.

“Hopefully we can reach a contract agreement right away and get to work,” Middleton said. “We are disappointed that we are at this juncture, but we did need to move on and get this project going. It may seem like we’re setting the project back by taking this step, but to continue on the path we were going with negotiations would have taken even more time.”

A committee tasked with selecting the lead engineering firm for the project chose Reid Middleton after narrowing the field to five firms in December 2012. The other firms included CH2M Hill, Inc., David Evans & Associates, KPFF and Reichhardt & Ebe. Birch Bay resident Kathy Berg, who was on the original selection committee, said she hopes those firms apply again.

“There were some really good proposals from the other firms,” she said.

The Birch Bay Drive and Pedestrian Facility Project has been in the works for decades, ever since renowned coastal hydrogeological engineer Wolf Bauer submitted his shoreline analysis in 1975, which recommended construction of a more natural beach profile with a slight berm to protect the road. 

“We had Wolf Bauer come back to Birch Bay in 2000, and he gave an extensive presentation on the shoreline dynamics of Birch Bay,” Berg said. “We really want our shoreline restored to Bauer’s specifications and his vision.” 

The 2004 Birch Bay subarea plan included the project, and it was formally adopted into the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan. Last fall, the Whatcom County Council voted to include the preliminary design of the project in the 2014 annual road construction program.

The engineering firm ultimately tasked with designing the project will face many challenges, one of which will be deciding how to manage transition zones along the waterfront. The Via Birch Bay Café property, the only privately owned land to the west of Birch Bay Drive along the project’s length, presents one such tricky spot. 

Local residents have proposed extending the berm and pedestrian facility into the bay around the Via property as a solution, but Middleton said state shoreline regulations would likely make that impossible. He added that the owner of the Via property has not returned phone calls, which has complicated matters.

Another major challenge to the project will be scheduling it around environmental regulations and the needs of property owners and businesses in Birch Bay.

“Our intent is to get the project underway as quickly as possible. At the same time, we need to schedule the project so it conforms to environmental regulations and takes into consideration the needs and demands of businesses in the Birch Bay community,” Middleton said. “It may not work for everybody, but we’re going to do everything we can to minimize the impact.”