2023 Year in Review: A look back at the year that was ... (July-December)


(This is the second of a two-part Year in Review. January-June was published in the January 4 issue of The Northern Light.)


• The Washington State Department of Agriculture asked the public to participate in its citizen science trapping program for the northern giant hornets, also known as “murder hornets.”

• Fare Thee Well food trailer, serving gourmet dogs, opened behind The Vault Wine Bar and Bistro.

• Blaine High School students competed at the Technology Student Association national competition in Louisville, Kentucky.

• Blaine’s Old Fashioned Fourth of July parade brought thousands to downtown Blaine, while people celebrated Independence Day into the night on the Birch Bay shoreline. Volunteers from the annual July 5 Birch Bay cleanup filled three 30-yard Sanitary Service Company drop boxes with trash.

• The historic Birch Bay sign, once on Peace Portal Drive near Bell Road, was moved to The Beach at Birch Bay bar.

• Blaine Harbor Music Festival put on a week of world-class concerts around Blaine.

• Blaine City Council voted 5-2 during its July 10 meeting to uphold its decision to enact a six-month emergency moratorium on processing manufactured home park building permit applications. Over 20 people spoke during a public hearing before the vote.

• Blaine City Council unanimously approved city staff to research downtown zoning changes that could increase building height restrictions and decrease parking requirements. The decision came after developers voiced frustration that current zoning limited their ability to achieve a satisfactory return on investment.

• Blaine school district released a draft budget for the 2023/24 school year that would spend nearly $3.5 million less than last school year and reduce the district’s anticipated end of year deficit to $2.1 million.

• Whatcom County Council voted 5-0 to place a local sales and use tax of 0.2 percent, or 20 cents for every $100, on the November general election ballot to fund construction of a new county jail and support services.

• The Washington Supreme Court upheld an appellate court decision that could require Petrogas Pacific LLC to pay $15 million in taxes to Whatcom County.

• Ragnar Northwest Passage racers set out from Peace Arch Historical State Park for the 200-mile, 12-leg running relay race that finished on south Whidbey Island.

• The city of Blaine was on track to use only $150,000 in reserve funds, instead of $950,000, after four staff members left and sales tax revenue improved.

• Susan Sullivan was appointed as new postmaster for the U.S. Post Office in Custer.

• Canoes from Nooksack Indian Tribe, First Nations in Canada and the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community landed in Birch Bay on July 22 in a stop on the Paddle to Muckleshoot Canoe Journey. This was the first time the canoe journey returned since the pandemic.

• A high-speed stolen vehicle pursuit through Whatcom County ended with the vehicle driving through the U.S./Canada border and bursting into flames in Surrey, B.C.

• L&L Bakery opened in downtown Blaine on July 24.

• The Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce hosted the Sand Sculpture Competition and Rollback Weekend.


• Whatcom County voters cast their ballots in the August 1 primary election.

• Law officers, first responders and community members joined together to celebrate National Night Out at Birch Bay State Park.

• The community group researching Birch Bay incorporation distributed a second survey to unincorporated residents just outside of the Birch Bay urban growth area.

• The owners of Alaska Wild Fish and Chips Co. opened Dockside Bar, which served beer out of a renovated shipping container in Blaine Harbor.

• Stacie Pratschner, the city of Blaine’s community development services director, had her last day in the position August 4 after taking a position with the city of Mount Vernon.

• The Lady Washington tall ship made its first appearance in Blaine since the pandemic for the Drayton Harbor Maritime Festival. Pirate Daze also offered family activities during the festival at Blaine Harbor.

• Living Pantry reopened on H Street after relocating from its Peace Portal Drive spot.

• The Blaine-Birch Bay Park and Recreation District 2 announced it would not collect taxes in 2024 after missing the filing deadline for its six-year levy renewal to appear on the November general election ballot.

• Scientists kept a close eye on Drayton Harbor waters from late spring through fall after discovering a sizable population of juvenile European green crabs, indicating growth of the highly invasive species.

• The Northwest Steam Society gathered their fleet and historical memorabilia at Blaine Harbor for its 50th anniversary.

• A power outage in Blaine forced U.S. Customs and Border Protection to shut down the Peace Arch border crossing until power was restored.

• Blaine-based TouchStone Behavioral Health opened a youth crisis triage intensive outpatient unit and nonprofit youth resource center in Everson, thanks to a nearly $1 million state grant.

• The Good Ol’ Boys Semiahmoo golf group raised over $23,000 for Blaine Food Bank during its annual tournament at the Semiahmoo Golf and Country Club.

• Bay City Barbershop, which opened on August 19 in Birch Bay Square.

• Friends of Blaine Library and the Whatcom County Library System hosted The Jazz Explosion, a free concert in Blaine Performing Arts Center. The concert was part of the library’s Whatcom Grooves jazz series, and the first of its kind in Blaine.

• The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife opened the recreational crabbing season on August 20 after a three-day delay to allow time for more crab shells to harden.

• PeaceHealth announced plans to reinstate outpatient palliative care in Whatcom County, just three months after the healthcare system sparked community outrage when it eliminated the program.

• A man was transported to the hospital after sustaining a serious injury on one of the main slides at Birch Bay Waterslides on August 25. The water park closed for the remainder of the season.

• Blaine Art Council’s The Wave art studio tour gave the public an opportunity to view Blaine and Birch Bay artists’ work around Blaine.

• Derby Day took over Birch Bay with a parade, rubber duck derby, crab derby, vendors market, 5K fun run/walk and other activities.

• Longtime Birch Bay advocate Kathy Berg served as fire marshal at the Birch Bay Derby Day parade and was celebrated for her community work, including helping see through the berm’s completion and establishing the Birch Bay Watershed and Aquatic Resources Management Advisory Committee.

• Dozens of people attended Summer Fun in the Park at Blaine Marine Park, where there was live music, food trucks and a beer garden.

• Preliminary work on the Birch Bay Drive construction project began after the project’s repaving was delayed to spring 2024. The project was scheduled to start in July, but permitting delays pushed the project start date.

• Blaine school district staff greeted students as they arrived for the first day of school on August 29.


• The Community Assistance Program’s annual winter coat drive began September 1.

• Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife officers set traps in the Blaine area for one mother black bear and two cubs reportedly digging through garbage.

• Run with the Chums kicked off Whatcom Water Week at bp Highlands.

• U.S and Canadian first responders, law enforcement officers, motorcyclists and others attended a 9/11 memorial under the Peace Arch for the 22nd anniversary of the terror attacks.

• Blaine City Council requested city staff solicit bids to complete the Plover ferry’s remaining repairs before summer 2024.

• The Blaine Planning Commission voted to recommend city council approve allowing manufactured home parks that are five acres or larger to be included as a permitted use within east Blaine as long as they are limited to a smaller zoning area.

• Blaine city manager Mike Harmon announced the city’s plans to eliminate about 10 percent of its staff, or 6.5 full-time positions, in a round of layoffs that would be the first of this extent in a decade. The decision came in light of the city struggling to balance its general fund, where salaries and wages make up 60 percent of the expenses.

• An abandoned home at the corner of Peace Portal Drive and Fourth Street in Blaine became engulfed in flames. No one was injured.

• Michael Bobbink, who served as Blaine Municipal Court judge and Whatcom County hearing examiner, died on September 25.

• Blaine school board members unanimously approved placing separate levy and bond requests on the February 13, 2024 special election.

• Mayor Mary Lou Steward swore in Brandon Wasilchen as Blaine Police Department’s newest officer.

• bp Cherry Point hosted an open house that allowed the public to get an inside look into refinery operations.


• A Blaine man was booked into Whatcom County Jail for first-degree murder after he allegedly shot his neighbor on October 4.

• A Ferndale man was arrested on charges of vehicular homicide in connection to a hit-and-run crash on Blaine Road in March that killed a 33-year-old Blaine woman.

• The Blaine Chamber of Commerce hosted the first Harbor Harvest Festival that had live music, local produce, a beer garden, kids activities and a vendors market.

• The Blaine-Birch Bay Park and Recreation District 2 board of commissioners said it would present a ballot measure to renew its levy of $0.10 per $1,000 of assessed home valuation in the February 13, 2024 special election.

• Philadelphia-based pharmaceutical retail pharmacy chain Rite Aid initiated Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.

• Bens Market announced it would open a travel plaza across the street from the old Yorky’s station with a truck stop, Tesla supercharging site, a Carl’s Jr burger joint, Cinnabon, Jamba Juice and Pizza Hut.

• The city of Blaine began investigating after an anonymous attendee loudly repeated the N-word slur in a ‘Zoombombing’ incident during the Blaine City Council meeting on October 23.

• Blaine City Council voted 4-0 during its October 23 meeting to approve a text amendment to the city’s planned unit development code to allow large manufactured home parks in east Blaine. The vote came after over a year of debate in planning commission and council meetings with east Blaine residents citing concerns of housing affordability and environmental impacts.

• Longtime city employee Alex Wenger stepped into the role of city planning director.

• A crowd estimated to be in the hundreds turned out October 29 at the Peace Arch to oppose the Semiahmoo First Nation’s plans to build a biofuel facility near the U.S./Canada border. Concerns included the biofuel facility’s impact on the ecosystem, health risks and public safety.

• Trick-Or-Treat on the Berm in Birch Bay and the Freeman’s Halloween carnival in Blaine celebrated Halloween.


• Ace Hardware launched a soft opening for its Blaine store.

• North Whatcom Fire and Rescue announced it planned to ask voters for an increase in property tax in 2024.

• Blaine police chief Donnell “Tank” Tanksley won the Whatcom County Sheriff position with 52 percent of the vote (41,215).

• Whatcom County voters approved Proposition 4, authorizing a sales tax to fund a new county jail and other criminal justice services.

• A November 13 public hearing on Blaine City Council approving fees for copies of public records turned into a shouting match after council attempted to limit two speakers’ testimony when they began commenting on unrelated topics.

• A community group researching the potential for Birch Bay to become its own city officially formed as the Birch Bay Incorporation Association on November 15, drawing a crowd of over 100 people to the meeting.

• Blaine City Council remote meetings were suspended after a ‘Zoombombing’ incident during its October 23 meeting.

• The Community Assistance Program organized Thanksgiving baskets for 1,200 Blaine, Birch Bay and Custer residents.

• The Peace Arch border crossing had tightened security immediately following a deadly car explosion at the Rainbow Bridge crossing in Niagara Falls.

• The Washington State Attorney General’s Office required PeaceHealth to refund up to $13.4 million to thousands of low-income patients across Washington, including those in Bellingham, after failing to inform them that they qualified for financial assistance. Some received direct payments, while others needed to apply through a claims process.

• No northern giant hornets, also known as “murder hornets,” were detected in the U.S. or Canada in 2023. If no hornets are detected in the U.S. in 2024, the invasive species will be considered eradicated from the area.

• Thomas Lyden was appointed Blaine Municipal Court judge.

• The city of Blaine contracted Drayton Harbor Maritime to finish the Plover ferry repairs before Memorial Day Weekend 2024.  


• Holiday Harbor Lights kicked off the winter season with a tree lighting ceremony and other festivities on December 2. 

• The Washington State Department of Ecology fined Treoil Industries, a defunct industrial site near bp Cherry Point, $900,000 for decades of improperly storing hazardous materials and environmental damage. 

• Blaine school board members Ben Lazarus, Don Leu, Erika Creydt, Ryan Ford and Cliff Freeman were sworn in. Lazarus, Leu, Ford and Freeman are first-time board members.

• Blaine Police Department and Blaine Public Works Department administrative staff moved their offices into the second floor of city hall.

• Blaine Police Department received a state grant to create a gym and wellness room in the station as well as therapy for officers.

• Over 1,400 toys were donated to the Community Assistance Program’s Community Toy Store. 

• Namaste the Royal Taste of India opened its restaurant serving Indian food in Blaine. 

• The Blaine Marine Park playground area reopened as the city of Blaine finished its decade-long shoreline reconstruction project. 

  Harbor Custom Development, in charge of developing Horizon at Semiahmoo and previously contracted to purchase Grandis Pond, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

• Bellingham developer Ken Hertz sold Grandis Pond, a housing development slated to bring nearly 1,000 homes and commercial space to east Blaine, for $10 million to an east Blaine couple. 

• After years of working to secure funds for a library in Birch Bay, Whatcom County Council gave the Whatcom County Library System the remaining money needed for a library express.

• The Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce rang in New Year’s Eve with the Ring of Fire and Hope along the Birch Bay shoreline on December 31. 


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here