Public pier fix moves forward

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By Ian Ferguson

A permanent fix to the Blaine public fishing pier is in the works, and four possible alternatives will be made public in the coming weeks.

The pier at the end of Marine Drive has been closed to vehicle traffic since April 2014, when the heavy equipment used to replace pilings damaged the road leading out to the pier, and revealed how structurally unsound the road is. The pier is still open to pedestrians and bicycles, although Blaine residents and city staff have complained about signage and fencing that make the area appear closed to visitors.

The Port of Bellingham has entered an inter-local agreement with Blaine Public Works to fix the pier. The two parties hired design consultant Reid Middleton to come up with four alternatives. The drawings are complete, and will be made publicly available in the coming weeks, according to public works director Ravyn Whitewolf.

“I’m excited about a public unveiling of these plans, and I anticipate that we’ll have some sort of public process this month,” Whitewolf said. “There will probably be a public hearing or two, with the drawings available to view at city hall.”

The plans show four alternatives of varying complexity and anticipated cost. All four alternatives are the same east of where the road narrows near the Star Fish, Inc. building, Whitewolf said. West from that point, the plans vary in terms of road width and access.

One alternative is for a standard, two-lane road leading out to the pier, with the new road well outside the footprint of the current road. A second alternative is for a narrower road that is closer to the current footprint. The third alternative is for a single-lane road with access only for pedestrians, bicycles and disabled/handicap drivers. The fourth alternative is a public promenade for pedestrians and cyclists, with no vehicle access except for emergency and maintenance vehicles.

“After we decide which alternative is best, the next step is to look for funding,” Whitewolf said. “Even the promenade option would cost around $2 million.”

Whitewolf added that finding money for the pier road would be a challenge because the majority of state and federal transportation grants are prioritized based on access volume.

Compared to a throughway road, the pier road sees very little traffic and would be considered low-priority for many types of grants.

“We’re going to be looking at different types of funding for this, possibly through parks and recreation grants or through cleanup funds. Picking up the concrete chunks and other debris at the water’s edge alongside the road has an environmental benefit, so there could be department of ecology funding for that,” Whitewolf said.

Norman Gilbert, project manager for the Port of Bellingham, said the port and the city of Blaine would continue to work together to find funding for the project.

With funding uncertain, the process to fix the pier road could take years, but at a city council meeting in September, Whitewolf said public works is open to finding a short-term solution to make the area more attractive to pedestrians.

Some suggestions included removing the chains across the concrete blocks blocking the road, improving signage and placing flower planters at the entrance.

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