The countdown is on for the long- awaited Birch Bay shoreline restoration project, slated to begin next fall, but Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce members are raising concerns about the construction process and the timeline for public restrooms.
Overseen by Whatcom County public works, the project will restore shoreline and improve the roadside along 2.4 miles of Birch Bay Drive. Construction is scheduled for the rainy months, so as not to interfere with tourist season in Birch Bay. At a Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce meeting October 15, project manager Roland Middleton told chamber members the project will require 4,200 truckloads to bring in several hundred thousand cubic yards of sand and gravel.
The most logical place to stage that mountain of material is on the former Vogt property on Birch Bay Drive, which the county purchased last year to be developed into a beachside park. Members of the Birch Bay chamber were concerned the park property, which hosted several successful events last summer, would be unable to continue hosting events next summer because of all the gravel and equipment. Middleton eased their fears.
“The land may be locked up for construction during the winter season, but that doesn’t mean we won’t clean it up and make some space,” Middleton said. “If we don’t get the project done in the winter, then in the spring we want to move everything off to the side, get it secured and out of the way so during the summer you can use it, even though we might have some equipment there.”
The park has already become an economic driver for Birch Bay. Summer events such as Birch Bay Beach Day, the sandcastle contest and Discover Birch Bay Days all used the property in one way or another. Birch Bay Waterslides general manager Iain Buchanan said the central location made it easy to reach potential customers at Birch Bay events.
“In the past, events were all spread up and down the corridor, and it was really difficult as a business to find value in participating. What we found this year was having that central location made it easier to access people, and a lot of people came back,” Buchanan said.
The planning process to develop the beach park will also begin in 2016.
“I expect we’ll have a series of public workshops to get your input,” said Rod Lamb, design and development supervisor for Whatcom County Parks and Recreation Department.
Chamber members voiced concerns that public restrooms would be the last item developed. From the beginning of the planning process, Birch Bay residents involved in planning the shoreline restoration and beach park projects have strongly requested public restrooms as a priority need.
“It’s looking like restrooms are taking a back seat and we’re four years away from getting restrooms in the area, when we thought they would be developed at the same time,” said Jeff Carrington. “We’re concerned.”