County council decision could present a funding hurdle for Birch Bay roads

Heron sunset in Birch Bay. Photo: Ruth Lauman

Heron sunset in Birch Bay.
Photo: Ruth Lauman

By Oliver Lazenby

A Whatcom County Council decision to exclude a 201-acre parcel from Birch Bay’s Urban Growth Area (UGA) could make it more difficult to fund improvements to Blaine Road – Birch Bay’s main north-south corridor, which will see more use as the area grows.

The parcel in question surrounds Blaine Road between Arnie Road and Birch Bay-Lynden Road. It’s surrounded on three sides by land in Birch Bay’s UGA.

Under the state’s Growth Management Act, communities must plan for growth in UGAs. The designation helps plan for future growth, but the state transportation improvement board also uses it as criteria for some roadwork grants.

The county council made the decision to leave the parcel out of the UGA despite a county staff recommendation to upgrade it to UGA status.

The county projected that Birch Bay will grow by 5,500 people in the next 20 years, and an analysis of the UGA estimated that its boundaries could accommodate 5,250 more. To make up the difference, county staff recommended adding the parcel to the UGA.

Council voted to leave it out of the UGA because the parcel contains unbuildable floodplains and wetlands, and because the projected population growth barely exceeds Birch Bay’s current UGA areas.

“The numbers were close so we decided to error on maybe a slightly smaller number of people per year moving there,” councilmember Todd Donovan said.

But that decision has implications the council may not have considered, said Doralee Booth, member of the Birch Bay Steering Committee and Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce. She pointed out to county council at its May 10 meeting that UGA status is criteria for state transportation improvement board funds.

“You guys have to understand, when you tweak one thing it always tweaks another,” Booth said. “Blaine Road is the only north-south connector road in our community. We do not consider Birch Bay Drive a connector road. It’s set aside for the resort community, bicyclists
and pedestrians.

Blaine Road needs some work, especially if Birch Bay is going to grow buy more than 5,000 residents, Booth said.

“There’s no shoulder, it has fast speed limits, the lanes are very narrow,” she said. “It’s not a safe road.”

State transportation improvement board funds are one of many funding sources for roadwork, and Blaine Road is still eligible for other funds, Donovan said in a phone interview.

For 2017, the transportation improvement board has allocated more than $115 million for 142 different projects in the state, according to its website. Locally, the board awarded $750,000 to the city of Blaine for reconstructing the Peace Portal/Hughes Avenue intersection this year.

The Birch Bay Water and Sewer District also had concerns about excluding the land from the UGA, but those were resolved with an amendment to the comprehensive plan, said district general manager Dan Eisses.

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