By Oliver Lazenby
Whatcom County and its contractor are making progress on permitting and right-of-way negotiations for the Birch Bay Drive and Pedestrian Facility Project (commonly called the Birch Bay berm). A lengthy property appraisal process may delay construction, but likely not by much, said Roland Middleton, the county’s special programs manager.
“We may not be able to get started in October,” Middleton said. “We might be starting in January, but we’re still going to get it done.”
The project’s many goals include reducing erosion and storm damage, returning the beach to a more natural state by removing groins, providing enhanced pedestrian access and bicycle safety and improving storm drainage.
The county must obtain right-of-way agreements from property owners along the 1.6-mile length of the project before construction can begin, and they have about 12 more agreements to finalize, Middleton said.
The county and its contractor had previously hoped to complete these negotiations by July in order to begin work sometime after Labor Day this year.
The main issue has to do with the process for appraising the properties, rather than negotiations with the property owners, Middleton said. “It’s a process issue, it’s not even a substantive issue,” he said.
Because the project is using some federal funds, the county must comply with federal interagency appraisal guidelines, which require a third-party appraiser to estimate property values. That appraiser isn’t finished yet, Middleton said.
The $11.5 million project, which involves building a protective sand and gravel berm between Birch Bay Drive and the shoreline, will take two years to construct. Work is scheduled to happen between Labor Day and Memorial Day, the tourist off-season in Birch Bay.
Planning for the project has been in the works in one form or another ever since renowned local hydrologist Wolf Bauer proposed it in 1975. Bauer passed away last January at the age of 103.
“We just passed the 40-year mark of when Whatcom County was first asked to work on this project, so I really hope we can get this up and done and finished here within the next couple years,” Middleton said.