Birch Bay berm project delayed another year

By Oliver Lazenby


Photo by Oliver Lazenby.

After more than 40 years of waiting, planning and design, the Birch Bay Drive and Pedestrian Facilities project will likely be delayed another year.

County officials hoped construction on the project known as the Birch Bay berm would begin this fall, but ground breaking will likely be delayed until after Labor Day 2017.

Whatcom County needed to obtain property easements before construction could start on the project, which would naturalize the beach along Birch Bay Drive, replacing concrete seawalls and breakwaters with a sand and gravel beach that would more effectively protect the road from floods.

The county hoped to obtain those easements and start construction this September, but negotiations are taking longer than expected; the county has obtained eight easements and still needs 30 more, said county project engineer Kevin Thompson in an email.

“The construction will be starting in September 2017, dependent on obtaining right-of-way easements and all environmental permits,” Thompson said.

The construction timeline is constricted by two factors: fish and tourism. Work below the tideline can only be done between salmon rearing and herring spawning seasons, a window between July 15 and February 15. The county also committed to working around Birch Bay’s summer tourist season from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

At this point, the fish window and lack of easements makes it “very unlikely we will be able to start construction this winter,” Thompson said.

Thompson didn’t say why the county hadn’t reached deals with the remaining property owners, but he did say they are
still negotiating.

Earlier this year, county special programs manager Roland Middleton said sticking points in the negotiations included details such as park benches, access ramps and stairs.

The $11.5 million project will also include a pedestrian walkway and bike path on top of and next to the berm on a 1.6-mile stretch of Birch Bay Drive. Birch Bay Drive is already popular with walkers and bicyclists.

The county still expects construction to happen in two phases over a two-year period. In the first year, between September and May, a contractor would:

• Begin building the southern half of the berm.

• Construct a pedestrian path along the southern portion of the project.

• Construct a fish culvert on Golf Course Creek.

• Construct stormwater utilities and swales alongside Birch Bay Drive.

• Plant native grasses, rushes and sedges on the berm and in the swale between the road and the berm.

Construction plans for the following year are roughly the same but on the northern half of the berm, with the addition of installing furnishings and signs, and paving and striping parking areas.


    Birch Bay has only a two lane road by which to traverse it’s beach. There is no space to add to that. A new park is already creating traffic jams that have not been seen before.
    To push beautification projects that will create more traffic is inane and/or insane. In the thirty years we have had a BB home we know of no serious accident to pedestrians. Bring on the hoard and even with improved pedestrian walkways, there will be more troubles.
    Protecting the beaches is a worthwhile (and necessary project). But until we have more capacity for human activity, niceties like “pedestrian facilities” should be prioritized behind more important things like the beach, the berms and removing or burying the power lines. Removing the power lines , in itself, will create space for a pedestrian walkway without any further easement/ land grab.

    Our personal view is that the power lines should be moved to the back of the lands surrounding the bays natural basin. The further from the water, the cheaper the access to land will be.

  2. I agree with D.S. Lee that the power line burial needs to be part of any Birch Bay shoreline enhancement. However, as a frequent driver, pedestrian, pedestrian with leashed dog and cyclist along Birch Bay drive, I see a clear need for separation of non-motorized and motorized users of our gorgeous drive.
    There have been accidents down the years. With increasing visitor numbers, the occurence will only become more frequent. The bay has been successfully promoted as a destination by the chamber and countless newbies now place it on their weekend itineraries. We don’t need to wait for more accidents and injuries to see that there is a need to optimize the experience of all who visit the bay. As they say (for good reason) safety first.
    Beyond the recorded accidents and injuries along Birch Bay drive, there is a persistent level of anxiety among both motorists and non-motorized road users and pedestrians. I try not to plan a walk along the drive over the weekend as it is just too many cars and not enough space. At points South of Harborview, the congestion of walkers necessitates frequent incursionsinto the traffic lane. It’s just not fun and a
    dangerous mix.
    It is certainly no better as a driver. Who wants to be invoved in a collision with some errant kid who veers into the traffic on her bike to avoid a pedestrian?
    The berm is at least 40 years overdue and will greatly enhance the safety and enjoyment of all those who come to our bay.
    In another decade, the severity of disruption to traffic from the more severe and frequent storms will be a real impediment to everyone. Sea level IS rising, storms ARE more frequent and severe – that IS reflected in the record. Those who are so vehemently opposing the berm now may actually be spared some of this flooding and mayhem by the very berm they object to.
    Let’s get this done!


    Ciaran Roe.


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