County has rights to 60 percent of land for Birch Bay berm

By Oliver Lazenby

Whatcom County has obtained about half the permits and most of the land it needs to begin construction on a 1.6-mile Birch Bay beach restoration project, said Jim Karcher, design and construction manager for the county.

Karcher updated the Whatcom County Council Public Works, Health and Safety Committee on the status of the Birch Bay Drive and Pedestrian Facility Project, often called the berm, at its February 21 meeting.

The project aims to restore the beach with a natural sand and gravel berm that will protect the road from floods, reduce beach erosion and provide safer bicycle and pedestrian routes along Birch Bay Drive.

The county has 19 out of about 40 easements it needs to build the project, but over half the land.

“The big thing is the county has obtained 5,700 linear feet of the 8,300 feet required for the project,” Karcher said. “So it’s about 60 percent complete in land acquisition.”

The easement negotiation process has delayed the project once before. Construction on the berm was scheduled to start in fall 2016, but a longer-than-expected third party property appraisal process stalled easement negotiations, county officials said in September 2016.

The design for the project is about 95 percent complete, Karcher told the committee. That means it’s finished aside from any tweaks that the right-of-way negotiations and permits require.

So far, Whatcom County has obtained needed permits from the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, a Water Quality Certification from the Department of Ecology and gone through the State Environmental Policy Act Process (SEPA), which accesses environmental impacts.

It still needs a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a Construction Stormwater General Permit and a Shoreline substantial development permit from the state department of ecology, and it must undergo the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. Those permits and processes are all underway, Karcher told the committee.

Construction is scheduled to start after Labor Day this year, and will continue for two years. The county hopes to have all necessary easements by April and all permits by August.

The county has agreed to work on the project during Birch Bay’s tourism off-season, from September to May.

  1. The article does not ask nor answer a critical question– why is it taking so long to obtain these easements? What are the barriers? Sadly, one could see that the 60% result which has taken quite a long time to achieve reflects that many Birch Bay citizens do not value the berm’s importance to improving the quality of life and amenities for all Birch Bay residents and visitors. Why do we tthink that the remaining 40% of the easements will be obtained by Fall 2017?

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