Port awards $900,000 contract for harbor repairs

By Stefanie Donahue

The Port of Bellingham has approved the second phase of a three-part project to improve the industrial area near the end of Marine Drive.

During a regular meeting on June 6, the Port’s board of commissioners voted unanimously to award a $899,389 contract, including a 20 percent contingency reserve, to Tacoma-based American Construction to tackle part two of a multi-phase project to improve Blaine Harbor’s marine industrial area.

The project was started last year and is intended to increase dock space and boosting the load-bearing capacity of existing piers.

The project targets Sawtooth dock, located east of the Westman Marine building, north and south docks, located at the end of the industrial area, and includes updates to sewage pump out systems. Phase one of the project reopened part of Sawtooth dock and the north and south piers, all of which were unusable prior to repair, project engineer Greg Nicoll told commissioners.

“The current phase of work should be the final phase of work to get these piers reopened,” he said.

Among other things, the contract requires the replacement of existing timber pilings, construct bull rails (rails that are lifted above the dock surface and used for tying up boats) and the replacement of electrical cables. The contract also calls for the construction of two sewage pump-out floats at marina gates 1 and 2 and to replace existing utility hangers in gate 3.

According to the schedule, north and south piers are set for completion prior to September 24; Sawtooth dock between October 1 and November 31; and pump-out floats will be installed after October 1. The entire project is expected to be complete by November 30.

“We’ve taken a lot of care to prepare a construction schedule that will avoid impacts to those users for the north and south piers,” Nicoll said. “We are scheduled to complete all work on the piers prior to September 24 so there’s time to reopen those piers for that fishing season.”

Phase three, the final step of the project, will focus to improve the industrial area to make it for attractive to the seafood industry. Flattening Sawtooth dock’s jagged structure and removing a web locker to make space in the industrial area have all been suggested.

“The seafood buyers seem to be leading the way on uses down there and I know we’ve had some high-level conversations,” said port commissioner Michael McAuley. “I’d like to bring that up to a higher level and see how we can make sure that we’re going to be building the right thing to support seafood buyers and not just people with a working boat.”

Port commissioners and staff are confident that the project will boost activity in what they describe as an expanding commercial seafood industry.

“The port has seen an increase in demand for marine industrial property in Blaine Harbor,” said Port of Bellingham real estate director Shirley McFearin. “Several of our commercial seafood tenants have expressed interested in expanding operations and outside investors continue to be attracted by Blaine Harbor’s strategic location on the U.S. and Canadian border.”

McFearin said two tenants have expressed serious interest in expanding operations. She noted that it was too early to announce which businesses or investors have come forward, but said the interest is noteworthy.

A big step forward will be relocating a web locker, now located in the industrial area, next to two other web lockers at Milhollin Drive, she said. The spot is adjacent to Sundance Yachts, which plans to develop a $9 million dry boat storage facility at 199 Marine Drive. All three web lockers are in use, which rules out the option to demolish, McFearin said.

“Web house one needs to basically disappear,” said commissioner Bobby Briscoe. “To make that a truly industrial area down there, for both our seafood processors and our shipyard, it needs to move west of web house two.”

Moving forward, McFearin plans to solicit input from tenants to forge a plan for the future. She’ll host a design charrette at an undetermined date later this year. Tenants, commercial fisherman and the Whatcom Working Waterfront Coalition are invited to attend to identify and prioritize forthcoming improvements.

“The first priority of the port is to accommodate existing tenants,” McFearin said.

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