County still a ways from finalizing permit issues

By Oliver Lazenby

Whatcom County Public Works staff have asked the county council to approve the final chunk of money needed to complete the roughly $11.45 million Birch Bay Drive and Pedestrian Facility Project (usually called the Birch Bay berm).

Staff requested $7.85 million for the design and construction phase of the project at the council’s November 8 meeting. However, construction likely won’t start until September 2018 and is still contingent on right-of-way negotiations and permits.

“The logic is to accomplish this now, so that when permitting and right of way are complete, we don’t have another procedural hurdle to jump before we go to construction,” said county engineering manager Jim Karcher.

County council will hold a public hearing on the request at a future meeting. The request doesn’t add to the total cost of the project; the council has been approving funds for the project incrementally.

The county has acquired 95 percent of the temporary and permanent easements it needs for construction, and permits are “submitted but working through regulatory channels,” according to meeting documents. Public works staff didn’t elaborate on the state of the permits.

The project will add sand and gravel to a 1.58-mile section of beach at Birch Bay to prevent erosion, protect the road from storm damage, restore the beach and add a walking path along Birch Bay Drive between Cedar Avenue and the mouth of Terrell Creek. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers removed sediment from the beach in the 1950s and never replaced it.

A hydrologist proposed the project in 1975 and the county started planning for it in 2012. The county previously planned to start construction in September 2016, but delayed work because it still needed permits and property easements.

Construction will be funded by a variety of sources that include federal grants,  County Economic Development Investment Program funds, Birch Bay Watershed and Aquatic Resources Management District funds and money from the county’s capital budget.

To get email updates from Whatcom County on the project, go to, enter your email address in the field at the top of the page, scroll down to “Public Works – Birch Bay Drive & Pedestrian Facility,” under the News Flash heading, and click on the envelope icon to subscribe.

The county also has a website on the project:

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