Stormcuts power, leaves homes waterlogged

Published on Thu, Feb 9, 2006 by ara Nelson

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Storm cuts power, leaves homes waterlogged

By Tara Nelson

Residents in Birch Bay and Point Roberts are continuing cleanup efforts after a storm that ravaged several parts of the county, leaving 1,110 Whatcom County residents without power, causing damage to several county roads and forcing several residents to vacate their homes.

Birch Bay
In Birch Bay, residents said they saw water surge up over Birch Bay Drive, completely covering Tsawwassen Loop and Nootka Loop roads and reaching as far as the club house at Birch Bay Village.
“There were quite a few homes in the village that had damage and there’s at least 10 houses that have rolled up carpets in the front that they had to replace because of water damage,” said Scott Malis, realtor and owner of Outstanding Rentals. “Tsawwassen Loop and Nitka Loop were completely under water. It was pretty phenomenal; I wouldn’t have believed something like this could happen.”

Most of the affected residents, however, were located on a stretch of road between Birch Bay Village and Birch Bay State Park.

Don Boyd, interim deputy director of Whatcom County Department of Emergency Management said the most severe damage occurred in areas that had southern facing exposures, which were perpendicular to the storm such as the southern end of Point Roberts, Sandy Point, and Gooseberry Point near Lummi Island ferry terminal. Boyd said his office is still waiting to hear from public works to assess the overall damage to county roads.

“We’ve probably got five to 10 phone calls from private properties so far, but we’re still trying to gather the information as far as public damage to county roads, and we’re still getting information about private damage to individual residences,” he said.

Blaine public works director Steve Banham said the city incurred only minimal damage, the worst of which was part of a bike path on Semiahmoo spit that was eroded by waves and a few power outages. Banham said part of the reason Blaine fared so well compared to places like Birch Bay and Point Roberts is because much of the city’s power lines are underground.

“Our code requires our power lines to be underground and that’s something that probably helped us,” he said. “Some of the bike paths on the south side of Semiahmoo spit have been undermined a little bit. Other than that, there really wasn’t much damage from the storm.”

Point Roberts
Point Roberts fire chief Bill Skinner said the combination of high tide and severe winds caused waves of up to 10 feet crashing into the Point, destroying seawalls and causing soil erosion and water damage to homes along the Point Roberts waterfront. Skinner said while he couldn’t confirm how many homes were damaged by the tidal surge, Emily Smith, director of the Point Roberts Emergency Preparedness Group (PREP), a citizen group that aims to produce and maintain an emergency operations plan for Point Roberts, said approximately 150 single-family homes and one seven-unit condominium sustained damage from severe winds and high tides. Smith also said she heard rumors that approximately 30 residents were forced to leave their homes.

“The flooding went into most of these houses on the south side causing damage that will take quite a while to fix,” she said. “Also, because of our high water table, we had septic systems that were bubbling up so it’s not just a matter of getting everything dry, it’s also a matter of getting everything cleaned and disinfected.”

Others such as Allan Sharp, an employee at the Point Roberts Marina, said they witnessed cars that were partially submerged and, in one case, a propane tank floating away.

Skinner said most of the large debris has been removed from roads and county clean up efforts are now being focused on two areas along the south shore and a neighborhood in the Boundary Bay area that had significant flooding.

“Right now, it’s just a clean up effort by county public works and the fire department to remove logs and debris while property owners assess their damage,” Skinner said.

Skinner said while tidal overflows are nothing new to the area, a flood this size is unusual.

“I haven’t seen anything like it for 15 years,” he said. “People who’ve been here quite a while are saying it’s been 20 to 25 years since they’ve seen flooding this bad.”

The PREP group recommends homeowners living on the first block from the beach near those areas check on their residences for damage. For more information about PREP, visit

Road clean up
Joe Rutan, assistant director of Whatcom County Public Works, said on Tuesday that public works is in the process of assessing damage to county roads and cleaning up remaining debris in Birch Bay, Point Roberts and other parts of the county.

“We’re still assessing damage specifically relating to tidal overflows and damage to seawalls around the county,” he said. “We are still doing clean up. Most of it, however, is cleaned up by now.”

Clayton Silves, assistant superintendent for public work’s maintenance and operations division, said although most of the large driftwood and trees have been removed from Birch Bay and other county roads, road clean up crews are still removing gravel and other debris from parking lots and road sides. On Tuesday, workers from the county public works department were still removing smaller debris from a portion of Birch Bay Drive near Jacob’s Landing while other workers assessed road damage in Point Roberts, he said.

Power outages
Ray Trzynka, spokesperson for Puget Sound Energy Whatcom and Skagit County division, said an estimated 110,000 customers in Whatcom County were without power on Saturday because of the storm. Most of the power outages occured east of Bellingham near Hannegan Road as well as Lynden and south Bellingham near Chuckanut Drive. In Birch Bay, Trzynka said at least 75 residences were without power.