Long road ahead for Birch Bay Drive repairs

By Oliver Lazenby

Birch Bay Drive, damaged in the December 20 storm that flooded and devoured sections of the road, won’t be permanently repaired until summer or possibly later. The timeline depends on whether the beach restoration project known as the Birch Bay berm begins this fall, as scheduled.

That berm project, which would raise and “re-nourish” 1.6 miles of beach and create new bike lanes and walkways, will require rebuilding sections of Birch Bay Drive. If the county finishes permitting the berm in time for construction to start this fall, it won’t repair and repave this summer only to tear it up months later, public works officials said.

“The damage to the road is not something we’re ignoring, we just want to makes sure we’re prudent in putting our efforts to the best option,” said Roland Middleton, county public works special projects manager. “We’re trying to be a good steward of the money.”

Whatcom County officials hope to know soon whether berm construction will start this fall. The county started working on permitting the roughly $11.5 million project in 2016; it currently hinges on one permit – a part of the National Environmental Policy Act – that requires the county, tribes and several other organizations to agree on what to do with cultural artifacts found during construction. The county is making progress on that permit, officials say.

A variety of options are on the table for summer roadwork, from leaving the road as is and doing minor maintenance, to building a temporary gravel lane or even repairing and repaving the road with asphalt, depending on when berm construction begins. Whatever happens, Middleton said, roadwork will take into account the schedule of community events held in Birch Bay throughout summer.

Currently, Birch Bay Drive is closed to one lane between Harborview and Shintaffer roads, and much of the southern portion of Birch Bay Drive has shoulder damage. Whatcom County crews are working on minor repairs and improvements.

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