Lummi signature clears way for berm construction

County may complete beach berm in one season, rather than two

By Oliver Lazenby

After visiting Birch Bay Drive with Whatcom County officials after the destructive December 20 storm, Jeremiah Julius, chairman of the Lummi Indian Business Council, signed off on a permit for the long-delayed Birch Bay berm project that county officials called the biggest remaining hurdle.

Tribal approval fulfills the cultural resources requirement of the National Environmental Policy Act review process for the $11.5 million project, officially called the Birch Bay Drive and Pedestrian Facility project. The project aims to restore the beach at Birch Bay, make pedestrian improvements to the road and protect the roadway from storm damage. The county added the project to its comprehensive plan for Birch Bay in 1977 and county officials began permitting it in 2016.

If all else goes as planned, trucks will be dumping sand and gravel on the beach next winter, said county public works special project manager Roland Middleton.

The project will add about 150,000 cubic yards of sand and gravel to 1.6 miles of beach along Birch Bay Drive, raising the beach and providing better protection to the road than the concrete structures in place, which have proved to be ineffective.

Birch Bay floods frequently; the Corps of Engineers removed sand and gravel from the beach in the 1950s to build the Blaine Air Force Station.

Before construction can start, the county must hold a public hearing on the shoreline permit. The earliest available hearing date is in April.

“I talked with the shoreline administrator this morning,” Middleton said at a January 17 Birch Bay chamber lunch. “His message to you all, and I quote: the Birch Bay berm project is the number one project they have in the review. They’re working on it right now.”

The project also needs a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which requires an OK from the Federal Highway Administration. That permit is stalled due to the government shutdown, Middleton said. Both the corps permit and the shoreline hearing hinged on the recent approval from the Lummi Indian Business Council.

Since much of Birch Bay Drive needs to be rebuilt after the December 20 storm, the county is rethinking the berm’s construction schedule. Originally, it planned to build the berm over two winter seasons so that Birch Bay’s summer tourism and events wouldn’t be impacted.

Now, the county is hoping to do construction in one season stretching from winter to early summer 2020.

If the county does build the project in one push, it will still attempt to work around local events, Middleton said.

“What we don’t want to do is rebuild Birch Bay Drive, then bring 5,000 trucks through and then have to rebuild Birch Bay Drive again,” he said. “We’d like to just do it once.”

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