City and port prioritize Marine Drive remodel

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The city of Blaine and Port of Bellingham are seeking $4 million in transportation funding to reconstruct the westernmost section of Marine Dive that provides access to the Jorgensen Public Pier. The road has been closed to traffic since 2015.

City manager Michael Jones said the city is asking for state funding because the unfinished stretch of Marine Drive is a high cost locale and serves as a breakwater for Blaine Harbor Boating Center and the city. “It’s the only thing protecting the city,” Jones said.

The road closure has also compromised access to nearby fish processing industries, with Starfish Inc. being particularly challenged, Jones said.

Brian Pritchett, plant manager at Starfish Inc., said the project would dramatically improve their dockside capabilities. The eroding breakwater and road has prevented workers from using Starfish’s main service area and hoist, used to unload fishing vessels. “It would greatly improve truck access as well as safety for pedestrians and vehicle access to the pier,” Pritchett said about the reconstruction.

The project would provide bike, pedestrian and vehicle access to Jorgensen Pier as well. While the city and port have the project budgeted in their priorities, it’s up to the state to grant funding to make the project a go.

“It’s all kind of grant funding dependent at this stage,” said Mike Hogan, public affairs administrator for the Port of Bellingham. “We, the port, are looking for money. The city of Blaine is looking for money.” Hogan said neither the port nor city have enough money budgeted to complete the project without aid from the state.

This puts a timeframe for construction and completion up in the air since plans cannot be made until transportation funds are granted. On top of funding, Jones and Hogan mentioned the permitting process for a project of this magnitude can be extensive, especially with construction taking place on the waterfront.

The proposed project includes a truck-compatible roadway to serve the industrial shipyard, according to the city’s 2021 legislative priorities. A single vehicle lane, bike and pedestrian lane, and a bulkhead will continue for the final 300 feet to provide access to the public pier.

All of this acts as a breakwater for the harbor. The rocks and land that stretch out into the bay toward the Semiahmoo Spit protect the harbor and downtown shoreline by disrupting strong northerly winds and waves heading toward Drayton Harbor and Blaine, Hogan said. The rocks, known as riprap, also protect the shoreline along Marine Drive from erosion.

Jones said due to the erosion, the breakwater is failing and needs to be replaced. “It’s falling into the ocean.”

Jones said the roadway from Marine Park needs repaving and that the city and port will take this project as an opportunity repave from the park to the barrier, where reconstruction will occur.

Repaving this portion would help semi-trucks transporting boats to and from On-Board Marine Services, president Brad Hooper and office manager Prudence Welch told The Northern Light in an email. On-Board, which offers boat repair, storage and other services, is the main drop off point for importing and exporting boats to and from Canada.

They said the current road closure does not affect On-Board’s operations but repaving the rough section of road from the park on and adding two lanes of traffic would improve access and safety for all users, their shipping vehicles and pedestrians alike.

Jones said without funding guaranteed he did not want to estimate a completion date, but reassured that this project is a priority.

He said the city and port are hoping funding will be approved.

“The relationship with the city of Blaine is good,” Hogan said. “We are both in agreement on the preferred alternative. Unfortunately it’s a very expensive project, but we’re hopeful we can get some grant funding to make it happen.”

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