County awards $8.7 million for berm construction

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Whatcom County announced that it awarded Granite Construction with an $8.7 million contract to build the Birch Bay Drive and Pedestrian Facility project, commonly called the berm.

Granite Construction, a California-based company with a Bellingham location, made the winning bid out of 11 total.

According to a preliminary schedule, the company plans to begin work on the south end of the 1.6-mile project site, near Lora Lane, in January. It will be stockpiling gravel until then – the project requires about 210,000 tons of sand and gravel to be placed on the beach to “renaturalize” the beach and protect from storm surges.

According to preliminary plans, Granite will construct the berm over two years, with a break for summer 2020, as requested by the Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce.

Construction will start at the south end of the project site at Lora Lane and progress to the project’s north end at Cedar Avenue. Construction will happen mostly overnight.

“There will be a high presence of trucks on the roadway starting in the evening, and finishing up in the early morning,” county public works staff said in an email. “There will be construction noise on the beach at the gravel placement site (moving north to south) during the night time hours that coincide with low tides.”

Granite Construction hopes to place approximately 80,000 tons of gravel on the beach by February 15, 2020, when it can no longer work in the water due to spawning herring. After that, it will continue to work outside the water on other aspects of the project, which include bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and landscaping, until May 31. Construction stops from June until after Labor Day for Birch Bay’s summer tourist season.

County public works staff cautioned that this schedule is preliminary, and not something the contractor is bound to yet. Granite Construction and Whatcom County public works will meet in the following weeks to work on a more detailed construction schedule, public works staff said. Weather will also affect construction.

Hydrologist Wolf Bauer recommended the beach restoration project in 1975 as a way to replace ineffective seawalls along Birch Bay Drive. Birch Bay has been vulnerable to flooding since the early 1950s, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took sand and gravel from the beach to build the Blaine Air Force Station. Whatcom County added the project to its comprehensive plan for Birch Bay in 1977.

Whatcom County began working to permit the project in 2016 and has delayed plans for construction several times since then.

For updates on the project or to sign up for Whatcom County’s online notifications on the project, visit bit.ly/2XtznGW.

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