County, contractors hold “coffee with contractor” event for berm project

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With Granite Construction now in its second month of work on the Birch Bay Drive and Pedestrian Facility Project, known as the berm, project officials held a question and answer session on January 30 at the Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center.

About 20 people gathered for “coffee with the contractor” at 8 a.m. and asked various questions of the three project officials who attended: Luke Bentley, project manager for Granite Construction; Roland Middleton, Whatcom County special projects manager; and Jim Karcher, Whatcom County engineering manager.

The Birch Bay berm is a 1.6-mile-long beach restoration project that will add sand and gravel to the beach to protect the road from storm surges. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers removed sand and gravel from the beach in the 1950s for the Blaine Air Force Station, creating what hydrologists have called a “sediment deficit” at the bay.

Granite Construction started adding sediment to the beach in early January and plans to finish the project in spring 2021. The company won’t work between Memorial Day and Labor Day, so as not to disrupt Birch Bay’s summer tourism season.

The county, chamber of commerce and contractor plan to host more “coffee with the contractor” meetings as the project progresses. They don’t have others scheduled, but talked about hosting one in February and another in March.

Some questions and answers from the January 30 session are transcribed below, edited for length and clarity.

How high will the berm be?

Jim Karcher: It varies, but about two to three feet above the road. The berm height is marked on the bay side of the utility poles along Birch Bay Drive. A metal washer nailed to the poles marks the height of the berm.

How much sediment are you putting on the beach per day?

Luke Bentley: Four thousand tons, or eight million pounds, a day. That’s about 130 truckloads.

Where do you get all of this material?

Bentley: We have to use four different sources just to get that quantity of material. We are using two pits that [Granite Construction] owns in the Everson area and two pits that [Cowden Gravel and Ready Mix] owns – one on Sweet Road and one on Axton Road.

In the original plan online it says you’re going to remove the groins (concrete structures that extend into the bay, intended to slow erosion) but it looks like you’re just covering them. Why the change?

Roland Middleton: The Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation considers those to be a historic feature, so legally we cannot break them up or move them around but we can bury them. So the damage that they’ve caused previously will be eliminated by the fact that they will be buried.

What’s going to keep Mother Nature from eroding everything you’re putting out there?

Middleton: Sand and sediment will get pushed around. That’s what’s supposed to happen – the energy of the wave goes into pushing gravel up the beach instead of ripping the road apart.

It’s a dynamic system that we will have to maintain. But maintaining rock and putting some rock out there in specific areas is nothing like having to tear out asphalt and pour new asphalt and having to close the road and all that. We’ll evaluate and if one of the groins gets exposed in a storm, we may not repair it, we may see if it gets buried in the next storm. But if it starts to get worse then we’ll be bringing in gravel to fill it back in and smooth it out and repair it. So it’s ongoing, but it will be cheaper than dealing with the loss of asphalt.

Originally you were going to stop construction this winter at Bay Breeze Restaurant and Bar. It appears you’re going past that now, do we know how far you’re going to go and when you’re going to shut down?

Bentley: We’ll stop at about the north end of where the new rock is now, near Bay Breeze; we just have to finish adding rock up to there. Our in-water work window closes on February 15 [for spawning fish]. We can’t work February 15 to August 1 in tidal zones and with the tourist season we’re not going to start importing rock again until after Labor Day.

Will the logs piled up at the south of the project be removed?

Bentley: The logs getting stored there will get put back on the beach.

Are the black culvert pipes staged along Birch Bay Drive outside the visitor center going to stay there?

Bentley: Those pipes will be gone by summer.

Is the Granite Construction trailer and equipment at the Birch Bay Community Park going to stay there?

Bentley: No, that will all go away for the summer.

Has the estimated completion time changed at all?

Bentley: It hasn’t. We’re still looking at spring 2021.

To learn more about the project, see project plans and sign up for weekly construction schedule updates from Whatcom County, visit bit.ly/37Qx1q9.

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