County says to avoid Birch Bay for Fourth of July

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Community members and officials discussed plans for Birch Bay’s annual Fourth of July celebration during a June 26 virtual conference held by the Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce.

Whatcom County sheriff Bill Elfo said it’s hard to predict the number of attendees at this year’s Fourth of July celebration with the U.S./Canadian border closure limiting the number of Canadian visitors but canceled fireworks shows in Blaine and Bellingham could increase the number of attendees.

Undersheriff Doug Chadwick said he anticipates the size of this year’s celebration, which is not a planned event, to be similar to events in the past. Patrols from the sheriff’s office will begin on Friday and continue through the weekend.

The sheriff’s office will not be enforcing the statewide mask mandate, which went into effect June 26, during Birch Bay’s Fourth of July celebration unless it’s an aggravating circumstance where someone refuses to comply with the mandate, the sheriff Elfo said.

“Our position has been to try to educate, try to get people to voluntarily comply and we’ve actually had about a 100 percent success rate when we’ve asked someone to do that,” he said. “We don’t have the jail space, we don’t have the resources and we’re also concerned about our deputies communicating with people who aren’t wearing masks.”

The Whatcom County Health Department is asking people to avoid Birch Bay. The health department recommends following phase 2 guidelines and not celebrating the Fourth of July with more than five people outside of a household.

“We ask locals and visitors alike not to gather in Birch Bay for fireworks this year,” said Erika Lautenbach, Whatcom County Health Department director in a June 29 press release. “We know traditions like these are fun, celebratory and very meaningful for a lot of people. But it’s simply not safe this year. It could put many others at risk, including the people who call Birch Bay home.”

Doralee Booth, Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce secretary and treasurer, said the chamber will not order the 10-12 extra portable toilets that are usually placed at the beach. After talking with the health department, only eight portable toilets will be ordered for the event, the number that has been put on the drive in the past.

“We’re not making it real comfortable to come,” Booth said. “There’s a problem because if you’re here for two hours or three hours, you’ll need a facility and it won’t be that wonderful.”

Community members also voiced concern during the meeting about a large gathering in an area with an older population. According to data from the U.S. Census, people 65 and older make up 26 percent of Birch Bay’s population.

Fireworks in unincorporated areas of Whatcom County are allowed to be used on July 4 from 6 p.m. to 12 a.m. and on July 3 and July 6 from 6-11 p.m., according to a 2015 Whatcom County Council ordinance.

For more information on firework regulations in the county, visit whatcomcounty.us/673/Consumer-Firework-Usage.

For more information on the health department’s recommendations for the Fourth of July, visit bit.ly/2Zv2POb.

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