Sheriff's office preps for busy Birch Bay Fourth of July

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Birch Bay is historically a popular spot for unofficial Fourth of July gatherings and fireworks. An annual post-holiday cleanup, organized by the Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce, Whatcom County Health Department, and others, has hauled more than four tons of trash away from the beach in a single day. 

Organized fireworks and official Fourth of July celebrations are canceled throughout Whatcom County due to the coronavirus this year, and some in Birch Bay are worried about what that will mean for their community. 

“This is not our event. It never has been. It just happens to us,” said Doralee Booth, Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce secretary and treasurer. Booth helps to organize the annual July 5 cleanup.

Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office undersheriff Doug Chadwick said the sheriff’s office is aware of those concerns, and plans to have a visible presence at Birch Bay on the Fourth of July, as it typically does. 

“We staff that pretty heavy every year. We’ll have visible patrols,” he said. “I don’t have a number of how many deputies – we still have to cover the rest of the county – but we try to have enough that we can have people cover one end of the bay to the other.”

Whatcom County sheriff’s deputies have taken an approach of educating people about social distancing guidelines, rather than enforcing the guidelines, he said. Currently, as Whatcom County is in phase 2 of the state’s Safe Start plan, people should gather with no more than five people outside their household per week, according to state guidelines. 

Whatcom County could potentially be in phase 3 of the plan by July 4, which allows gatherings of up to 50 people. However, in a seven-day period ending June 15, Whatcom County had 29 new confirmed cases of Covid-19, which would put the county on track to have just more than the state’s metric target of 25 or fewer new cases per 100,000 people in a 14-day period. Still, whether that affects Whatcom County’s ability to move to phase 3 is unknown – the state has called its metrics “targets,” rather than “hardline measures.”

The U.S./Canada border will still be closed, and that could mean fewer people will travel to Birch Bay, as Canadians own many Birch Bay properties. On the other hand, the Fourth of July is a Saturday, which would typically mean more people would come to Birch Bay to celebrate, Chadwick said. 

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau announced in a June 16 news conference that the border closure will be extended until July 21. 

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