Pacific Northwest
Bellingham Herald

Washington: Hearing examiner calls beach restoration permit a “done deal”

After decades of planning and administrative work, the Birch Bay beach restoration project known as the berm is set to receive its final permit – a shoreline substantial development permit from Whatcom County.

After an April 10 hearing on the permit, Whatcom County Hearing Examiner Michael Bobbink said he expected to approve the permit within 10 days. That should allow work to begin this fall.

The shoreline permit is the last of nearly a dozen individual permits from various state, local and federal government agencies required for the project, which involves adding about 160,000 tons of gravel and sand to 1.6 miles of beach along Birch Bay Drive, replacing sediment removed by the U.S. Corps of Engineers for construction in the 1950s.

The roughly $12 million project aims to protect Birch Bay from storm surges and naturalize the beach by replacing a series of concrete structures. The project also includes pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure along Birch Bay Drive.

“There’s nothing in this file that would indicate any reason whatsoever to deny the project and I think it’s in the public interest and everyone’s interest,” Bobbink said at the end of the April 10 hearing. “There’s nobody in the record who I think has any right to appeal, so I think this is a done deal here.”

More than 60 people attended the hearing and all who spoke were in favor of the project. Bobbink said at the beginning of the hearing that his file on the project had 55 comments and not a single complaint.

The hearing took on a festive atmosphere, with the crowd applauding most speakers. Birch Bay residents and property owners noted the importance of the beach and Birch Bay Drive to the community, explained the disruptiveness of the December 20 storm that damaged Birch Bay Drive and thanked county officials for their work on the project.

“I feel like I’m at a historical event here,” Bobbink remarked between comments.

Here’s a summary of some comments from the public hearing:

– “We feel like the bay itself is the primary attraction to Birch Bay, both for residents and for visitors.”

– “Birch Bay Drive is the only access to the beach and to many of the residences in Birch Bay. We need to have not only the road but also the beach restored.”

– “The December 20 storm really demonstrated the need for this project.”

– Several speakers wanted to honor Wolf Bauer, a hydrologist who originally proposed the project in 1975. Bauer passed away in 2016 at the age of 103.

– “I’m very thankful and I think it’s a legacy I can pass on to my grandchildren and my great grandchildren.”

– “This project has been needed for a long time. We need to preserve the bay and the roads. When the road gets wiped out it’s a safety issue. There’s no way to get out quickly.”

Following the meeting, attendees hugged and congratulated Roland Middleton, Whatcom County public works special projects manager, who started working on this project in the early 1980s.

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See also Birch Bay repairs could help beachfront weather big storms (Bellingham Herald, Jan. 13, 2019)