First, Thanks goes to Kathy Berg for her continued action over decades to move this forward. Kathy has worked hard on this project since the original work was done to keep it alive through the Birch Bay Steering Committee. While she has been the driver, I am sure she will be the first to say that it would not of been possible without the support of Doralee Booth and Roland Middleton, and frankly many, many others including the Waterfront Working Group. Thank you Kathy and team.
Second, thanks goes to our new Whatcom County Executive Jack Louws who has pushed this forward as a major item for Whatcom County. There is no doubt that his willingness to make this a priority has resulted in this significant step forward – this step does not ensure that we are starting construction, but without the major and significant help of our County Executive, this would not be happening. Thank you Executive Louws.
Now, the reprint of the article from the Bellingham Herald:
“Ecology clears way for county to get $7M loan for Birch Bay work
BIRCH BAY – Whatcom County qualifies for a $7 million state loan for a major Birch Bay waterfront project because the state Department of Ecology determined the project would restore a substantially damaged environment.
The low-interest loan from the state Public Works Trust Fund would provide the bulk of funding necessary for the estimated $10 million project.
The project includes removing man-made structures, including bulkheads, and building a natural functioning beach. It also involves building a pedestrian pathway along a new berm, rebuilding Birch Bay Drive, burying power lines and installing structures to clean stormwater. Work would stretch from the mouth of Terrell Creek to around Birch Bay Village.
County officials say the project would boost tourism, improve safety along Birch Bay Drive and help the environment.
“That is huge for us,” Birch Bay resident Kathy Berg said of Ecology’s determination. She has been involved in pushing for the project. “The momentum is beginning to build, and this will keep the momentum going.”
Having a “first-class shoreline” will be good for everybody, she added, “including the little critters that live here.”
Whatcom County would otherwise be ineligible to receive the state loan because its rural growth policies and zoning don’t comply with state law. But the county remains eligible if Ecology determines there is substantial environmental degradation that would be addressed by the project.
Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant made the determination in a Wednesday, May 9, letter to Whatcom County Public Works Director Frank Abart. The county’s deadline for applying for the loan is Friday, May 11.
The Birch Bay shoreline has been significantly degraded by sea walls and groins, which are low walls built from the beach out into the water. There has been a significant loss of habitat and impaired recreational benefits, he wrote.
The project would “provide a large-scale restoration of the substantially degraded Birch Bay shoreline habitat” by addressing about 7,400 feet of shoreline, he wrote.
“Smaller beach nourishment projects in past years have illustrated the success of this approach to restore Birch Bay shoreline,” he wrote.
Ecology spokeswoman Katie Skipper said the department followed criteria in the state administrative code and looked at the specific project and environmental issues, not the broader issues of compliance with state growth law. The project addresses an environmental problem, she said, one “that’s very important to fix all over Puget Sound.”
Abart said county staff is pleased Ecology supported the effort to make significant improvements to environmental issues in Birch Bay.
“You got to give credit where credit is due, and Department of Ecology deserves credit for taking a positive step and helping us address those problems,” Abart said.
County Executive Jack Louws told the County Council on April 24 that he reviewed the project and Public Works budget numbers and concluded the county can afford the project. Abart said the project also could be paid for with Economic Development Investment funds, which are sales taxes dedicated to economic development, as well as taxes on sales of real estate and county revenue dedicated to water projects.
The state loan still would have to be approved by the Public Works Trust Fund, which will analyze the county’s ability to repay the loan. If approved, it would need approval from the legislature and governor.
The loan would be paid back over 10 years and have an interest rate of one-half of 1 percent. It would cost the county $719,000 per year.
If funding is approved, construction isn’t expected for another three to four years.”