A combination of high water level and strong winds eroded several spots along Blaine Marine Park, exposing dump debris and leaving the city with questions on remediation.
During a January 12 king tide storm, winds from the north pushed waves into the banks, city manager Michael Jones said during the February 8 city council meeting.
“With the combination of the high water level and the unusual wind direction, the waves caused quite a bit of damage,” he said.
Marine Park sits on a former landfill that is now exposing buried trash after the storm eroded banks, which extended up to 15 feet in some of the hardest hit areas, Jones said. The city placed safety fences along some parts of the shoreline because erosion reached the trail, he said.
If the city doesn’t act, Jones said fences, trail fragments and signs could be lost, but he cautioned the 2021 budget does not include money for these repairs.
“This is a really great example of what running on a really tight budget means,” Jones said. “We don’t have contingency.”
Jones presented council with three possible solutions that could be voted on during a future meeting. The first option, which Jones was unfavorable of, was to do nothing as the shoreline erodes and garbage continues to spill into the water. The second option was a modest shoreline permitting alternative that would use money from the parks and facilities maintenance budget to pick up trash and add things like wood debris to stabilize the shoreline.
The third option would be for the city to hire a geotechnical professional to develop a plan for the area, but Jones questioned if the city had money for consulting and said it wouldn’t have enough money to act on the consultant’s recommendations.
Regardless of which plan council choses, Jones said the city will continue to pick up the trash along the shoreline in the meantime.
This isn’t the first time king tides have eroded the shoreline and exposed trash along the beach. The Northern Light previously reported storms as recent as 2018 and 2012 also scattered landfill materials.
“We are aware, we are working on it, we are evaluating alternatives but it’s not something we’ll be able to go out and fix tomorrow,” Jones said.
Jones said he will come back to council with cost and timing estimates, and council could determine if they want to reprioritize funding or to dig into the reserves.
When asked by councilmember Eric Davidson if the city could go to the Port of Bellingham, who owns land under the park, or Blaine-Birch Bay Park and Recreation District 2 for funding, Jones said he believed the project would be out of the port’s scope, which focuses on economic development, but it might be possible to get partial funding from the parks district.
Councilmembers voiced concern on the trails’ proximity to cliffs that have eroded in the past. The trails were placed by the Planning and Community Development Department and then the Blaine Park and Cemetery Board recommended the placement, ultimately approved by city council.
“Looking forward, I would love for policy to include a little bit better thought and perhaps a geotechnical expert being brought in if we’re placing any future things on cliffs where there is the potential for this type of event to happen,” councilmember Richard May said.