Year in Review: A look back at the year that was (July through December 2020)

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July

• The Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce held its annual Sand Sculpture Competition virtually through July to comply with social distancing. 

• Recent Borderite graduates held Blaine’s first Black Lives Matter rally on July 3.

• Whatcom County officials, including sheriff Bill Elfo and health department director Erika Lautenbach, asked community members to stay away from Birch Bay for Fourth of July celebrations. During a Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce meeting discussing the unofficial event, community members voiced concern regarding Birch Bay’s older population.

• Washington State Department of Agriculture set 600 Asian giant hornet traps, half of which were in Whatcom County. The agency anticipated more hornet sightings in the summer and invited the public to hang homemade traps.

• Whatcom County Library System began collecting personal experiences from Whatcom County residents about their pandemic experiences to document history.

• Peace Arch Park flourished in the summer as Canadians and Americans met with family, friends and significant others in the neutral park.

• City council approved east Blaine property development that will create 353 housing units, a 24,000-square-foot neighborhood commercial center, park site and playground. The developer, East Maple Ridge LLC, asked council to approve 88.45 acres north of H Street, east of Jerome Street and west of Harvey Road.

• The county’s first low-barrier Covid-19 testing site opened on July 10, allowing residents to get tested without referral from a healthcare provider. The drive-through testing site operated at the Civic Field Athletic Complex.

• County council passed a resolution on July 7 that required unrepresented county employees, including those in the health department, to take 32 hours of unpaid leave by September 12 (people who spent 80 percent of their job with Covid-19 work had until the end of the year to take the time off). The county expected this to save $306,160.

• Blaine school district officially announced on July 8 it would start the school year in hybrid learning, with students alternating weekly between in-person learning and online school.

• The city of Blaine added a dining area, fitted with tables and chairs, to the G Street plaza for people to eat takeout food from nearby restaurants. 

• Blaine police chief Donnell Tanksley suspended the use of the vascular neck restraint by Blaine officers amidst nationwide police use of force conversations. Tanksley said the tactic would be withheld until further review.

• Blaine area businesses said they saw a majority of customers comply with the statewide mask mandates issued in late June and early July. 

• County unemployment continued to decrease since the start of the pandemic. In June, county unemployment was 10.5, a decrease from 15.6 in May and 17.7 percent in April. County unemployment was 4.1 percent in March. 

• Governor Jay Inslee announced an indefinite pause on counties advancing in the state’s Safe Start phased reopening plan on July 28. This came after the governor introduced more restrictions to dining, like indoor seating being limited to people in the same households and bars closing by 10 p.m., among other restrictions.

• Canadian authorities arrested a 28-year-old Blaine resident on July 20 in what officials said was one of the largest cross-border drug busts. Canadian authorities charged Zacchary Marcus Scott Hecock with allegedly attempting to smuggle 436 pounds of methamphetamine across 0 Avenue in an ATV and trailer.

• The Whatcom County Health Department and Whatcom Unified Command said it would no longer offer free, low-barrier Covd-19 testing at Civic Stadium in Bellingham due to unsustainable costs. The pilot project, which tested about 1,800 people in four days of drive-through and walk-up testing, cost approximately $126,000 and depended on over 50 volunteers each day,

• The Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce hosted the first drive-in movie at Birch Bay Waterslides on July 31. The event, which premiered with the movie Jurassic Park, continued into October.

August

• An estimated 36 percent of eligible Whatcom County voters submitted ballots in the August 4 primary election. 

• Beach Cat Brewing opened its doors and started serving craft beer on August 6. The Birch Bay Drive establishment was expected to be the county’s smallest brewery. 

• The first annual Chalk Up the Town with Hope event started August 17. The event, hosted by Birch Bay-Blaine Thrives, allowed community members to write positive messages around the school district’s courtyard and the Blaine Boys and Girls clubhouse. 

• A Bellingham man was booked into Whatcom County Jail on second-degree burglary after allegedly breaking into the C Shop to steal two pounds of sour patch kids, and a handful of taffys and truffles.

• The Blaine school board voted on August 8 to start school in remote learning after the Whatcom County Health Department recommended to superintendents on August 4 that districts not start in hybrid learning. 

• Governor Jay Inslee issued an August 12 phased reopening plan for long-term care facilities.

• Two Asian giant hornet sightings on August 18 and August 19 brought the total count of hornet detections in the state to nine.

• Recreational crabbing season was delayed from August 13 to August 20 after the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife found about 40 percent of Dungeness crab shells hadn’t hardened after molting. Crabs can suffer from a high mortality rate if their shell isn’t hardened when they are handled. 

• Nimbus Real Estate and Wild Bird Charity hosted the first American Graffiti Auto Show on August 22, featuring eye-catching cars like a1960 Rolls Royce and 1979 El Camino.

• Picnic with a Purpose, a drive-through cookout at senior centers across the county including Blaine, replaced the annual Senior Day in the Park picnic.

• The Washington State Department of Agriculture announced the first male Asian giant hornet in the U.S. was trapped on July 29 in Custer.  

• The Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office launched an interactive crime dashboard online that organizes criminal activity in Birch Bay and seven other unincorporated areas of Whatcom County. 

• The Boys and Girls Clubs of Whatcom County offered distance learning assistance and licensed daycare at several sites in the county, to support parents as schools started the year in online learning.

• The Blaine school board voted unanimously to approve a letter of agreement between the district and a union representing school service employees that would furlough employees until October 31. Under this agreement, staff such as bus drivers, food service providers and paraeducators would keep their health insurance.

• Two Blaine roommates had an altercation over Covid-19 that ended in one being booked into Whatcom County Jail on fourth-degree assault on August 22.

• A low-barrier Covid-19 testing site was set up in Birch Bay at the Birch Bay Bible Community Church on August 25, as well as five other locations that would test on other week days throughout the county.

• An August 28 vehicle collision on Birch Bay-Lynden Road and Holiday Drive resulted in a Blaine resident being sent to the hospital and the arrest of a Custer man for vehicular assault. 

September

• Good Old Boys golf group of Semiahmoo donated $14,000 to Blaine Food Bank on September 4 after it raised the money from its annual three-day tournament and weekly donations during the summer.

• Living Pantry, which sells natural food and products in zero waste packaging, held its grand opening at 684 Peace Portal Drive on September 5.

• Scientists discovered juvenile European green crabs in the mouth of Dakota Creek during the first week of September, bolstering that week’s capture numbers to be among the highest since trapping began in late May. Scientists began trapping for the invasive species after they were first spotted in Drayton Harbor in fall 2019.

• Third Time’s A Charm Thrift opened its second-hand shop in Birch Bay on August 21.

• Whatcom County Library System saw a significant increase in electronic use since the start of the pandemic, with some months having twice the database visits as 2019.

• Smoky skies blanketed Blaine during one of the state’s worst fire seasons, plummeting air quality and causing burn bans in Whatcom County.

• Peace Arch Park became a popular wedding venue for an estimated 20 weekly cross-border couples looking to reunite. 

• Blaine school district welcomed about 50 students into its buildings on September 21, marking the first time students began in-person classes since March. Preschoolers and students in life skills were the first to return because they were deemed most at risk to lose an equitable education during remote learning.

• Three east Blaine housing developments – Bridges Plat, East Maple Ridge and Grandis Pond – will add 1,400 homes in the next 15 years and double Blaine’s housing stock. Developers said these are the largest housing developments in the county.

• Blaine City Council voted unanimously to extend its emergency resolution allowing businesses to the H Street and G Street plazas for outdoor dining at its September 28 meeting. The resolution was extended until phase 3 of the state’s Safe Start Washington plan. 

• The Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce restarted its monthly “Coffee with the Contractor” meetings on September 24 after the Birch Bay berm construction started the month prior. 

October

• Washington State Department of Agriculture officials attempted tracking their first Asian giant hornet after a series of hornet sightings on an east Blaine property gave the state agency its largest lead on the hornets.

• Governor Jay Inslee relaxed the state’s Safe Start reopening plan on October 6 to allow for various activities like libraries and movie theatres allowing for 25 percent indoor capacity, restricted sports practices and restaurants could serve alcohol until 11 p.m. and sit up to six per table. 

• Freedom Community Church donated its 4,000-square-foot building on G Street to the Community Assistance Program. The building will help the nonprofit consolidate its operations. 

• Washington State Department of Agriculture officials made a second attempt at tracking the Asian giant hornet on October 6 but ultimately lost track of the hornet when it flew into trees in east Blaine. 

• Ballots for the November 3 general election were mailed on October 14 and Whatcom County auditor Diana Bradrick advised voters to return their ballots quickly because half of ballots are often returned during
election week.

• The Blaine Farmer’s Market operated during the fall for the first time, using the old Wolten and Montfort grocery space at 648 Peace Portal Drive.

• Washington State Supreme Court ruled on October 15 that Initiative 976, which would have reduced car-tab taxes to a maximum $30, was unconstitutional due to too many subjects and misleading titles.

• Whatcom County Council increased the Birch Bay berm’s project budget on October 13 by $841,786, totaling the overall budget to $15,291,786. The additional money was given to help crews power through any unforeseen construction issues or delays, including those caused by the pandemic. 

• Washington scientists finished the first full season of European green crab trapping in mid-October after trapping 253 of the invasive crab in Drayton Harbor.

• Whatcom County executive Satpal Sidhu released a proposed $451.6 million budget for 2021-2022 with a roughly 17 percent decrease in total expenditures from the county’s amended 2020 budget.

The Northern Light broke news that the Washington State Department of Agriculture authorities had successfully tracked and located the first Asian giant hornet nest in the U.S. on October 22. 

• The Washington State Department of Agriculture eradicated the first Asian giant hornet nest in the U.S. on October 24.

• On October 27, one week before Election Day, the Whatcom County Auditor’s Office had received 82,765 ballots – more than half of all ballots from 157,715 registered voters in the county and more than double the number of ballots that had been returned at the same point in the 2016 presidential election.

• Blaine and Birch Bay celebrated Halloween socially distant this year with virtual costume contests and drive-through trick-or-treating.

November

• Blaine city councilmember Alicia Rule beat Republican incumbent Luanne Van Werven for the 42nd Legislative District Position 1 seat. Democratic incumbent Sharon Shewmake maintained her 42nd Legislative District Position 2 seat against Republican Jennifer Sefzik. This marked the first time since 1998 when Democrats occupied both 42nd district House seats.

• Amidst a growing rate of Covid-19 infections, the Whatcom County Health Department recommended people only celebrate the holidays with members of their own household.

• The Blaine school district saw a decrease of 75 full-time students enrolled since October 2019. This school year started with 2,076 full-time students in September and then dropped 12 students in October.

• Over 500 Asian giant hornets were found in the east Blaine nest eradicated on October 24, Washington State Department of Agriculture officials reported after dissecting the nest that was found in a tree. Despite the number of hornets, entomologists believed few, if any, queens made it out of the nest to form a new colony.

• A small group of veterans celebrated Veterans Day at Veteran’s Memorial Park in Blaine on November 11.

• Birch Bay residents opened their second M.D. Spa and Wellness Center, located inside the Sandcastle Resort on Birch Bay Drive. The spa offers similar amenities to its Bellingham location including Botox, massages, facials and a Jacuzzi spa. 

• The Council on American Islamic Relations Washington and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project alleged on November 17 that local CBP leadership attempted to cover up their actions after detaining U.S. citizens and residents of Iranian backgrounds in a January 3-4 crackdown that involved more people detained than previously known.

• The Blaine library and other Whatcom County Library System closed their buildings on November 23, less than two weeks after opening to the public with limited hours and 25 percent capacity.

• Revenue from the city of Blaine’s Business and Occupation (B&O) tax helped the city’s 2021 budget after the council decided to reimplement late fees. The budget was expected to increase $65,000 to $200,000.

• Claims for unemployment insurance increased in Whatcom County during the week of November 15 to 21, doubling from 482 claims the week before to 985. The surge in claims, which came the same week governor Jay Inslee closed indoor dining, was the highest number of claims since the week of July 5 to 11.

• Blaine school district board members unanimously voted on November 24 to follow revised Whatcom County Health Department guidelines recommending districts not phase in middle and high school students.

• Whatcom County Council adopted a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis in its November 24 meeting.

December 

• A 64-year-old Birch Bay woman faced second-degree attempted murder charges after allegedly trying to assault her neighbor with a hunting knife on December 3.

• Blaine High School’s National Honor Society started offering district-wide tutoring to support students with online school.

• The Rustic Fork, a Peace Portal Drive Italian restaurant, opened on December 17.

• A Birch Bay mail truck was engulfed in flames and destroyed early 175 packages during a morning delivery on December 7. No injuries resulted from the fire.

• Whatcom County Council approved funding for 78 body cameras to be worn by Whatcom County Sheriff’s deputies by the end of March 21. The total cost of the body camera program for five years is $381,437.

• Blaine mailbox stores faced the holidays, their busiest season of the year, without their largest customers as the U.S./Canada border entered its ninth month closed to nonessential travel.

• Covid-19 vaccines arrived in Washington state on December 14, bringing about 62,400 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in the first week.

• The Community Assistance Program served 302 children at its annual Toy Store, with community members donating 829 toys, 162 gift cards and $6,331 in monetary donations. Proceeds amounted to $4,032 and divided between the Wildbird Charity Weekend Food Bag Program, The Bridge Community Hope Center Fund and the Community Toy Store to sustain its funds.

• The city of Blaine began the search for a new at-large council member on December 8 after Alicia Rule resigned.

• The first Covid-19 vaccine doses given in Whatcom County were administered to healthcare workers at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center on December 18. By the end of the year, PeaceHealth has administered over 1,000 vaccines to healthcare workers.

• An oil train derailed in Custer shortly after 11:40 a.m. on December 22, forcing evacuations within a mile of the site as burning train cars sent plumes of smoke into the air.

• The Blaine school district announced middle and high school students would start hybrid learning in early January, with students alternating weekly between in-person and online classes. 

• The Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce hosted a socially distant Ring of Fire celebration on New Year’s Eve and then community members plunged into the cold Birch Bay waters on New Year’s Day for a virtual Brrr-tual Polar Bear Plunge. 

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