Whatcom council OKs plan to save strawberry field from encroaching river


EVERSON - Erosion of a riverbank along a berry field north of Nugents Corner is being fast-tracked for repairs that could begin as soon as this fall.

Acting as the Flood Control Zone District Board of Supervisors, the Whatcom County Council voted 4 to 2 on Tuesday, May 20, to proceed with a plan to stop the Nooksack River from tearing away a strawberry field on Lawrence Road that is farmed by the Maberry family and owned by David Syre.

The work plan, which is only conceptual for now, involves placing 20 or 25 anchored log piles along the bank to contain the river, which naturally changes course. The estimated cost is $740,000.

The problem came to the council's attention last summer after members visited the field, but council did not include armoring the riverbank in this year's budget. The project ranked low on a priority list of flood and other water-resource projects - 149th out of 212.

If permits are obtained quickly enough, work could begin in October or November, said Paula Cooper, county engineering manager. Otherwise, the work would happen in 2015 - after another flood season.

"I consider that a real possibility," said council member Sam Crawford, who voted with the majority.

The field, now 24 acres, lost three or four acres to the river over the winter, Jon Maberry said at a Tuesday council meeting.

Despite the project's low ranking, the council moved it up the list based on a recommendation from the flood control advisory committee.

"I initially expressed a lot of reservations about this because it was way down on our list," Crawford said Tuesday. He said he trusts the judgment of the committee, which gave the project careful consideration over the past several weeks.

"That prioritization list was formed far before this highly escalating erosion was occurring," Crawford said Wednesday in an interview. "If we were going to stick to this (list) no matter what, we wouldn't need a flood control advisory board."

Council member Ken Mann, who along with Rud Browne voted against the project, said he opposed it on principle.

"To commit $750,000 plus or minus, maybe it'll be a million or two by the time we're done, to preserve a small piece of private property is not a wise investment," Mann said. "It would be cheaper to buy the property than to try and armor it or protect it in a way that could be washed downstream one year later."

Council member Barbara Brenner said she wanted the erosion halted in part because the topsoil was smothering potential salmon spawning areas. But tribes and environmental groups had not raised this concern, county officials said.

The erosion could reach as far as Highway 9 on the far edge of the berry field, another reason Brenner gave for voting for the project.

Brenner said she doesn't buy the argument that the river should be allowed to run its natural course.

"There's been a lot of work along the river," Brenner said in an interview Wednesday. "It'll never go back to its natural state."

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

Bellingham Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service