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Cost of Whatcom's wintry blast exceeds $1.1 million; aid sought

Plows clear snowdrifts on Highway 9 north of Nooksack

Strong northeast winds have kept road crews busy clearing roads of snowdrifts. These snowplow drivers were on Highway 9 north of Nooksack, Wash. on Wednesday, Feb. 8. Areas north of Bellingham received some 6 to 10 inches overnight Monday and Tues
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Strong northeast winds have kept road crews busy clearing roads of snowdrifts. These snowplow drivers were on Highway 9 north of Nooksack, Wash. on Wednesday, Feb. 8. Areas north of Bellingham received some 6 to 10 inches overnight Monday and Tues

Snow, ice and wind that brutalized Whatcom County last week cost its various cities and government agencies more than $1.1 million in damages, overtime costs and storm-related expenses, county officials said Tuesday.

“That is still a little on the low side,” said John Gargett, deputy director of the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office Division of Emergency Management.

Gargett, who met Tuesday morning with various city and county officials in advance of seeking state and possibly federal disaster aid, said the cost estimate includes such expenses as debris clearing, damaged buildings, overtime for city and county public works crews, and extra staffing for police and fire agencies.

I think if you looked at the total impact in Whatcom County, it would be a staggering amount.

John Gargett, Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office Division of Emergency Management

That $1.1 million figure doesn’t include regular snow removal or routine damage to city streets, he said. It also doesn’t take into account state Department of Transportation expenses, costs to Whatcom County retailers, or losses sustained by residents whose homes or cars were damaged in wrecks or by frozen pipes and falling trees, Gargett said.

A series of storms – packing snow, freezing rain and high winds – battered the county repeatedly from Feb. 3 to Feb. 9. Most public schools were closed for a week, some flights were canceled at Bellingham International Airport, Bellis Fair closed for one day and sent workers home early once. Dozens of car wrecks were reported and power outages affected some 7,000 Puget Sound Energy customers early in the week. A handful of outages lasted more than 24 hours, affecting about 1,000 customers.

Snowfall ranged from a few inches in downtown Bellingham to 7 inches in Sudden Valley – but areas such as Ferndale, Lynden and Sumas saw 1 foot to 2 feet or more of blowing and drifting snow as fierce winds roared south from the Fraser Valley of British Columbia. Many roads were coated in compact snow and ice, making travel difficult and sometimes dangerous.

In the North Cascades, Mt. Baker Ski Area received some 4 feet of new powder, but its runs were closed for several days because a 10-mile stretch of Mount Baker Highway east of Glacier was blocked by up to 100 fallen trees. The road opened just in time for last weekend’s Legendary Banked Slalom snowboard contest.

“People are still assessing the dollar figure,” Gargett said. “That doesn’t even count potholes or anything like that. Public Works, they were on 10 days straight, 24-7. Medic One added an extra (ambulance) in the north county. Nooksack Valley schools saw partial roof collapse in a building that was under construction. Their ballfield had a backstop blown down. I think if you looked at the total impact in Whatcom County, it would be a staggering amount.”

If you were trying to find a snow shovel last week, good luck.

Gary Vis, executive director of the Lynden Chamber of Commerce.

All in all, it has been an unusually rough winter, Garget said, with long periods of freezing weather and several bouts of lowland snowfall. Lynden city workers were still clearing piles of snow on Tuesday, even thought the thaw began Friday.

“These are all unanticipated costs,” he said. “I have no doubt that we are in the $2.5 million range since the middle of December. It’s $5,000 here and $10,000 there and that doesn’t sound like a lot, but then it all starts adding up.”

Losses – and gains, in some cases – across the private sector are difficult to quantify during weather-related emergencies, said Gary Vis, executive director of the Lynden Chamber of Commerce.

“There were a number of businesses that couldn’t open,” Vis said. “It always has a big impact when we get a long (storm) like that.”

Other places, such as hardware stores, saw their sales boom, however.

“If you were trying to find a snow shovel last week, good luck,” Vis said. “Bags of salt, winter clothes, toboggans, they were selling fast.”

Some losses can be recovered by increased post-storm purchases from pent-up demand, Vis said.

“On the weekend, many of the restaurants were full. People were ready to bust out,” he said.

But others, especially those who suffered storm-related losses, might be saving their otherwise disposable income.

“Rather than going out to dinner, you might need to buy clothes or snow melt – or pay for a tow. That’s money that’s re-allocated,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll recover. But you can’t measure a lost sale.”

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty

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