Drayton Harbor Road to be fixed

Whatcom County engineers will spend at least $1 million to fill in a portion of shoreline near Blaine, fixing sections of Drayton Harbor Road that have slipped toward the ocean.

It’s been almost two years since areas along 2,000 feet of the road collapsed. Engineers estimate they’ll have the road reopened by August 2007. The project has been delayed by staffing changes and drawn-out negotiations with many state and federal agencies — and the county is looking forward to moving past it.

“We want to clear the deck and land the next plane,” said Joe Rutan, county road engineer.

Area residents, frustrated with the timeline, are concerned largely about the extra time it has taken police and firefighters to respond to the area, said Richard Arnold, president of the Semiahmoo Resort Association.

“I think the No. 1 concern is emergency access,” he said.

Drayton Harbor Road is a main connector between Blaine’s upper and lower halves and one of only several roads serving large residential developments north of Birch Bay. Losing the road between Shintaffer and Harbor View roads has put stress on other arterials, prompting the county to upgrade other intersections.

Fixing the road will coincide with other road improvements that should provide a “high-speed arterial spine” for area residents, Rutan said.

A series of events led to the collapse of Drayton Harbor Road in January 2005, said county engineer Chris Brueske: ocean waves eroding caverns as deep as 10 feet into the land underneath it; heavy truck traffic; and a week of below-zero temperatures, followed by five inches of rain.

After wrangling with several state and federal agencies, engineers came up with a plan to level out the steep slope by filling in about 10,000 square feet of beach, then laying logs on the beach to hold in fill material that can take the waves’ pounding, among other strategies. The road dropoff ranges from five feet to 30 feet. The state Department of Fish and Wildlife initially told the county to move the road, but the cost to buy property “would have been astronomical,” Brueske said.

Though the plan is an improvement over the more common strategy of dumping boulders along the shoreline, the state is not completely satisfied because the solution still destroys areas of shoreline and prevents healthy erosion, said Brian Williams, habitat biologist with Fish and Wildlife. One way to make up for that is to require the county to remove 3,400 square feet of abandoned concrete moorage to the north and south of the site, restoring habitat, he said.

After Semiahmoo Resort was built in the 1980s, Drayton Harbor Road was marked for local access only because area residents and the County Council didn’t want it to become a heavily traveled race track, Rutan said. But the road is needed to divert traffic during construction of other roads south of there, Rutan said.

Drayton Harbor Road repairs are just part of many road upgrades in the area. Developers of the residential and commercial Horizons Village project are paying for a road to connect Birch Point Road with Semiahmoo Parkway, a road the county has wanted for at least two decades. The county has stashed money for an extension of Lincoln Road to Blaine Road, a project that would be completed at the end of 2008, at the earliest.

After those connectors are complete, residents can discuss what they want to do with Drayton Harbor Road, Rutan said. Some people have suggested closing part or all of the road and making it for pedestrians and bicycles only, he said.