Mount Baker Highway damaged as winds, rain hammer county

Video: Storm whips up waves in Birch Bay

Strong winds whipped up waves over the road in Birch Bay, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015.
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Strong winds whipped up waves over the road in Birch Bay, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015.

Gusting winds and heavy rain caused power outages and road closures across Whatcom County on Tuesday, Nov. 17.

Mount Baker Highway was reduced to one lane east of Glacier on Tuesday because the overflowing Nooksack River is eroding an embankment below the eastbound lane, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation.

The DOT will install temporary signals near the eroded portion of the highway, about six miles east of Glacier and 14 miles west of Mt. Baker Ski Area. The signal will alternate traffic through the area using the westbound lane, said WSDOT spokesman Travis Phelps.

The erosion has exposed about 90 feet of guardrail posts below the highway.

We’re doing everything we can to maintain access to the ski area.

Todd Harrison, Washington State Department of Transportation

The DOT is working on a temporary fix to protect the road and keep the river from continuing to wash away the embankment. Repairs are estimated to cost at least $500,000.

Drivers should expect delays if traveling to Mt. Baker Ski Area, which opens on Thursday, Nov. 19, Phelps said. The signal timing will be set up to allow more vehicles to head east in the morning toward the ski area and west in the afternoon.

“We’re doing everything we can to maintain access to the ski area,” said Todd Harrison, WSDOT assistant regional administrator. “We’re developing plans to repair the riverbank as quickly as possible to keep drivers safe.”

Rainfall in the last week had increased the erosion below the eastbound lane of the highway.

The Nooksack River was more than a foot above flood stage in the Acme area as of late Tuesday afternoon. DOT officials were monitoring the area in case they needed to shut down Highway 9.

The river was expected to crest about 10 p.m. Tuesday more than 2 feet above flood stage at Nugents Corner, causing moderate flooding from there to Lynden, according to the National Weather Service. A flood warning was issued for the area.

Ferndale also was expected to get some minor flooding when the Nooksack crests slightly above flood stage on Wednesday.

Road trouble

Nearly 20 roads in Whatcom County were being monitored by county public works crews Tuesday night and Wednesday morning for flooding. A full list can be found on Whatcom County’s website.

Wind gusts as strong as 40 mph in Bellingham and stronger up the coastline whipped waves.

Birch Bay Drive, near Harborview Drive, was closed part of Tuesday because of debris in the roadway, said Roland Middleton, public information officer for Whatcom County Public Works.

That area traditionally is a bad spot for high waves during storms, and some of those waves impacted businesses in the area.

Steve Hendricks, general manager of Via Birch Bay restaurant, said the restaurant was hit by logs in the water Tuesday morning. Other than a crack in the kitchen window, however, he said the storm didn’t cause much damage Tuesday. The restaurant was open for business.

“It’s definitely a good place to have lunch in a storm,” Hendricks said.

Most of the damage in the county Tuesday came from trees that were toppled in the wind, Middleton said. Several roads were closed temporarily but most had been cleared by the afternoon.

A tree toppled onto West Bakerview Road near Maplewood Avenue, striking a vehicle shortly before 10 a.m. The driver was not hurt, but the road was blocked briefly.

Puget Sound Energy crews responded to scattered outages across the county. Most of them were small, but an outage that affected over 1,000 customers near Glacier had not been resolved as of 5 p.m.

Rain showers are likely to continue Wednesday, with a high temperature near 47, according to the National Weather Service.

Wilson Criscione: 360-756-2803, @wilsoncriscione