By Meg Olson
The dock replacement at Lighthouse Marine Park continues to be plagued by a combination of fish and tide challenges, which might delay the project well into next summer.
“I can certainly understand the frustration of the people in Point Roberts,” said Rob Lamb, design and development supervisor with Whatcom County Parks and Recreation. “I know I’m frustrated.”
The latest attempt to drive pilings for a new dock was in September, but couldn’t move forward because the county’s biologist found that surf smelt were spawning. “The surf smelt started spawning in early July and continued until our work window closed,” Lamb said.
The project falls under the Endangered Species Act and requires approval from a collection of state and federal agencies. “There are a number of listed species that limit the work we can do in the water: orca, salmon, bull trout,” Lamb said. To avoid impacting these species the work window for the project is limited to July 15 to October 15 in any given permit year.
Before work can begin within the window the county biologist needs to determine if there would be impacts on the area three types of forage fish: surf smelt, sand lance and herring. “The Endangered Species Act extends to their food so if we impact their food we’re harassing them,” Lamb said.
Regulatory agencies agreed to extend the work window until January 31, based on a county fish survey that established no forage fish would be actively spawning. But now the daytime tides are too high. “The tides are dramatically different than when we bid the project,” Lamb said, explaining that they had planned to do the work in 12 to 24 inches of water, and to do it now would be in 5 to 12 feet.
“It requires special equipment and I’ve been working with the contractor to secure that equipment,” Lamb said, but with little success. “The equipment operators just refuse to come to Point Roberts.” They considered bringing in a barge but “mobilization costs appear to be prohibitive,” he added, and the barge couldn’t get to the pilings out of the water.
“Basically we can’t comply with the conditions of the permit,” Lamb said, and he has written to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the lead agency on the permit, for some leniency. “Now that we’ve demonstrated we can’t comply they may be more likely to deviate.”
The county is asking for a modified work window that would allow them to drive piles in spring 2015. If not, they will try again in July 2015, assuming they aren’t held up by spawning forage fish again. “The dock would be in immediately following,” Lamb said.
Lighthouse Marine Park has been without a dock at the boat launch since September 2008, when it was deemed unsafe and removed. The replacement of the dock was initially put off by budget constraints but a state grant in 2011 allowed the project to move forward. After a year of permitting, the project was first bid in May 2013 but bids came in over budget, so the project was rebid after some tweaking. Contractor H.B. Hansen was retained this September, and tried to drive the piles but a windstorm prevented him from getting equipment to the site.
Another piece of failing infrastructure at the park, the eastern portion of the boardwalk, is scheduled to be removed this winter and Whatcom County Council has approved $250,000 to partially replace it and move the playground closer to the boardwalk. “It’s set up for 2016 to actually do something and funding in 2015 to figure out what that is,” said county parks director Michael McFarlane. “There are a lot of boards that need replacement on the other section so we want to look carefully at the whole thing.”