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Whatcom Council reconsiders Gulf Road closure permit

Public outcry sparked discussion during Feb. 22 meeting

A derelict conveyor on the beach by Cherry Point stretches into the Georgia Strait.
A derelict conveyor on the beach by Cherry Point stretches into the Georgia Strait. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
By Julia Lerner Staff Reporter

FERNDALE — The pebble beach along Cherry Point, supposedly a dumping ground for abandoned cars and a hotbed of “undesirable, illegal activities,” showed no signs of disturbance Wednesday morning.

Instead, an elderly person strolled along the edge of the pristine blue waters lapping against the shore as birds flew overhead and some kids collected small pieces of driftwood and rocks. 

A couple of cigarette butts and an empty plastic bottle of Rich & Rare Canadian whiskey, 80 proof, were the only evidence of the illegal activities, trespassing and pollution reported to the Whatcom County Public Works Department in June 2021. The beach’s landowner has a simple solution to stop the questionable activities: a gate, limiting access to Gulf Road. 

photo  The Cherry Point beach accessed by Gulf Road has become the subject of an access controversy. (Julia Lerner/Cascadia Daily News)  

The move would stop drivers from accessing the beach along Gulf Road. On Feb. 8, the Whatcom County Council voted to allow the landowner, Pacific International Holdings, to install the gate just south of Henry Road. 

The beach is a major access point to the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve, a local aquatic ecosystem protected and managed by the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR). 

The council is now reconsidering its decision after some local environmental organizations condemned the action. 

“We have significant concerns with potential impacts of the request brought forward to County Council from a private landowner to temporarily close access to Gulf Road,” North Sound Baykeeper’s Eleanor Hines wrote in a letter to the council.

Jamie Huson, the president of the North Cascades Audubon Society, voiced similar concerns in a letter to council members. Huson said public access to the beach is important for research conducted by volunteers and environmental surveys.  

photo  Abandoned conveyor equipment resides on the beach along Gulf Road. (Julia Lerner/Cascadia Daily News)  

On Tuesday, the County Committee of the Whole met with representatives from the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office, the Public Works Department and others to discuss the vote. 


Initially, the council unanimously voted in favor of Pacific International installing a gate, though no action has been taken yet.

“We did pass this 7-0,” Council Chair Todd Donovan said. “The executive signed it recently enough that it has not taken effect.”

Pacific International initially cited illegal dumping, abandoned vehicles, alcohol and drug use and unauthorized fires as concerns that could be alleviated by a gate, said Marie Duckworth of the Public Works Department. 

Carrix, the parent company of Pacific International, did not respond to an email request for comment.

“In our frequent work in the area, we have not seen any level of illegal dumping, abandoned vehicles, alcohol and drug use, discharge of firearms, unauthorized fires, destruction of private property or trespassing that would come close to warranting a closure.” — Eleanor Hines, North Sound Baykeeper

Officials from Cherry Point Industrial Park, a neighboring corporation, also said they have repeatedly contacted the sheriff’s office with similar concerns. 

“We have responded to those types of calls over the years,” Undersheriff Doug Chadwick told the Committee of the Whole on Tuesday. “That said, the call load was not a burden.”

Since January 2019, the sheriff’s department has responded to 17 calls for service at the beach. 

Chadwick said the sheriff’s office responded to two significant calls during that time period: one rape investigation and one recovered stolen vehicle. He also told committee members the data could be a little misleading because of COVID-19 protocol changes over the last two years. 

Hines, also a lead scientist for local non-profit RE Sources, recalled seeing little evidence of the reported crime and illicit activity.

“In our frequent work in the area, we have not seen any level of illegal dumping, abandoned vehicles, alcohol and drug use, discharge of firearms, unauthorized fires, destruction of private property or trespassing that would come close to warranting a closure,” she wrote in a letter to county executives.

Hines said several other local beaches have more trash and illegal activity, but are not gated and remain open for public use. 

Pacific International needs to apply for two county permits before it can install the gate, Duckworth said. 

Public Works employees clarified details about the road closure during the Committee of the Whole meeting. 

“We’re talking about a closure for vehicles,” said Jon Hutchings from Whatcom’s Public Works Department. “It’s still open for walkers and access that way.”

Hutchings said the beach would still be accessible for local tribe use and emergency vehicles, which initially was a concern for county officials.

“That concern was mitigated with the proposed installation of a lockbox with keys distributed to the various emergency services that might need to access the area,” Duckworth told Cascadia Daily. “This is similar to other road gates installed in the vicinity.”

The County Council, which does not currently have a proposal to rescind the initial vote, plans to continue discussions.

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