APWA Award for Granary Avenue and Laurel Street Project

GeoEngineers’ Granary Avenue and Laurel Street Project in Bellingham, Washington, has received a National Project of the Year Award from the American Public Works Association (APWA) for transportation projects between $5 and $25 million. The project is an important step toward the City of Bellingham’s vision for a revitalized downtown waterfront.

Historically, this portion of the Bellingham waterfront was home to the Georgia Pacific Mill and industrial shipping operations. Over the past twenty years, the City of Bellingham worked to identify and clean up contamination at the site. The environmental cleanup was complete by 2016, and the city was ready to prepare the site for mixed-use development by constructing two arterial roads, parking, lighting, utilities, and bicycle and pedestrian facilities. The new surface roads and paths would provide public access through the waterfront area and connect to a new public park along the Whatcom Waterway.

Like many formerly industrial waterfront properties, the site was complex and full of surprises. The soil was composed of historic fill and intertidal beach deposits overlying soft clay. When excavation began, the team also discovered chunks of concrete, timber piling, and other debris mixed with the fill. Shallow groundwater, existing nearby pump systems and tidal forces/fluctuation also combined to create a challenging subsurface environment, where contaminated material could transport in unexpected ways.

Fiona McNair led GeoEngineers’ environmental permitting for the project, which included NEPA and shoreline permits. A new stormwater outfall pipe was particularly challenging. Because it was paid for partially with federal funding, the outfall triggered additional, and expensive, stormwater monitoring. Fiona and her team realized that with so much subsurface groundwater transport in the area, a monitoring program focused on the outfall wouldn’t provide reliable data anyway. Fortunately, Fiona worked closely with WSDOT and KPFF to demonstrate the wastefulness of this approach, and reduced monitoring costs for our client in the process.

Our geotechnical team, led by Sean Cool, performed an initial geotechnical investigation, and delivered recommendations for subgrades, utilities, below-grade structures, temporary shoring, earthworks, construction dewatering, retaining walls and other surface features. The shallow groundwater made construction more challenging, but the team scheduled certain phases of work around the tides and recommended efficient dewatering strategies. GeoEngineers also recommended demolishing and crushing concrete found on the site and reusing it in roadway embankments. This solution saved the client from expensive hauling and disposal costs. Because of earlier remediation, the team carefully tested excavated material when required by the site’s contaminated materials management plan.

Construction on Granary Avenue and Laurel Street finished in 2019, giving the community access to newly built Waypoint Park and including widened sidewalks, street parking and the city’s first physically isolated bike lane. The City of Bellingham is preparing for additional phases of mixed-use development in the coming years as it hopes to attract businesses and new residents to the renovated waterfront.

This successful project continues a long-standing relationship between GeoEngineers and the City of Bellingham and Port of Bellingham, with more than 200 completed projects for these two entities over the past several decades,” Sean says.

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