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BRIEF: Little Squalicum Estuary receives 2024 Engineering Excellence Award

The partially enclosed, coastal body of water provides nesting and feeding habitats for aquatic plants and wildlife

Little Squalicum estuary on Feb. 28, 3024, located at 640 Marine Drive in Bellingham, Wash. The coastal habitat is 2.4 acres and only two miles east of Nooksack River Delta. // Photo by Eleanor Peterson

The Little Squalicum Estuary, located in Bellingham’s Little Squalicum Park, was awarded a 2024 Engineering Excellence Award from the American Council of Engineering Companies Washington on Feb. 2. 

The Engineering Excellence Award annually honors projects demonstrating high levels of merit and ingenuity. Submissions for the award are evaluated on criteria such as innovation, value,  social, economic and sustainable development considerations as outlined by the national ACEC judging criteria

BNSF trestle
As seen on Feb. 28, 2024, the BNSF railroad trestle in Bellingham, Wash. travels right across the outlet of the Little Squalicum estuary. Managing construction in proximity to the railroad trestle was a challenge faced by project staff in their work to complete the estuary. // Photo by Eleanor Peterson

“This was a particularly complex project that included coordination with several landowners, partners and funding agencies,” said Stefanie Cilinceon, a communications and outreach coordinator for The City of Bellingham Public Works. “The project required approximately 15 years of planning, funding packages, site cleanup, land negotiations, permitting and problem-solving.” 

Cilinceon said that among the challenges the City of  Bellingham faced in the completion of the estuary were managing construction in proximity to the BNSF railroad trestle and de-watering the site of excess groundwater. Another challenge in constructing the estuary, Cilinceon said, was being one of the first of its kind in the area. 

“Typically we would hope to look to other similar projects for lessons learned,” Cilinceon said. “Since we didn’t have that with this project, extra creativity and problem-solving were required throughout the design and construction process.” 

Habitat Restoration Area
A sign at the Little Squalicum estuary on Feb. 28, 2024 in Bellingham, Wash. marks a Habitat Restoration Area, which is home to aquatic plants and wildlife that support essential food webs. The installation of native plants is a restoration effort by the City of Bellingham. // Photo by Eleanor Peterson

Aside from Bellingham city staff, design consultants, construction contractors, funding agencies and many other partners, winners of this project include a variety of aquatic species. The new estuary provides nesting and feeding habitat for plants and wildlife that support essential food webs, Cilinceon said. 

Additionally, the Little Squalicum estuary fulfills a Bellingham community vision in the 2010 Little Squalicum Park Master Plan.

Eleanor Peterson

Eleanor Peterson (she/her) is excited to be working as a city news reporter for The Front this quarter. She is in her senior year at Western majoring in communication studies and minoring in journalism with an emphasis in public relations. Eleanor enjoys going for scenic walks, drinking iced lattes and creating music playlists in her free time. You can contact Eleanor at

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