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Posted on: June 2, 2017

Whatcom Waterway Cleanup Project Receives Washington Public Ports Association Environmental Award

The Port of Bellingham has been awarded the 2017 Port Environmental Award by the Washington Public Ports Association for successfully completing one of the largest environmental cleanup projects in state history. 

The $32 million Whatcom Waterway cleanup project removed 110,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment, 5,100 tons of concrete and asphalt rubble, 265 tons of creosote-treated timber and 10,000 tons of polluted soil from Bellingham’s downtown waterfront.

The Whatcom Waterway was contaminated by mercury and other pollutants released from the former Georgia Pacific mill which operated on the Bellingham waterfront from 1963 to 2007. To avoid having Bellingham’s downtown waterfront languish as a contaminated Brownfield, the Port acquired 137 acres of waterfront property from Georgia Pacific and agreed to be the lead entity working under the Washington State Department of Ecology to clean up the Whatcom Waterway. 

The Port worked closely with project stakeholders including the City of Bellingham, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, marine trades tenants and private property owners to develop a cleanup plan which met a wide range of community objectives including public access to the water, job creation, open space and rebuilding a diverse waterfront economy.  

Failing bulkheads, derelict overwater structures and dilapidated shorelines were removed from the north side of the Whatcom Waterway and new bulkheads, pilings and docks were installed in support of ongoing marine trade activities, including a barge terminal and a boatyard.  On the south side of the Whatcom Waterway, new beaches and gently sloping shorelines will support public access to the water and state-wide salmon recovery efforts.

The successful completion of the Whatcom Waterway cleanup project has stimulated substantial public and private investment on Bellingham’s waterfront.  The adaptive reuse of the iconic Granary Building is well underway.  Construction on the first roads and park in the downtown waterfront will begin this fall.  All American Marine recently moved into a new $10 million boat manufacturing facility, and the Port has purchased a 250-Ton crane to service its marine trades tenants.  Itek Energy has started construction on a new solar panel manufacturing plant which will add 125 jobs to an increasingly vibrant downtown core.

The Whatcom Waterway cleanup project was paid for by a combination of state Model Toxics Control Act grants and the Port’s pre-paid environmental insurance policy.  The Department of Ecology estimates the project generated $490 million in business revenue, $90 million in local tax revenue, and created between 500 and 2000 construction jobs and long-term employment opportunities.   The recent economic activity associated with the Whatcom Waterway cleanup is evidence of the short-and long term economic benefits that will serve as a platform for job creation and tax growth as the Port continues to return property to productive use and connect downtown Bellingham to the central waterfront.

Formed by the Washington State Legislature in 1961, the Washington Public Ports Association promotes the interests of 75 port districts throughout the state through effective government relations, ongoing education, and strong advocacy programs.

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