City, state have new plan for Bellingham Bay oil cleanup

Officials with the city of Bellingham and the Washington Department of Ecology are putting together a new strategy to contain oil seeping from the shoreline of an environmental cleanup site on Bellingham’s waterfront, just south of the Bellingham Shipping Terminal.

The nearly 6-acre site is located west of the intersection of Cornwall Avenue and Wharf Street, at the R.G. Haley cleanup site, which is known to be contaminated with wood-treatment chemicals from past industrial activities.

The oil has intermittently left a visible sheen on the bay since December 2012. Since then, Bellingham city officials have installed a boom and absorbent pads to catch and contain the oil.

To develop a new cleanup plan, city and state officials are amending an agreed order for cleanup operations to allow the city to contain the oil right away without having to wait for the final site-wide cleanup to start in 2015.

Since the city of Bellingham owns most of the contaminated land and plans to build a park there, they have a legal agreement with the state to investigate the contamination, as well as identify and evaluate long-term cleanup options.

The proposed amendment will say the city now also agrees to perform this interim work, while continuing the larger site-wide cleanup process.

The general plan is to place a 6-inch layer of sand with specially treated clay over a 5,000-square-foot area of the shoreline to absorb oil seeping out. The sand/clay layer will absorb oil while allowing water to pass through. To prevent erosion, a tough fabric sheet will be placed over the top, followed by large rock.

This is just a temporary fix designed to contain the oil until the site-wide cleanup begins.

While ecology officials haven’t tested the oil seeping out, extensive information is available about contamination in the upland area of the cleanup site. Past testing shows there’s diesel-range carrier oil in the soil and groundwater, and it contains elevated concentrations of pentachlorophenol, dioxins/furans and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

From the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s, the site was used for industries including lumber, coal and wharf operations.

Various companies have treated wood on the property. R.G. Haley International Corp. was the last company to treat wood there, from 1955 to 1985.

The amendment for the cleanup work is available for public review and comment through June 17. It is available on the Ecology website, at Ecology offices in Bellingham and Bellevue, and at the Bellingham Public Library.

Comments can be sent to Mark Adams, Ecology site manager, in writing to mark.adams@ecy.wa.gov or 3190 160th Ave NE, Bellevue WA 98008-5452.

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