Oil-seep containment work begins on Bellingham's waterfront

Plans to contain oil seeping from the shoreline of a cleanup site on Bellingham’s waterfront are set to begin this week, after an oil sheen left intermittently by the seep was first discovered last December.

Since then, Bellingham city officials have maintained a boom and absorbent pads to catch and contain the oil. The city has hired Interwest Construction of Burlington to place a specially amended layer of sand and clay over the oil seep. The clay and sand layer will be placed within a rock berm and covered with a layer of gravel to protect it from winter storms.

The oil is seeping from a small area of shoreline at the R.G. Haley cleanup site, which is known to be contaminated with wood treatment chemicals from past industrial activities. The site is located southwest of the intersection of Cornwall Avenue and Wharf Street.

Crews will cover approximately a 5,000-square-foot area of the shoreline with the clay/sand layer to absorb oil seeping out.

Much of the shoreline work will be done at night in November when tides are expected to be lowest. Work is expected to finish by the end of November.

The clean is a temporary fix designed to contain the oil until a site-wide cleanup begins in 2015.

The city awarded the construction contract to Interwest for $88,514.41. The total project cost, including design, permitting, materials, and construction, is approximately $400,000.

The Washington Department of Ecology is overseeing the work, and will reimburse half of the city’s costs through the state’s Remedial Action Grant program. The program helps pay to clean up publicly owned sites and is funded with revenue from a voter-approved tax on hazardous substances.

While ecology officials haven’t tested the oil seeping out, extensive information is available about contamination within the cleanup site. Past testing shows there are chemicals in the soil and groundwater, which include petroleum hydrocarbons, pentachlorophenol polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, dioxins and furans.

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.

The city of Bellingham owns most of the contaminated land and plans to build a park there. The city has a legal agreement with the state, known as an “agreed order,” to investigate the contamination, as well as identify and evaluate long-term cleanup options.

More information is available on the project’s website.

Click here to view more photos of the cleanup site, courtesy of the Washington Department of Ecology.

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