Shoreline cleanup starts near planned Waterfront District

Contractor crews have begun cleaning a small section of shoreline along the Whatcom Waterway near downtown Bellingham to prevent petroleum contamination from leaching into Bellingham Bay.

Ongoing work is expected to take place at night, when tides are lowest, and should finish by mid-February.

Crews will remove about 80 truckloads of petroleum-contaminated soil and sediment from a 5,000-square-foot area of beach at the Central Waterfront cleanup site, near the west end of C Street. Then crews will install a liner in the ground to prevent recontamination, and rebuild the beach with clean material, according to an announcement from the Washington Department of Ecology.

Site managers with Ecology and the Port of Bellingham discovered a oily sheen on the waterway in February 2012, prompting this work. The petroleum contamination is from an old bulk-fuel-storage facility that operated at this location from 1904 to 1987, according to managers working on the project.

The port hired contractor Ram Construction of Bellingham for the interim cleanup work, which is expected to cost about $500,000.

The interim project addresses a small portion of a larger 55-acre Central Waterfront site. Officials with the state of Washington, the port and the city of Bellingham are working together to develop long-term cleanup plans for the entire site.

The ecology department will reimburse half the cost of cleanup 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. The city and port will fund the rest of the project.

The city and port are together working to finalize a sub-area plan to develop a new Waterfront District near the project site. The district is expected to include room for new residential, commercial and light-industrial development.

The Central Waterfront site is one of 12 cleanup sites around Bellingham Bay that are part of a coordinated, bay-wide effort by federal, tribal, state and local governments to clean up contamination, control pollution sources and restore habitat. Ecology officials say the pilot program, known as the Bellingham Bay Demonstration Pilot, is a major step toward restoring Puget Sound and is a model for other large-scale cleanup initiatives.

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