State, Port officials studying pollution near Fairhaven Shipyard

Workers are collecting soil, sediment and groundwater samples from the Fairhaven Shipyard in an attempt to better locate and define the extent of contamination on the property located at 201 Harris Ave., in Bellingham.

This area has been used as a shipyard since the early 1900s, and past shipbuilding and ship maintenance operations contaminated portions of the site. Two tenants currently lease the property from the Port of Bellingham—All American Marine and Fairhaven Shipyard’s Puglia Engineering—but neither caused the contamination.

Previous sampling and investigations have found gasoline, diesel, oil, arsenic, metals, polychlorinated biphenols (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), semivolatile organic compounds (SVOCs) and more in the soils, sediment and groundwater, according to the Washington Department of Ecology. The contaminants concentrations exceed standards set by the state’s cleanup law.

These contaminants are typical of historic shipyard operations throughout the Puget Sound, ecology department officials said.

Contractor crews working for the port began collecting samples on Monday, Jan. 28, and plan to continue to do so through Saturday, Feb. 2. Workers will return to the site to do the same on Thursday, Feb. 14.

The work is expected to cost about $130,000 and is part of an extensive environmental study being performed by the port, which will be used to develop future cleanup plans.

The Washington Department of Ecology designated the Harris Avenueproperty (owned partly by the state and port) as a cleanup site, and is overseeing the sampling and future cleanup.

A 2010 legal agreement between the port and the ecology department requires the port to assess contamination and cleanup options.

The ecology department will reimburse half the port’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.

The Harris Avenue cleanup site is one of 12 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. The pilot program, known as the Bellingham Bay Demonstration Pilot, is a major step toward restoring Puget Sound, according to the ecology department.

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