The Arctic Challenger, built and based in Bellingham, appears to have cleared a significant hurdle in getting ready for service when and if Shell Oil is ready to begin Arctic Ocean oil drilling in earnest.
KUOW, the NPR affliliate in Seattle, reports here that the crew from Superior Energy tested the Arctic Challenger’s oil well blowout containment dome in Samish Bay in March.
That would break the streak of bad news for Shell’s effort to mount a significant new Arctic oil-drilling operation. McClatchy News Service summarizes a federal report on Shell’s troubles here.
Today’s story about greater-than-expected mercury levels turning up at a waterfront hot spot has generated a bit of interest on social media, and I thought this might be a good time to fire up the Herald’s trusty old wayback machine for some context.
But before we do that, I want to underline the fact that the cleanup I reported on today is just a small portion of the 237-acre waterfront site. Engineers say it amounts to two to four parking spaces. Port of Bellingham and Department of Ecology officials say this is a high-priority site where mercury contamination is concentrated. This is where mercury was handled and sometimes mishandled over several decades as a part of the pulp-bleaching process that helped turn trees into toilet paper.
Is the higher-than-expected level of mercury contamination on this little piece of ground a harbinger of more trouble to come? The state and port engineers say they don’t think so. Let’s hope they are right.
And let’s hope that the actual costs of cleanup don’t rise as fast as the estimates have risen since 2004.
Here are a couple of longer pieces I put together in the weeks leading up to the port’s decision to acquire the G-P property for cleanup and redevelopment.
First, let’s go back to November 2004 for this report on pulp and paper mill cleanup sites elsewhere in the country. Among other things, my sources here were telling me that the Georgia-Pacific contamination situation, while serious, is far from the most-contaminated site of its kind in the country.
Here is some info on a couple of really bad ones mentioned in that story: LCP Chemicals in Georgia and Honeywell at Lake Onondaga, N.Y. At both places, mercury was used for chlorine production, as it was here.
Here’s a December 2004 story in which sources talk about the pros and cons of capping contaminants in place, which is what the port and the Department of Ecology are going to wind up doing on large portions of the waterfront.
At the time these stories were written, cleanup costs were believed to be in the range of about $40 million, based on studies that had been done up to that point. AIG, an insurance company that had not yet become famous in 2004, agreed to insure the port for overruns.
Here is a December 2012 report in which Port Environmental Director Mike Stoner says the insurance policy and state ModeL Toxics Control Act grants are expected to cover the current estimated costs of $102 million.
Here is a more recent story that resulted from the April 11 Bellingham Planning Commission session, in which Stoner and Ecology’s Mark Adams said the final cleanup strategy will make the area safe for human use and keep contaminants from getting into the environment.
From Ecology’s website, here is a timeline for waterfront cleanup, not all of which is related to G-P.
Final site cleanup plans are still in the works, and the cost estimates in those plans may (probably will?) be overtaken by the reality in the ground as actual work takes place over the next few years.
Port of Bellingham Commissioner Scott Walker announced Tuesday, April 16 that he will step down at the end of his term this year, ending a 22-year run on the port commission.
Walker made the announcement at the start of the port commission’s regular meeting. He said he simply wants more time to relax.
He is retired from a position as manager of government and community affairs at the BP Cherry Point refinery.
Perhaps the biggest event during Walker’s tenure was the transfer of the Georgia-Pacific Corp. waterfront industrial land to the port in 2005. The port and city now appear to be making progress on redevelopment plans for the area.
In 2012, Walker’s role in the ouster of former port executive director Charlie Sheldon angered many. Walker’s initial demands for Sheldon’s resignation were outvoted by fellow commissioners Mike McAuley and Jim Jorgensen, but by April 2012, Jorgensen swung around to Walker’s position and Sheldon was out, despite pleas from McAuley, commercial fishermen, port tenants and others in the community who supported Sheldon.
Walker’s departure offers an open seat for the position in the fall 2013 elections, and that could attract some interesting candidates.
The county-wide port district operates the Bellingham airport, shipping terminal, Alaska ferry terminal, marinas in Blaine and Bellingham, and commercial and industrial real estate holdings. Pay is $700 per month plus $104 per meeting, not to exceed $18,384 per year.
The regulatory agencies joining forces on the environmental study of the Gateway Pacific Terminal coal export pier have issued a report summarizing the comments received on the scope of that study.
UPDATE: The comments from federal and state agencies may be of special interest. With few exceptions, those agencies join environmentalists in calling for a sweeping scope of study for this terminal. Those comments begin on p. 81.
The Washington Department of Commerce is the only such agency aligning itself firmly with Gateway Pacific’s backers on climate change issues. The Commerce comment letter asks that regulatory agencies not establish “new precedents under state law that would unduly burden a wide variety of future projects,” and not allow this and other projects “to serve as proxies for bigger debates such as how best to reduce global reliance on fossil fuels.”
Commerce also wants the environmental impact statement to do a thorough job of adding up the economic benefits from the project.
But Commerce also calls for a wide-ranging review of possible negative impacts on property values near the rails, the economic impact of rail crossing delays “for the Puget Sound region and beyond.”
Commerce also suggests that public costs to improve those rail crossings should be subtracted from additions to public revenue.
Commerce’s Jan. 22, 2013 letter is signed by Rogers Weed, the executive director appointed by former Gov. Chris Gregoire. Brian Bonlender, Gov. Inslee’s former chief of staff in Congress was appointed by Inslee to replace Weed. Bonlender took over Commerce’s top post on Feb. 1.
The Washington Department of Agriculture, whose leaders had expressed some enthusiasm for Gateway Pacific as a possible export outlet for wheat, expresses misgivings in a comment letter. Agriculture’s letter calls for an analysis of the project’s impacts on rail traffic throughout the state, especially as increased demands on rail capacity might affect the availability of rail for crops that are already reliant on access to a share of that capacity.
Agriculture officials also want study of possible disruption of rail links to existing agricultural ports, and how changes in air and water quality could affect agriculture.
The document made public April 1, 2013 is a summary of comments, not the key decision on what the scope of the environmental impact statement for Gateway Pacific will be. The summary says that decision will be made “in the near future.” I have asked for (but will not necessarily get) some specific information on what “near” means in this context.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Washington Department of Ecology, and Whatcom County Planning Department are pooling their resources to develop a single environmental impact statement to analyze how SSA Marine’s proposed Cherry Point terminal will affect the environment, and what steps would need to be taken to compensate for (mitigate) any negative effects.
Opponents of the terminal have argued that the environmental impact statement must study global and regional impacts, not just local ones. Global impacts would include climate change and its associated ills (rising sea level, ocean acidification) from the burning of exported coal in China. Gov. Jay Inslee recently joined Oregon Gov. Jon Kitzhaber in calling for such a review by the federal government.
Regional impacts would include the possible disruptions from increased rail traffic from Cherry Point to the mines in the Powder River basin of Wyoming and Montana. The terminal would attract an estimated nine loaded trains per day–trains that would pass through Bellingham and Ferndale on their way to Cherry Point. They would return empty along the same route.
During recent hearings on Bellingham waterfront development, many commenters expressed fears that waterfront revitalization efforts would be hamstrung by the railroad tracks that slice through the old Georgia-Pacific Corp. mill site.
But the business interests and labor unions backing Gateway Pacific have argued that an environmental impact statement that is too broad and comprehensive would be unfair, setting a precedent that could harm other proposals. They characterize a review of global impacts as “bureaucracy.”
The Bellingham Planning Commission started its second comment session on waterfront redevelopment plans at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 28, and by 8:15, everyone who wanted to talk had been to the microphone.
The last planning commission meeting a week ago was marked by the alliance between unions and environmentalists, endorsing each others’ issues: living-wage jobs on a working waterfront, pristine environmental cleanup and plenty of public access.
At this week’s meeting, there were renewed calls for living-wage jobs and thorough cleanup, along with other concerns.
There was also a hint of a conflict between jobs and public access.
Several commenters noted that earlier versions of waterfront plans had called for a pedestrian and bike path at the water’s edge all along the old pulp mill site southwest of downtown. But the current plan envisions a possible interruption in that path near the Port of Bellingham shipping terminal, if the path would interfere with job-creating industrial uses.
Bellingham resident Mitch Friedman, a longtime environmental activist, said he hoped planners would figure out how to deliver the promised water’s edge access while still creating plenty of good jobs.
Commercial fisherman Jim Kyle said he hoped the commitment to a working waterfront was for the long term, and that the port and the city won’t succumb to the temptation to convert marine industrial land to luxury developments if the real estate market swings skyward again.
“Bellingham is not Marina del Rey, where everything is beautiful and nothing happens. Tell them (developers) Bellingham is a working town, not a bedroom town,” Kyle said.
Kayak builder George Dyson expressed exasperation that current plans have no provision for a dock that would enable recreational boaters to tie up and walk downtown, and no plan to use water transportation to get people around the waterfront.
He also called on port and city to develop alternative plans.
“There is no plan B if developers don’t show up,” Dyson said. “What then?”
Commercial fisherman Robin Dexter said the current plan looked to him like “Bellwether on steroids,” a reference to the Port of Bellingham’s hotel, shop and office development near Squalicum Harbor.
“I don’t want Bellwether,” Dexter said. “No one here wants Bellwether. We want another Bellingham neighborhood.”
Planning Commission Chairman Tom Grinstad said the record will stay open for written comments for at least two more weeks.
Send written comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Get caught up on proposed waterfront plans here, on the city website.
I’ll be working on an expanded report for Friday’s website, as well as for the Saturday print edition.
By John Stark
Thursday’s Bellingham Planning Commission hearing on waterfront planning proposals attracted a well-organized showing from environmentalists and organized labor. But instead of butting heads–as they have been doing over the Gateway Pacific Terminal coal export facility proposal–they made an obvious effort to support each others’ concerns.
Representatives from Re Sources for Sustainable Communities stressed the importance of living-wage jobs as well as stringent environmental cleanup. Labor leaders said they shared environmental concerns.
Re Sources Executive Director Crina Hoyer told the commission she supports labor’s concerns about creation of family-wage jobs.
Mark Lowry, president of the Northwest Washington Central Labor Council, said union workers want good jobs on a clean waterfront.
“We support our friends in the environmental community and we trust them to look out for our interests,” Lowry said. “We want to be able to bring our kids down there and let them play around in the grass.”
City Council chambers appeared to be a bit more than half-full, with about 80 people in attendance. After two hours, everyone who wished to do so had taken a turn at the microphone.
I’ll have an expanded report online later Friday, as well as in the Saturday print edition.
The Planning Commission will hold another public hearing on waterfront plans next Thursday, March 28, also at 7 p.m. in City Council chambers at City Hall, 210 Lottie St.
Here’s a link to background documents on the joint city/Port of Bellingham plan for redevelopment of 237 waterfront acres, including the former site of Georgia Pacific Corp.’s pulp, chemical and paper operations.
After the seven-member advisory planning commission completes its hearing process, it will make a recommendation to City Council, which is certain to hold its own hearings on waterfront issues. Port of Bellingham commissioners will also need to sign off on waterfront plans before they become final.
By John Stark
As I worked my way through the draft plan for the long-debated redevelopment of the Bellingham waterfront — released Thursday, Nov. 15–one thing struck me: Where are the dates?
For years, port and city officials and their consultants have come up with schemes and visions and draft plans for waterfront redevelopment, accompanied by timelines that were always billed as tentative, but still specific.
In the early stages of the planning process, port and city officials declared they could have a new Laurel Street Bridge in place by late 2007. In 2008, then-Mayor Dan Pike said the Laurel Street Bridge was “at least five years away.” The project soon disappeared from plans and schemes.
As recently as May 2012, city officials were saying they expected to build a new street into the northeastern end of the waterfront area by the end of 2015, converting Central Avenue into a bike and pedestrian route. That’s still the plan, but no date is attached.
The port’s vision of a marina inside the Georgia-Pacific treatment lagoon is still alive, but again, there is no date set for starting or finishing that project.
At this point, port and city officials say that public investment in parks, streets and utilities will move hand-in-hand with private investment. That’s a shift between the “if we build it they will come” philosophy that seemed to underly past public discussions about waterfront redevelopment.
We should get an early indication of developer interest and the likely pace of redevelopment after the port starts the solicitation process for the Granary and the area around it in the next few months.
By John Stark
You read that right. Less than two weeks after a public forum to introduce the three finalists for the job of Port of Bellingham executive director, Bellingham’s three port commissioners emerged from closed session this afternoon (Friday, Nov. 9) to name a fourth person — Rob Fix — to the $140,000-a-year position.
Fix, the port’s chief financial officer, had been serving as interim executive director since the April 2012 ouster of former director Charlie Sheldon. During that interim, Fix had helped negotiate a complex waterfront land swap with the City of Bellingham.
But both Fix and the commissioners had said, in April, that Fix was not a candidate for the position.
In naming Fix to the post, all three commissioners said Fix’s handling of waterfront negotiations with the city had been a big factor in his selection.
I will have more details later.
By John Stark
The Bellingham City Council has scheduled a public hearing for tonight (Monday, Oct. 22) on the proposed waterfront land swap with the Port of Bellingham.
Here’s the information included on the council’s public agenda. Besides the hearing at the 7 p.m. regular council session, the council has also scheduled a 2:10 p.m. committee discussion.
Port of Bellingham commissioners approved the deal last week.
By John Stark
Finalists for the Port of Bellingham’s executive director position are scheduled to be announced at the Tuesday, Oct. 16 port commission meeting at 3 p.m. in the Harbor Center meeting room on Roeder Avenue.
(Also on the meeting’s agenda is a resolution laying the groundwork for a land swap on the Bellingham waterfront, in which the city of Bellingham will cede industrial land to the port, in exchange for the port’s share of an old city landfill property at the end of the Cornwall Avenue right-of-way. The City Council will also need to vote on the deal. UPDATE: The City Council has scheduled a hearing on the matter during its 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 22 meeting at City Hall.)
Rob Fix, the port’s financial officer, has served as interim executive director since April 2012, when Charlie Sheldon was ousted from the post in a 2-1 vote, after an 18-month tenure.
The process for picking a new executive is expected to include public appearances by the candidates, as was the case when Sheldon was chosen in 2010.
By John Stark
BELLINGHAM — City Hall and the Port of Bellingham have just announced a potential blockbuster of a real estate swap on the waterfront, a swap that is being touted as a way to speed up both industrial and park development.
Read the press release here, on the city’s website. The site also provides helpful, if complicated, maps of this complex transaction. The port will get city-owned industrial land on the northwest side of Whatcom Waterway, while the city will take sole ownership of the Cornwall Beach area. That is an old city landfill site that is partly port-owned and is now undergoing some environmental cleanup.
The city would also get access to the big breakwater that surrounds the old Georgia-Pacific Corp. wastewater lagoon, for construction of a pedestrian walkway. Port officials had envisioned something similar as part of their plan for installation of a new marina inside the lagoon, but the marina proposal is now on indefinite hold.
No money would change hands as a part of this deal, and nothing is certain until both the Port Commission and City Council hold public hearings and vote their approval. Those hearings are already scheduled:
UPDATE–Port commissioners will review the proposal at 3 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16 in the Harbor Center Conference Room at port offices on Roeder Avenue. (I had a typo in the date on first draft here…)
–City Council will take a look at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 22 in council chambers at City Hall.
By John Stark
If you didn’t get an invite to the walk-though tour of the Granary Building on the Bellingham waterfront a few weeks ago, you can check out video of that tour on the Save The Granary website.
The website also contains a wealth of information about the building and links to recent news reports here and elsewhere.
The 1928 structure is again in the spotlight as Port of Bellingham officials prepare to release a “request for proposals” that will invite developers to submit plans for redevelopment of the Granary Building as well as 10 adjoining waterfront acres that were a part of the Georgia-Pacific Corp. pulp and tissue mill before the port took over G-P’s entire 137-acre site in 2005.
During the Tuesday, Oct. 2 port commission meeting, interim Executive Director Rob Fix told Granary backers that the port would be receptive to proposals for renovating and reusing the Granary as a stand-alone project. A developer would not be required to take on the entire 10 acres in order to make a deal for the Granary.
Advocates for saving the Granary have said they think the project could be profitable for a private developer without a public subsidy, and port commissioners have said they are not interested in providing a subsidy. Until recently, port officials had planned to demolish the building.
Some of the people who still hope to save the waterfront Granary Building will be at this afternoon’s Port of Bellingham commission meeting, hoping to convince commissioners to give the 1928 waterfront structure one more chance at a new life.
The Granary Building was built in 1928 as the focal point of a once-booming egg and poultry business in Whatcom County. It has been vacant for decades, and was the property of Georgia-Pacific Corp. before that company shut down its waterfront pulp and paper operations and handed over its 137 acres of industrial land to the port in 2005.
Since that time, port officials have argued that the building is not salvageable. They say seawater seeps into its basement at high tide. In May 2012, Port Environmental Director Mike Stoner told Bellingham City Council that it would cost $14 million to make the building usable again, amounting to $533 per square foot.
Former Mayor Dan Pike and his staff favored preservation of the Granary and other old waterfront structures if possible, but current Mayor Kelli Linville and her staff now seem to agree that the Granary must go, partly because it would block the best route for street access to a redeveloped waterfront.
Developer John Blethen is not convinced.
Blethen, who has been involved in waterfront issues for years as a member of the Waterfront Futures Group, Waterfront Advisory Group, and unsuccessful port commission candidate, agrees that the $14 million price tag for a Granary rehab is a deal breaker if it is accurate. Blethen wants the port to give independent experts and would-be investors more access to the building to see if they agree that the cost would be that high.
Then, investors and developers could come to the port with their plans for reusing the building.
“The port needs to decide that they will at least explore saving this building,” Blethen said. “They could do a request for proposals before they knock the building down.”
Blethen said he and others expect to raise the issue during the public comment period at the start of the 3 p.m. Tuesday, July 17 commission meeting at Harbor Center, 1801 Roeder Ave. Commissioners are also scheduled to get an update on the building from port staff.
Blethen noted that earlier cost estimates for a Granary rehab were about $6 million, and he thinks the job would be feasible in that range. But he also said he’s not in a position to undertake the project himself.
Jim Jorgensen of Blaine has announced he will seek a third four-year term on the three-member Port of Bellingham commission.
Here is his press release:
Blaine resident Jim Jorgensen announced today that he will be seeking re-election as District Three Commissioner for the Port of Bellingham. Jim has served as a commissioner for 8 years and looks forward to the opportunity to continue representing his constituents in this capacity.
During these past two terms, Jorgensen has been deeply involved in the major decisions the Port has made affecting the development of the former Georgia-Pacific waterfront site and the Bellingham International Airport. He wants to continue working with the Port as these projects go forward, offering improved public access now and laying the foundation for future expansion.
Jim is especially dedicated to fostering partnerships between the Port and the smaller Whatcom County cities. “It’s important for us as commissioners to make personal contacts at community gatherings throughout the county,” Jorgensen said. “We need to keep the public informed and at the same time tap into the concerns and ideas that the community has to offer,” he continued.
As a long time resident of Whatcom County, and after a 40 year career as a teacher and a local businessman, Jim Jorgensen seeks to continue serving his community as District Three Commissioner for the Port of Bellingham.