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Neighbors, county leadership spar over potential metal shredder

ABC Recycling touts processing facility off Marine Drive is beneficial

Community members listen to the panelists answer questions on Wednesday
Community members listen to the panelists answer questions on Wednesday
By Julia Lerner Staff Reporter

ABC Recycling representatives and local leaders faced angry community members Wednesday night during an informational meeting to answer questions about a potential metal shredding facility to be built just north of Bellingham city limits.

The crowd, made up of residents from the South Hill, Alderwood and Birchwood neighborhoods, sought details about the facility’s operations during the two-hour meeting. But details remain scarce as the company has not yet submitted a proposal to the county.

The Birchwood Neighborhood Association hosted the meeting and invited a panel of local leaders, including Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood, County Executive Satpal Sidhu and County Council Chairman Barry Buchanan to answer questions. 

Two representatives from ABC also attended, though they were not invited to participate as part of the panel: the company’s Community Relations Manager Riley Sweeney and Steve Shinn. 

Several speakers were interrupted while trying to answer questions because of shouting from the audience, estimated to be about 150 people.

“We don’t want it here,” one attendee yelled repeatedly at the panel. “We don’t want it.” 

The metal shredding facility would be constructed just off Marine Drive near Locust Beach, in an area already zoned for “Heavy Impact Industry,” such as the cement plant that previously occupied the land and the refineries currently located at Cherry Point.

photo  Cars drive past the site of the proposed metal shredder on Marine Drive. (Finn Wendt/Cascadia Daily News)  

If constructed, it will allow the Canada-based ABC to shred metal, like de-polluted cars and appliances, into tiny scraps making it easier to recycle. 

ABC employees said the facility would be beneficial for the region, and able to dramatically reduce the noise at the Port property while creating sustainable “green-collar” jobs. 

“Bringing this facility online will actually make our operations at the port quieter,” Sweeney said. 

Sweeney said the giant hunks of metal at the company’s Port of Bellingham property — a major source of consternation for South Hill residents due to noise and environmental pollution — could be processed into much smaller, easier-to-manage chunks for transport. 

Even without the details — the size of the facility, when it might be opened, how the company plans to mitigate environmental issues — neighbors say they don’t want a facility like that in the region. 

“It’s just mind-blowing about how bad all of this is,” Scott Jones, a member of the South Hill Neighborhood Association, said after the meeting. “Nothing about this is good … A foreign corporation benefits, and we get almost nothing.”  

ABC Recycling is western Canada’s largest scrap metal recycling company.

Local leadership stressed they couldn’t speak about the plans for the facility until ABC actually submits a proposal, much to the chagrin of neighbors. 

photo  An audience member writes down a question for the panelists. The panel received over 100 questions. (Finn Wendt/Cascadia Daily News)  

The company has already faced significant backlash for its Bellingham waterfront property, where it hosts a giant metal scrap pile and periodically loads that scrap into barges and boats. The process of loading that metal happens a couple of times per year, but can be loud and disruptive to neighbors, Jones said. 

“It’s the same company and the same product coming in and going out,” Jones said. “Even if the noise is mitigated, it possibly just brings out new issues. Possibly even more, bigger issues.” 

photo  ABC Recycling Community Relations Manager Riley Sweeney answers questions. (Finn Wendt/Cascadia Daily News)  

Those issues, Jones said, include environmental degradation from shredded metal dust, increased truck traffic, the increased potential for fires and the impact on nearby homes. 

Sweeney said ABC is already planning for all of those concerns and more. 

Though the details are still vague, Sweeney said ABC will enclose the shredder inside a “sound-attenuating” building, meaning it’ll be “mostly soundproof.” The post-shredding processes will also be inside buildings. 

Those buildings, he said, should help mitigate any sort of emissions, and that on-site staff will “make sure that those nasty bits don’t go where they’re not supposed to go.” 

“First and foremost, we’re a recycling company,” he said Friday, Sept. 1. “We’re trying to save the planet, not hurt it, so we take these concerns very seriously.” 

At this point, Sweeney estimates the facility will be ready to start shredding in 2025, “provided everything goes smoothly,” and said ABC will “meet or exceed” all requirements from the City of Bellingham and Whatcom County, as well as state partners like the Department of Ecology and the Northwest Clean Air Agency. 

When operational, Sweeney said neighbors can expect to see an average of three to five trucks per hour toting metal in and out of the facility — and he said ABC plans to operate regular business hours. 

Until an application to build the facility is filed with county leadership, though, Sidhu told attendees there isn’t much he can say to assuage their concerns. 

“We will take into consideration the citizens’ concerns and our concerns,” he said. “We want to do what our citizens want. We want to do what is safe.” 

Jones said he’s looking forward to getting more answers from local leadership down the road. 

“We’re making sure that we’re asking the questions that may not be answerable yet,” Jones said. “I have to question why we are accepting this, and if we have to accept it and if we don’t have to accept it, what do we have to do about it?” 

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