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Port: ABC Recycling has 30 days to meet environmental requirements — or leave

Company docked barge on Bellingham waterfront without permission

The ABC Recycling site at Bellingham's waterfront
ABC Recycling's scrap metal operation is shown on Bellingham's waterfront in June, 2023. The company has 30 days to comply with environmental requirements, or it must pick up its piles of scrap metal and leave, Port of Bellingham officials say. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
By Ralph Schwartz Local Government Reporter

Port of Bellingham officials notified ABC Recycling Wednesday, Feb. 21 that the company was in default of its lease for failing to meet environmental requirements, and for other violations related to its waterfront ship-loading operation.

The Canadian recycling company, which stores scrap metal near the shipping terminal and loads it onto vessels for export, has 30 days to correct three separate violations of its 15-year lease with the port, or it will be required to vacate the waterfront, according to the port’s Feb. 21 “notice of default” to ABC Recycling.

Some of the environmental violations appeared upon visual inspection to be “egregious,” the notice stated. In some cases, stormwater pollution levels were more than 30 times above legal limits.

Company officials said they anticipate meeting all the requirements outlined in the notice and continuing to operate within the port’s log pond and shipping terminal areas.

In addition to environmental violations, the port said ABC Recycling has inadequate insurance coverage against damage and other liabilities.

In a third violation, ABC Recycling docked a barge at a dock at Colony Wharf on Feb. 17 without prior approval. ABC had asked the port for permission to berth a barge from Nanaimo loaded with scrap iron and steel, but the port had refused. 

“I apologize for the mix-up and misunderstanding on the weekend with our barge,” ABC Recycling Chief Executive Officer David Yochlowitz told port officials Feb. 22 in an email. “We did not realize Colony Wharf was part of the Port of Bellingham operations.”

At the port’s request, ABC Recycling moved its barge out of Bellingham and berthed it in Seattle, ABC Community Relations Manager Riley Sweeney said.

The barge arrived in Bellingham to be off-loaded onto the next ABC export vessel, which could arrive in late March, Sweeney said.

At a port commission meeting on Feb. 20, port Executive Director Rob Fix said his agency was not allowing ABC vessels to dock at its properties until the company satisfies the environmental conditions of its lease.

Fix added that the barge, which likely had no pollution controls, posed an environmental hazard to Whatcom Waterway because it could remain there for “several months.”

“The rain falls on it, and then it goes out into the bay,” Fix said. “I think that’s what would have been happening here.”

The port accuses ABC of neglecting proper stormwater controls. Water samples have been found with excessive levels of pollution ever since ABC started leasing its storage area near the shipping terminal, in mid-2022, the port’s notice said.

Data from quarterly stormwater samples taken at the shipping terminal since 2017 show pollution levels exceeding limits for turbidity, suspended solids, copper, zinc and lead. All of these except lead have been found at levels more than 15 times higher than the allowed limit, after ABC’s arrival.

Suspended solids are considered a pollutant because they can settle into sediment and harm bottom-dwelling marine life or fish habitat.

To correct the environmental violations, the port told ABC in its notice that the stormwater samples taken from the shipping terminal in the first quarter of 2024 must all be below the allowable limits — something that hasn’t happened since ABC set up shop.

Inspectors from the state Department of Ecology who visited the site within the first months of ABC’s lease “observed petroleum sheen, emulsified oil and petroleum spills/leaks on the ground and in stormwater puddles” around the company’s scrap metal piles, the notice said.

“Ecology described the sheen and emulsified oil as ‘egregious,'” the letter continued.

The scrap metal is stored at the log pond adjacent to the shipping terminal, and stormwater pollution from the log pond is not a direct concern. That runoff is collected and stored in the port’s aerated stabilization basin, so it never reaches Bellingham Bay.

The problem, as outlined by Ecology in the port’s notice, was that trucks were tracking pollutants from the log pond to the shipping terminal during ship-loading.

ABC Recycling officials said they are taking a number of steps to improve stormwater protections, including reducing the amount of toxic sediments deposited along the waterway by its trucks.

“The exceedances have gone down from the first ship to the latest ship,” which was loaded in September 2023, Sweeney said. “We’ve gotten better. This is a learning curve.”

He added ABC Recycling is drafting a “full response” to the port’s notice, “detailing the steps they will take to address the issues raised by the port.”

Yochlowitz, in his email, assured port officials the company would be in compliance and avoid eviction.

“We intend to go above and beyond what is required to ensure that our operation is in full compliance with our lease agreement and will collaborate fully with you to meet the expectations of the regulators,” Yochlowitz said.

This story was updated at 2:59 p.m. Feb. 27 with information from the Port of Bellingham’s Feb. 21 “notice of default” to ABC Recycling. This story was updated again at 11:29 a.m. Feb. 29 with more details about the level of pollutants at the shipping terminal.

Ralph Schwartz is CDN’s local government reporter; reach him at; 360-922-3090 ext. 107.

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