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ABC Recycling’s scrap metal plan: 30 jobs at what cost?

CDN guest commentary from ABC spokesman avoided key details

An excavator places scrap metal in a dump truck Sept. 21 at the Bellingham waterfront. A guest commentary about ABC Recycling's plans for the operation left out critical information
An excavator places scrap metal in a dump truck Sept. 21 at the Bellingham waterfront. A guest commentary about ABC Recycling's plans for the operation left out critical information
By Susan Salyer and Thomas Neumann, Guest Writers

This editorial is in response to guest writer, Riley Sweeney, the community relations and government affairs manager for ABC Recycling (CDN, Dec. 4, 2023). We are Bellingham residents and would like to respond to Mr. Sweeney’s points. 

1. Metal recycling is an essential part of confronting the climate crisis. 

No one is debating the importance of recycling and the reuse of products. However, one must take into account how items are recycled. Driving trucks from British Columbia down Interstate 5, through the streets of Bellingham for eventual delivery to the Port where metal is left for loading, is not carbon neutral.

After the metal has been stored at the Port of Bellingham, ABC brings a ship in, it is loaded for seven to 10 days (while the ship idles the whole time). The ship travels to Asia where the metal is taken to smelters which use coal for fuel.  

Climate crisis is a worldwide problem, when we pollute other areas, we are contributing to the crisis. Trucks from B.C., idling ships using dark crude to travel thousands of miles and then using coal to smelter is not helping the climate and does not make ABC Recycling a “green” job creator. 

2. The metal at the port is iron and steel. 

This is true, but what ABC is not telling us, the metal also contains lead, zinc and copper. ABC has been cited by the Washington State Department of Ecology with several violations including runoff from the site even stating “the petroleum sheen and emulsified petroleum throughout the site was egregious.” After a year of operation, ABC has still not fulfilled all the requirements and has only recently applied for a stormwater permit.

3. Our facilities are part of taking responsibility for local materials. 

ABC is headquartered in British Columbia. Seventy five percent of materials originate there and will continue as the B.C. population is five times more than ours. 

Their planned metal shredder will create pollution for neighborhoods; one study found those who live close to or work at shredders have increased rates of cancer. Other health impacts also have been reported in neighborhoods containing metal shredding facilities, at least one of which has been shut down because of environmental and health concerns.

Yes, ABC may be providing up to 30 Bellingham jobs including the port and the shredder, but at what cost to the workers and neighborhoods?

Mr. Sweeney states ABC provides steady work for 60 members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. These members oversee the loading of the ships which come in sporadically, certainly not enough to support 60 full-time employees of the ILWU. 

4. ABC Recycling is part of Bellingham’s proud maritime tradition. 

The “Proud Maritime Tradition” can also remind us of the destruction of the native fisheries of the tribes, the result of heavy metal pollution of the bay by industrial activity at the port. 

5. We operate thanks to the robust public process that culminated in the Waterfront District Sub-Area Plan. 

ABC operates in spite of the waterfront plan. 

The waterfront plan never considered heavy industrial activity at the waterfront. ABC has never submitted to a State Environmental Protection review (SEPA) which would look at the impact of their business. 

ABC is a redux of Georgia-Pacific that residents and the state have spent millions of dollars to clean up only to have another loud, dirty industry on the same site for the next 15 years with an option to extend for a total of 25 years. 

Very few ports are given the chance to redesign their waterfront the way Bellingham was given. No one envisioned mountains of rusted metal piled up close to the log pond, within view of hiking trails and close to businesses and housing. This industry and statement is a slap to the face for all those Bellingham residents who spent hours envisioning what the Bellingham waterfront could be.

6. We are investing in Bellingham and strive to be good partners.

ABC is investing in ABC with a goal of being one of the largest exporters of metal in the country.

Mr. Sweeney states ABC has a strong record of safety and environmental protection, yet ABC has never built or owned a shredding facility. Bellingham will be the guinea pigs.

With partners such as this, “the future of our city” is looking suspiciously like our toxic past. We must prevent this!

The authors are retired medical professionals and residents of Bellngham’s South Hill neighborhood.

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