BLAINE — Washington state’s environmental remediation process at two sites along the Blaine Harbor has begun after decades of toxic contamination and ongoing ecological concerns.
The two sites, known as the Sea K Fish site and the Westman Marine site, were once home to fish processing facilities and boat maintenance and repair operations. The facilities were operated with little oversight or regulation in the 1950s, and as a result, created significant environmental hazards for the soils and groundwater around the harbor. Oil and fuel spills were common, and dust and debris from the boat maintenance yard ended up in the waters along the harbor.
In recent years, the Port of Bellingham has assumed responsibility for the site, and has since conducted significant testing and investigation to understand the extent of the damages.
“The Port of Bellingham has been very aggressive in working towards cleaning these sites up, trying to preserve marine trade in Blaine Harbor and working with the Department of Ecology to affect these cleanups,” said Cris Matthews, who works in Ecology’s toxics cleanup program. “I’ve been really happy with the progress they’ve made. It doesn’t happen overnight.”
Matthews participated in a walking tour of the cleanup sites Wednesday, May 24. The tour was organized by local environmental nonprofit RE Sources, which received public participation grant funds from Ecology to host the information session.
The cleanup process at the sites will follow the state’s Model Toxic Control Act process, meaning it will undergo significant investigation, engineering design, public participation and review prior to completing the renovation.
RE Sources Lead Scientist Eleanor Hines explains the process of the cleanup project. (Finn Wendt/Cascadia Daily News)
The Sea K Fish site is still in the early phases of the cleanup, beginning with an “interim action,” or partial cleanup, which will remove petroleum-contaminated soil that continues to seep into the water around the harbor.
“There’s an ongoing sheen on the water, so the primary goal is to stop that by eliminating the source,” said Ben Howard, the environmental project manager for the Port of Bellingham. “The main goal is to restore the environment, and to help put the property into a better [shape] and continue the marine trades and industrial use.”
At the Sea K Fish site, Ecology plans to remove an existing pier area to access some of the contaminated sediment. Because it’s an interim project, though, leadership isn’t entirely sure what the final cleanup will look like.
“We have a good idea of what the contamination is, where it exists and by removing that contamination right away … we’ll be able to stave off [further contamination],” Matthews said. “The final cleanup will have to take place over a longer period of time, but we believe that by removing that directly from the environment right now, most of the problem will go away.”
The interim action, which Ecology says will begin sometime next year, is expected to cost about $7.5 million, though the Port of Bellingham is eligible for reimbursement of up to 50% of the costs through the state’s Remedial Action Grant program.
Ben Howard, environmental project manager at the Port of Bellingham, gestures to a contamination site during a May 24 tour. (Finn Wendt/Cascadia Daily News)
At the Westman Marine site, located across the Blaine Harbor from the Sea K Fish facility, Ecology has a draft cleanup action plan prepared for public comment, designed to address contamination in in-water sediment and “upland” soil, or soil above the harbor water.
The Westman cleanup project is slated to begin around the same time as the Sea K Fish interim cleanup project, at some point later this year or early next year. Design and cleanup will cost about $14 million, but as with the Sea K Fish site, the port is eligible for up to 50% reimbursement for the costs.
“In both of these cases, contamination is known, it’s present and it’s above cleanup levels for a variety of different types of contaminants,” Matthews said after the tour Wednesday. “Both sites deserve and require immediate attention.”
The 45-day public comment period for the cleanup projects, hosted by Ecology, opened Monday, May 22, and will close Wednesday, July 5.