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Bellingham waterfront developer violated state, federal environmental laws, Port says

By Rachel Showalter, The Bellingham Herald
Published: November 8, 2023, 8:14am

BELLINGHAM — Harcourt Developments, the company that recently defaulted on its contract to build three multi-million dollar residential condo buildings along Bellingham’s waterfront, is also in violation of required environmental standards, according to the Notice of Default issued by the Port of Bellingham.

Harcourt failed to comply with Contaminated Materials Management Regulations (CMMP), the notice of default indicated.

The notice, which was obtained by The Bellingham Herald, was issued because Harcourt did not meet its schedule for completion.

The notice states that Harcourt improperly moved and stored contaminated soil from its construction site to the Port’s Boardmill Building property that was left over from the Georgia-Pacific West Pulp and Paper Mill, violating state and federal environmental laws.

“Harcourt has excavated material from beneath an existing and approved environmental cap and has stockpiled that material on Port property for more than two (2) years, in violation of the CMMP. Moreover, (the Washington State Department of) Ecology has not approved the reuse of this material in any area outside of the project area from which it was generated,” the notice states.

The CMMP outlines procedures for managing potentially contaminated materials such as soil, debris and groundwater, generated by construction-related activities during redevelopment of the Georgia-Pacific West site.

Altogether, the notice includes eight total defaults on the part of Harcourt.

The CMMP allows for impacted soil from development projects to be temporarily stockpiled for no more than two years, with subsequent reuse beneath new capping constructed within the project area or as part of other projects within the site. The Department of Ecology is required to approve the reuse of any material that is placed on site outside of the project area from which it is generated.

The Port is considering legal recourse against Harcourt to get the materials removed, according to Port of Bellingham spokesperson Mike Hogan.

“Harcourt has not yet acted to clear the contaminated soil piles and the Port is considering all of its options when it comes to the stockpiles,” Hogan said in a statement to The Herald.

The Port currently estimates the removal and disposal costs of the contaminated soil to be about $4.8 million, according to the Notice.

Harcourt has not responded to repeated requests for comment from The Herald.

But in a letter sent to the Port from Harcourt on Nov. 2 responding to the notice of default, Harcourt denied the Port’s findings.

Regarding the alleged violations of state and federal environmental laws, Harcourt stated in its response letter that the development company had been in contact with the Port and the Department of Ecology regarding a proposal for the treatment and disposal of the soil.

“It is disingenuous for the Port to now raise this as an issue when it has been unwilling to respond to the proposal,” the letter states.

The letter states that Harcourt intends to “work in good faith for a resolution” within the 30 days following the Notice of Default on Oct. 20.

“Harcourt looks forward to meeting with the Port to resolve any misunderstanding,” the letter states.

The Port notified Harcourt in September that “none of its stockpiled material could remain on the Port’s Boardmill Building property beyond October 19, 2023.”

But as of Monday, Nov. 6, Harcourt had not removed any of the materials, continuing to violate several environmental regulations and standards, according to the Port.

“The Port will be formally notifying Ecology of Harcourt’s violation of the environmental agreements to which it is subject as well as its violations of MTCA,” the Notice states.

The Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA) is Washington’s environmental cleanup law. MTCA funds and directs the investigation and cleanup of sites that are contaminated by hazardous substances.

The notice also states that Harcourt is liable for the impacts of its stockpiles of contaminated soil as Harcourt owned the soil once it assumed ownership of its property.

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Harcourt was expected to complete its three residential buildings by the end of this year, but now has no timeline for completion and has lost development rights for additional property on Bellingham’s waterfront, Hogan told The Herald.

The company was originally selected in 2015 as the lead developer for about 19 acres of the Waterfront District. Their development agreement with the Port was previously restated and amended in 2021 after Harcourt did not meet the originally agreed-upon timing and performance requirements for development.