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News / Northwest

Department of Ecology poised to begin $160M cleanup of Bellingham inlet

I & J Waterway has been contaminated by nearby industry and runoff from 1985 waterfront fire

By Robert Mittendorf, The Bellingham Herald
Published: July 7, 2024, 5:20pm

Sampling and dredging begin this month on the I & J Waterway, a polluted inlet on Bellingham’s industrial waterfront.

It’s part of a long-planned cleanup at one of Bellingham’s “dirty dozen” contaminated sites, the state Department of Ecology said in an online statement last week.

“One portion of the site is entering the cleanup phase, with construction crews dredging contaminated sediment. Another portion is in an earlier engineering design phase, with scientists sampling sediment as they assess the type and extent of contamination,” Ecology said Tuesday.

The Port of Bellingham is spearheading cleanup efforts in with the city of Bellingham and the state Department of Natural Resources, Ecology spokeswoman Kristen Forkeutis told The Bellingham Herald in an email.

Costs are estimated at $160 million, Forkeutis said, “but may change following completion of engineering design and permitting. The port is eligible for reimbursement of up to half of their costs from Ecology through the state’s remedial action grant program. This funding helps to pay to clean up publicly owned sites. The Legislature funds the grant program with revenues from a tax on hazardous substances.”

The I & J Waterway is a 2.5-acre channel between Hilton Avenue and Bellwether Way. It’s called that because it is at the south end of both I and J streets in Bellingham’s Lettered Streets neighborhood.

Over time, the inlet off Bellingham Bay has been contaminated by nearby industry — including a pulp and tissue mill, a rock-crushing plant, and frozen food and seafood processors — and runoff from a massive 1985 waterfront fire, according to previous Bellingham Herald reporting.

Dredging operations will remove about 18,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from the area adjacent to Bornstein Seafoods.

“This work will require the removal and replacement of an existing dock as well as the installation of a new sheet pile bulkhead,” Ecology said. “Sampling activities will last about a month and in-water construction activities are expected to conclude by mid-February.”

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