Bellingham Waterfront Redevelopment

Reconnecting the community and salmon to Bellingham’s working waterfront.

An industrial history

The Bellingham Waterfront was a seat of industrial activity for more than 100 years, an era that ended with the closure of the Georgia-Pacific tissue mill in 2007. Industries left behind a legacy of toxic pollutants in the soil, sediment, and water — including mercury, nickel, dioxins, petroleum byproducts, and more. The shoreline was also physically altered by armoring off beaches, dredging up sediment, and filling in parts of the natural shoreline to build on.

See the Department of Ecology’s map of the 12 contaminated sites in Bellingham Bay and where each one is in the cleanup process.

Until very recently, this industrial development also resulted in the central waterfront area being largely off-limits to the public ever since, despite the fact that the City and Port of Bellingham currently own the land. While it’s easy to feel separated from this legacy, it affects places Bellingham residents know and love. Even local favorite Boulevard Park was home to a coal-fired gas plant that left heavy metals and fossil fuel byproducts.

The toxic contamination and heavily modified shoreline make the waterfront hazardous to young salmon, which need clean, protected, and connected nearshore habitat to grow and make it to the open ocean. The decline of eelgrass beds and gravely beaches which act as nurseries for forage fish (which salmon need to eat) have put an additional stress on our dwindling salmon populations. The massive Chinook salmon of the past, which make up 80% of endangered Southern Resident orcas’ food, have virtually disappeared; their numbers and size considerably diminished.

Bellingham’s waterfront gives our community a unique opportunity to make something positive from former industrial areas. As we’ve seen from the completed cleanup at Waypoint Park in 2018 — complete with some young salmon habitat, new businesses, and a playground — it can be done.

The citizen-led cleanup initiative

In 1988, Washingtonians passed a toxic waste cleanup law into effect, known as the Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA, pronounced “mott-cuh”), which streamlined the cleanup process and funded a large portion of our state’s more than 6,000 toxic cleanup sites with a tax on hazardous chemicals. Since then, demand for toxic cleanup funding has greatly expanded in communities statewide. Washington passed a law in 2019 that secures stable funding for MTCA — paid by polluters — to meet growing needs and fund core pollution prevention and cleanup programs.

Each of the 14 MTCA waterfront toxic sites in Whatcom County are in different stages of their cleanup process, but when completed, we’ll have a renewed waterfront that’s more livable and safe for humans, and restored critical habitat for native organisms. But this will only happen if we stay engaged in the cleanup process. Thankfully, the process has plenty of opportunities for you to speak up in favor of enhancing habitat, creating public parks, and whatever else you want YOUR waterfront to look like. Check the Take Action tab of this page.

Our vision for a clean, working waterfront

This place belongs to our community, the residents of Bellingham and Whatcom County. The land is both privately and publicly owned, the cleanup is financed by our tax dollars, and the roads, sewers and other infrastructure will be paid for by residents. As taxpayers, we are financing this special place’s future. We’re helping guide the cleanup process so the end result meets the needs of the whole community, not just a few private industries. We advocate for a redeveloped waterfront that:

  • Provides lots of public access and educational opportunities,
  • Strengthens our local economy with green waterfront business and well-paying jobs, like local solar panel production,
  • Provides living-wage, affordable housing,
  • Creates viable habitat for salmon and forage fish that Tribal fisheries, the commercial fishing sector, and endangered orcas rely on,
  • Includes infrastructure that recognizes the historical use of the land by local Tribes and treaty rights.

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Find upcoming site tours and workshops on the cleanup process on our Events page. These tours are funded by a Public Participation Grant from the Department of Ecology.

We will post public comment opportunities here as they happen for local toxic cleanup sites. There are none at this time.

Stop pollution with your smartphone: Water Reporter app

Potential sources of pollution aren’t always obvious. Is something on the ground near water that seems like it shouldn’t be? Is something other than water making its way down a storm drain? Even if you aren’t sure, you can post a photo of anything that seems like it shouldn’t be going into our waterways! Learn more about how the app works and download our guide for spotting pollution — anytime, anywhere. Download the Water Reporter app on Android or iOS.

Download the guide

Get in touch with our North Sound Baykeeper team for more!

Eleanor Hines, North Sound Baykeeper
Phone: (360) 733-8307 ext. 213 
Email: EleanorH@re-sources.org

Kirsten McDade, Pollution Prevention Specialist
Phone: (360) 220-0556
Email: KirstenM@re-sources.org

 

Our Work

BlueGreen Alliance

“Jobs versus environmental protection” is a false choice. RE Sources is a partner of Washington BlueGreen Alliance, a national organization dedicated to creating living-wage jobs and keeping the living systems we all rely on thriving in the process.

Waterfront tours

RE Sources makes it easy for the public to get involved in waterfront redevelopment. We host regular tours of the 14 waterfront cleanup sites in Bellingham and Blaine, alongside experts from Washington Department of Ecology and the Port of Bellingham to answer questions and help people make impactful comments on each step of the cleanup plans. Find upcoming tours on our Events page. These tours are funded by a Public Participation Grant from the Department of Ecology.

Watch a video about a recent cleanup site tour.

Providing expert technical input

Our staff scientists and policy experts also give detailed technical comments about what needs to be addressed for each site, helping inform the agencies responsible for oversight of the cleanup process. Contact North Sound Baykeeper Eleanor Hines for info about recent technical comments.