BELLINGHAM - The plan to turn an old city dump site into a waterfront park is nearing the end of the regulatory process, and the Washington Department of Ecology is taking public comment on final plans for dealing with contamination there.
Ecology prepared the plan as part of a legal agreement with the city of Bellingham, the Port of Bellingham, and the Washington Department of Natural Resources. The public is invited to comment on the plan from June 2 to July 2.
City residents' trash was deposited on the property, now unofficially called Cornwall Beach Park, from 1953 to 1965. The proposed plan calls for covering the dump site with enough clean dirt to prevent any contaminants from getting in touch with Bellingham Bay marine life or human users of the park that the city plans to build.
The park is still a few years away. Once the cleanup plan is approved, the actual engineering work and permitting process will take another year, and the work itself could be done no sooner than 2015 and 2016.
To the north of the dump site is city-owned acreage once occupied by the R.G. Haley wood treatment plant. It, too, will need significant environmental work, but the plans for that task are at an earlier stage in the process and are not expected to be ready until early 2015.
Ecology has tentatively approved the $9.1 million cleanup plan at the old dump site between Boulevard Park and the former Georgia-Pacific Corp. pulp mill. An estimated 295,000 cubic yards of municipal waste and 94,000 cubic yards of wood waste from an earlier lumber mill are buried in the ground.
Also on the site are some huge mounds composed of 47,000 cubic yards of material that the Port of Bellingham dredged out of Squalicum Harbor to maintain water depth there. The mounds have been covered with thick white plastic.
State and port officials acknowledge that the dredged material contains low levels of dioxin, a carcinogen. That fact has provoked ongoing criticism of the plan from some city residents. But city, state and port officials insist that this material will be safely sealed beneath clean soil and a thick plastic liner to keep it out of the environment.
The plan also calls for depositing a layer of clean sand at the edge of the property, where debris from the dump is now exposed to the bay.
Both the City Council and Port of Bellingham commissioners have unanimously approved the plan.
At a May 19 City Council meeting before the vote was taken, Assistant City Attorney Amy Kraham told council members that the cost of removing the waste at the site for disposal elsewhere would be about $80 million, and nowhere near that amount of money is available to do the job.
Years ago, an older dump along the shores of Whatcom Creek was capped in Maritime Heritage Park to stop contamination that was seeping into the creek.
Council members seemed convinced that the Cornwall cleanup plan is making the best of a bad situation.
"This has the potential of being one of the great spots in Bellingham," council member Terry Bornemann said.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED
-- Ecology is hosting a public meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, June 5, at the Bellingham Public Library lecture room. Ecology representatives will be present to provide details and answer questions.
-- Send comments to Mark Adams, Ecology site manager: email@example.com or 3190 160th Ave. SE, Bellevue, WA 98008-5452.
-- Get full details: Dept. of Ecology webpage.