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Cleanup of a former gas plant will limit use of Bellingham’s most popular park

A proposed $9.3 million cleanup of the former South State Street Manufactured Gas Plant at the north end of Boulevard Park would restrict people’s access to part of the park, including the shore, and the nearby South Bay Trail.
A proposed $9.3 million cleanup of the former South State Street Manufactured Gas Plant at the north end of Boulevard Park would restrict people’s access to part of the park, including the shore, and the nearby South Bay Trail. krelyea@bhamherald.com

A proposed cleanup of a former gas manufacturing plant would temporarily restrict access to the north end of Boulevard Park, a popular green space with beautiful views of Bellingham Bay.

The $9.3 million cleanup also would affect people’s access to part of Bellingham Bay and the South Bay Trail, which runs from downtown Bellingham into Boulevard Park.

Details of the preferred cleanup and its site on 6 acres at the north end of the park will be discussed during a public meeting at 6 p.m. Oct. 30 at Bellingham City Hall.

The work is expected to begin in 2021, following additional public review.

“The cleanup will take place on land and in water. These actions will require limiting access to portions of the park and bay during cleanup construction,” said John Guenther, site manager with the Washington state Department of Ecology, in an email to The Bellingham Herald.

How public access would be restricted during the project won’t be known until later in the process, according to officials from the City of Bellingham and Ecology.

Visitors to the park — Boulevard gets about 1 million of them a year, the city said — would be able to use the green space, the bay and the trail again after the project has been completed.

Work site map.jpg
This map shows a proposed cleanup of the former South State Street Manufactured Gas Plant at the north end of Boulevard Park. The project would be on land and in water. Washington state Department of Ecology Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

The South State Street Manufactured Gas Plant made gas from coal for home heating and cooking from the 1890s to the late 1940s.

Chemical contaminants left behind by the plant, which continued operating in the 1950s, are the focus of a cleanup effort being overseen by Ecology and involving the city and Puget Sound Energy.

Other sources of contamination could come from previous lumber mill and railroad operations at the site, Ecology said.

PSE is involved because its predecessor, Bellingham Bay Gas Co., was first to operate the plant when it opened in the 1890s.

In 1975, the city acquired most of the gas plant’s property for a park. The state and BNSF Railway Co. also have some property in the contaminated area, which is off Bayview Drive and South State Street.

Contaminants found at the site include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, benzene, naphthalene, cyanide, selenium and lead, according to Ecology. The contamination was found in the sediment, soil and groundwater in concentrations that exceed standards to protect the environment and human health.

Ecology is overseeing the proposed project, which includes:

  • removing a concrete gas-holding tank and its contents. The above-ground tank is 50 feet in diameter and 20 feet high, upslope from the main green space at the park‘s north end. It’s currently covered in ivy.
  • capping contaminated ground with soil and covering it with grass and plants. How thick that soil cap would be is expected to be determined next year. “Capping provides the necessary environmental protection, is permanent and is not cost prohibitive,” Guenther said.
  • covering sediment near the shoreline with a sand cap to prevent exposure to contaminants.

The proposal also included rocks to protect the shoreline and prevent erosion, but Ecology said rocks already were put into place for such purposes during an interim cleanup in 2017 and more weren’t expected, for now.

The city can be reimbursed for up to half of its cost of the cleanup from a state grant funded by a tax on hazardous substances.

People enjoy a September sunset from Boulevard Park on the bay in Bellingham, Wash.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

If you go

What: A public meeting about the proposal to clean up the site of the former South State Street Manufactured Gas Plant at the north end of Boulevard Park.

When: 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 30.

Where: Bellingham City Hall, 210 Lottie St.

Details: Go online to ecology.wa.gov and type “South State Street Manufactured Gas Plant” into the search window to find a report on the proposed cleanup. Public comment on the proposal will be accepted through Nov. 6.

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