Massive overhaul of Bellingham waterfront underway

After two decades of planning, some of the most visible cleanup projects along Bellingham’s contaminated waterfront are making progress.

From dredging to demolition, hundreds of workers are currently preparing downtown sites near the former Georgia-Pacific Corp. pulp and tissue operations for rebuilding, which could start within a few years.

The efforts represent tens of millions of dollars in projects planned for and approved by the Port of Bellingham, city of Bellingham, Washington state Department of Ecology, and other agencies, and represent one of the largest waterfront cleanup efforts in the state.

Whatcom Waterway

Anyone who has made it down to Roeder Avenue, avoiding the construction on Chestnut Bay Bridge, may have noticed equipment sitting in the Whatcom Waterway between Central Avenue and C Street.

One of the more notable pieces: a giant orange scoop that will be used to dredge mercury-laden sediment out of the water.

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A worker stands near dredging equipment stationed in the middle of Whatcom Waterway on Aug. 12, 2015. Crews will clean up historic contamination in the downtown Bellingham channel this year. Samantha Wohlfeil The Bellingham Herald

In addition to dredging, workers will remove some creosote-treated wood, take out concrete and asphalt rubble from areas along the shore, and remove three straight up-and-down bulkheads and replace them with flatter shorelines.

Timeline: American Construction Company of Tacoma started dredging work Aug. 26. After some prep work is done to make sure the shoreline is stabilized, dredging is expected to take place 24 hours a day, 6 days a week. The project is expected to wrap up in spring or summer 2016.

Cost: American Construction was awarded a $30.6 million contract. The cleanup is paid for by state toxic cleanup grants and an environmental insurance policy held by the port.

By the numbers:

159,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment will be pulled out of the waterway and shipped out by barge, then rail, to a landfill in Oregon. That’s like more than 15,000 dump trucks of material.

126,000 cubic yards of clean material placed.

263 tons of creosote-treated timber to be removed.

4,300 square feet of shoreline and intertidal areas opened up by removing unused structures.

Demolition of digester and chipper buildings

Chipping bins and the bark and chipper building at the old Georgia Pacific waterfront, in Bellingham, Aug. 13, 2015. The building is scheduled for demolition by January 2016. Philip A. Dwyer The Bellingham Herald

Rhine Demolition of Tacoma will work to remove two of the last remaining structures from the G-P operation: the bark and chipper building where logs were stripped of bark and made into chips, and the digester building, where the chips were cooked in steam and acid in massive digester tanks to be turned into pulp. The pulp was used to make paper products.

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Port spokesman Mike Hogan stares up a digester tank inside the digester plant at the old Georgia Pacific waterfront, in Bellingham, Aug. 13, 2015. Philip A. Dwyer The Bellingham Herald

Timeline: Between now and January 2016, the two buildings will come down.

How: Though port staff members said Sept. 16 that a demolition style hadn’t formally been decided yet, the general thinking was that the buildings would come down piece by piece in a chiseling approach.

Cost: $1.1 million contract awarded to Rhine. About $374,000 of the removal of the digester building should be covered by a brownfield grant.

By the numbers:

230 feet: the height of the digester building, which is the tallest remaining structure on the waterfront.

95 percent of the materials will be reused or recycled. Bricks and concrete will be used to fill and cap other areas on the site. Steel can be recycled.

3 digester tanks are planned to be saved, though the port has no plans yet for reusing them in the redevelopment of the waterfront, and it is not guaranteed they will be reusable.

1 spherical acid tank that sits right next to the digester building also will be saved.

1 chipper and motor will be preserved.

GP pulp and tissue mill area

The northern 31 acres of the 74-acre site are called the “pulp and tissue mill area.”

The pulp and tissue area is contaminated by metals, petroleum, volatile organic compounds and dioxin/furans, and contains acidic areas, according to Ecology.

Aspect Consulting will design a plan for capping contamination with soil, asphalt or buildings to eliminate the possibility people could come in contact with pollutants. Much of the site is already capped with existing foundations.

Timeline: This fall, design work will start for the cleanup of the first half of the G-P West site.

Cleanup of the pulp and tissue area is expected to start in 2016.

Granary Building

The Granary building, as seen July 30, 2015. Evan Abell The Bellingham Herald

The Granary Building at Central and Roeder avenues is the first project that Harcourt Developments, the selected developer for the first portion of the site, will undertake.

By contract, the Dublin-based developer has until 2019 to revamp the 1920s-built Granary, but work is expected to start much sooner than that.

Bellingham resident John Reid, a consultant partner with Belfast-based RMI Architects, has been working for Harcourt along with the port and city of Bellingham to make sure the project gets off the ground.

“I think the port, city and Harcourt are all in agreement the Granary project is more than the Granary project,” Reid said. “It’s one project, one team.”

That means working together to make sure road access is there, infrastructure is in place, and the first phase of the new Whatcom Waterway Park can get started at the same time the building is remodeled.

“If these can be joined, that completes a single project,” Reid said. “We’re working together really well to try and achieve that.”

If all goes well, the idea is to get the building permit application for the Granary submitted to the city before the end of December.

Harcourt and RMI will work with local companies for the revamp, Reid said.

In addition to remodeling the inside of the existing structure, the hope is to add an extension to the west side of the building.

“We’re hoping to do that and salvage timber and glass and maybe include some balconies and roof terracing to take advantage of those absolutely gorgeous views out to Lummi Island,” Reid said.

The building will be designed for commercial storefronts and public access.

The logo that once adorned the side of the tower could be replaced, Reid said, and there possibly could be a brick red roof to visually connect with the Old City Hall building in the Bellingham skyline.

“We’re very keen to link the building as much into the community and to its past,” Reid said. “The aspiration is to bring the building back into active use to get people back down to the waterfront to enjoy the building and new facilities that will be available down there as fast as possible.”

Waterfront aerial
A bird’s-eye view of the waterfront as seen on Sept. 19, 2013. File The Bellingham Herald

Breakwater Trail

The city and port opened a new section of trail linking the waterfront trail that runs around the Bellwether with the breakwater of the wastewater treatment lagoon, which is also called the ASB.

A new 3,200-foot section of the trail opened near the end of Hilton Avenue, with parking for 10 vehicles and access to a small “pocket” beach.

The new portion of trail runs along the rim of the lagoon, which is fenced to keep people from the polluted water inside of it.

For now, the trail stops partway along the breakwater, but the city and port are working with the state to get permission to open up the rest of the path.

Reach Samantha Wohlfeil at 360-715-2274 or samantha.wohlfeil@bellinghamherald.com. Follow her on Twitter at @BhamPolitics.


For a look inside the Granary Building on Bellingham’s waterfront, view this photo gallery from a 2012 tour with city officials and local residents.