Op-Ed

Bellingham Bay toxics cleanups have begun. Now the state is making that harder.

Two geese watch over three goslings as the feed from the edge of the Squalicum Creek water way. The revitalization of Bellingham’s downtown waterfront would not be happening without Model Toxics Control Act cleanup grants. House Bill 2182 creates a way to stabilize Model Toxics Control Act revenues through a tiered-tax on the import of hazardous substances.
Two geese watch over three goslings as the feed from the edge of the Squalicum Creek water way. The revitalization of Bellingham’s downtown waterfront would not be happening without Model Toxics Control Act cleanup grants. House Bill 2182 creates a way to stabilize Model Toxics Control Act revenues through a tiered-tax on the import of hazardous substances. Bellingham Herald file

Bellingham is at an exciting stage in our waterfront development. After decades of industrial use, investigations and studies, we have begun major environmental cleanups. The first significant projects are now complete including the $32 million cleanup of the Whatcom Waterway and a $2 million environmental cap on over 20 acres of Georgia Pacific’s former pulp and tissue mill property.

Cleaning our waterfront has stimulated over $35 million in public and private investment since the beginning of last year alone. The adaptive reuse of the iconic Granary Building is well underway. Construction on the first roads and park in the downtown waterfront will begin this fall. All American Marine recently moved into a new $10 million boat manufacturing facility. Itek Energy has started construction on a new solar panel manufacturing plant which will add 125 jobs to an increasingly vibrant downtown core.

Cleanup grants

This revitalization of Bellingham’s downtown waterfront would not be happening without Model Toxics Control Act cleanup grants. The Model Toxics Control Act was passed by Washington voters in 1988 to clean-up hazardous waste sites and prevent future hazards. To conduct cleanup and prevention work, voters authorized a small tax on the import of oil and other hazardous substances. Some of this tax revenue is used to provide matching grants to local governments as an incentive to help overcome the high cost of cleaning up legacy contamination and return blighted properties to productive use.

Model Toxics Control Act cleanup grants have proven to be the state’s most powerful economic development tool, but the fund is in jeopardy. Just a few years ago, Model Toxics Control Act revenues reached an all-time high as the price of oil spiked. Unfortunately, the extra money was used to pay for over $50 million of ongoing general fund programs. This means over $50 million less money is available each year to support cleanup projects that protect the environment and bring economic development. Crude oil prices have since dropped from a high of $104 per barrel in 2014 to about $50 per barrel today. Model Toxics Control Act is now unable to support all funding requests for cleanup projects, and the variability in oil prices has led to significant uncertainty in how much money will be available to assist local governments each year.

House Bill 2182

While the city and port are committed to cleaning up contaminated sites, we need help from the state of Washington to do it. This is why we are supporting House Bill 2182 that creates a way to stabilize Model Toxics Control Act revenues through a tiered-tax on the import of hazardous substances. The existing tax rate would start slightly higher and then drop after revenues needed to stabilize the Model Toxics Control Act account have been collected. Stabilizing Model Toxics Control Act revenues will provide predictability to the cleanup program and help meet the state’s 10-year projected grant need of more than $800 million to support work at locally owned cleanup sites.

Model Toxics Control Act is now unable to support all funding requests for cleanup projects, and the variability in oil prices has led to significant uncertainty in how much money will be available to assist local governments each year.

Earlier this year, the port awarded a $12.5 million contract to Whatcom County-based IMCO General Construction to clean-up historic contamination at Fairhaven Shipyard, which will improve marine habitat, modernize aging infrastructure, protect over 100 working waterfront jobs and allow a long-time port tenant to expand operations and hire new employees. We have also used Model Toxics Control Act funds to transform the vacant and contaminated Weldcraft Boatyard into a vibrant part of Bellingham’s marine trades economy with more than 30 working waterfront jobs. Cleanup grants were also essential for transforming the Holly Street Landfill, located near Maritime Heritage Park and the adjacent fish hatchery, into a city center park with public access to the water. Salmon habitat was also restored. These are the type of projects that are in jeopardy if the legislature does not stabilize Model Toxics Control Act revenues and fund cleanup projects.

Work to be done

The port and city have made significant progress on cleaning up Bellingham’s waterfront, but there is much work to be done. Multi-million dollar cleanup projects at the R.G. Haley site and Cornwall Avenue landfill are needed to protect the environment and transform this area into the city’s largest waterfront park. At the Central Waterfront cleanup site, environmental work is needed to prevent historic contamination from entering Bellingham Bay and expand our working waterfront. Model Toxics Control Act cleanup grants are needed at a dozen state-listed sites in Bellingham Bay and many more throughout Whatcom County to realize a wide range of environmental, economic and community benefits.

State legislators representing Whatcom County have consistently fought to use Model Toxics Control Act revenues as intended to clean-up hazardous waste sites and they deserve our thanks. The passage of House Bill 2182 will help stabilize the Model Toxics Control Act revenues and provide predictability to local governments. A diverse group of stakeholders, from ReSources for Sustainable Communities to the Working Waterfront Coalition of Whatcom County, recognize the widespread benefits of cleanup projects and strongly support our efforts. If House Bill 2182 passes, the port and city will work with our elected officials to make sure these dollars are directed towards cleanup projects and continue to work with Ecology to make sure they are spent wisely.

What we can do

We’re asking residents and businesses to call our legislators and ask them to support HB 2182. We must use Model Toxics Control Act revenues as voters intended and fund cleanups for the benefit of the environment, the economy, and the community. Without Model Toxics Control Act funds, our cleanups will stall, our waterways and land will remain contaminated and marine trades work will go elsewhere.

Kelli Linville is mayor of Bellingham and Dan Robbins is president of the Port of Bellingham Commission.

Legislator contacts

  • State Sen. Doug Ericksen, 42nd District, 360-786-7682, doug.ericksen@leg.wa.gov
  • State Sen. Kevin Ranker, 40th District, 360-786-7678, kevin.ranker@leg.wa.gov
  • Rep. Vincent Buys, 42nd District, 360-786-7854, vincent.buys@leg.wa.gov
  • Rep. Luanne Van Werven, 42nd District, 360-786-7980, luanne.vanwerven@leg.wa.gov
  • Rep. Kristine Lytton, 40th District, 360-786-7800, kristine.lytton@leg.wa.gov
  • Rep. Jeff Morris, 40th District, 360-786-7970, jeff.morris@leg.wa.gov
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