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ABC Recycling Meets the Public

Tuesday, Dec, 5, will be the first time ABC Recycling has agreed to answer the public. Don’t miss this meeting. Here are the issues.

Tuesday, Dec, 5, will be the first time ABC Recycling has agreed to answer the public. Don’t miss this meeting. Here are the issues.

[Our Guest Writer, Scott Jones, is a Bellingham resident along with his family.  He is President of the South Hill Neighborhood Association. He founded and ran Beyond Clothing, a custom American made clothing company, for 17 years. He is a local advocate for Affordable Housing, Food Security, and a high quality of life for Bellingham and Whatcom residents.]




Waterfront Metal Pile    |    Birchwood Metal Shredder


Metal Shredder Meeting

ABC Recycling continues to act as more of a city-wide adversary than a good neighbor. The day before a moratorium vote that would have enabled the community time to ensure safety, ABC flooded the County Planning department with hundreds of pages of documents. With the giddiness of a middle schooler, they announced that their heavy industrial and dangerous project was vested as Heavy Industrial within a residential area. When in fact it was not.

This was only one of the latest ploys by ABC Recycling to manipulate local and state laws, along with public opinion, to their benefit. 

On December 5th, residents will have their first dedicated opportunity to press for the honest truth from ABC directly. We hope health and environmental safety are top of mind. The time is 6:30, and ABC’s chosen location is the Squalicum Boathouse at 2600 N Harbor Loop Drive. With incredible community concern and few ABC provided seats, it is recommended to arrive early.  (See meeting info here)

Waterfront Metal Pile – First, and Final Environmental Opportunity

There are also considerable updates on the Metal Pile down at the Waterfront. It is now known that no environmental review has been performed at the Waterfront Metal Pile location, the Log Pond, for the Metal Storage activity. When SEPA, Washington’s State Environmental Policy Act, kicks in for the smallest of projects, ABC, Port and City staff found illegitimate loopholes so that the noise, air and water pollution are literally unregulated.

The community now has its first opportunity to force a SEPA review of the Metal Pile. Due to the ‘significant process change’ the Department of Ecology is requiring that ABC obtain their own Stormwater Permit for the Log Pond. With documents filed in their Notice of Intent, it is figured that ABC will attempt to circumnavigate safety regulations once again. This by arguing the activity has been considered in past Environmental Impact Statements at the Waterfront. In fact, this activity is new and has not passed SEPA or EIS review. 

Please write to the Department of Ecology and demand a SEPA and EIS review (information linked here). Time is limited.

Bypassed Laws and Regulations

The State (SEPA), City of Bellingham (codes and ordinances) and even the Port have rules and laws that are to keep the community and the environment safe, along with a high quality of life for residents. One that will be top of mind for readers is a Conditional Use. 20.16.010 – “Certain uses because of their unusual size, infrequent occurrence, special requirements, possible safety hazards or detrimental effects on surrounding properties…”  The Metal Pile ticks every box on this entire list. Any one of these issues would normally have triggered Bellingham laws requiring some action by the city’s planning director, or senior planners. Yet nowhere, in any communication or available public document from the City, is a Conditional Use Permit even mentioned.

So, no Conditional Use. What about how different this is from anything else down at the Port? They couldn’t possibly compare it to other activities thus allowing it outright, right? Benign boulders on barges? No!

Somehow, the planning department found a way to designate a dangerous, polluting, long term, scrap metal storage facility as qualifying for the same land-use designation as an existing ‘barge loading terminal’ for shipping boulders.   1) dangerous instead of inert, 2) shipped by a large ocean-going ship instead of a flat bottomed barge, 3) different industrial NAICS numbers (important), 4) is massive in comparison, 5) is 25 years instead of a few, and 6) heavy industrial (not allowed) instead of light industrial. Specifically, a ‘barge loading terminal’ – BMC 20.37.420(E)(10), was chosen without recognition of how ridiculous the choice was.  Compared to past activities at the Waterfront, the new scrap metal storage facility is unequivocally new.

Or Does Maritime Use override it all?

Is it legal because of its maritime application then? This assumption would bring the Waterfront Environmental Impact Statements and the City’s Waterfront Sub-area Plan into play. Both sets of documents and analysis began as early as 2008 and were majority complete by 2013. Within both, there is significant recognition that maritime activity is important to the Waterfront. 

So far, the City, Port and ABC are contending that any activity resulting in a shipment, falls under maritime use, and is thus allowed by that “right.” Once again, this is false. All mention of ‘marine industrial’ activity in the Waterfront EIS is in conjunction with the phrase, ’light industrial.’ Once the activity has reached the level of Heavy Industrial, the activity is no longer allowed (see link here).

Further the Waterfront EIS from its inception in 2008 has stated that acceptable industrial activity would not require mitigation measures. The metal pile has dealt significant and detrimental impacts to the community and the environment, and thus is not an “acceptable industrial activity” as defined by either the Waterfront EIS or the Waterfront Sub-area Plan.

The City’s Position

When the director of our planning department, Blake Lyon, was asked what it would take to make him change the waterfront Land Use designation to something that more accurately reflected the reality on the ground, he said, “Litigation, or a judge.” 

Our Position

Instead, we hope your letters and communications to the Department of Ecology, will allow an administrative solution to this horrific situation. SEPA is a powerful tool, and the Metal Pile is an extreme environmental danger that will profoundly affect our quality of life. With your help, we will prevail to create the Waterfront that was agreed to by the City and Port, and promised to residents. But it’s going to take everyone. 

Comments by Readers

Bill McCallum

Nov 28, 2023

 Since government officials are unwilling to act, the public needs to send a message.

This is a good time to file both city and county initiatives.


David A. Swanson

Nov 28, 2023

Great work. ABC’s hubris now has a Nemesis. 


Doug Karlberg

Nov 29, 2023

As emotions run high, it is important for citizen journalists and this publication to remember that the primary goal of journalism is to inform the public of the facts in a unbiased fashion and with complete context.

Emotions make this task, easier said than done. 

Journalism has been almost destroyed in America today. Bought off by special interests. Publishing only one side of the story, in an attempt to manipulate public opinion rather than inform.

The Northwest Citizen has, and hopefully continues to provide the reading public an invaluable tool to our whole community to provide all facts clearly to the public in a non-manipulative fashion, with a goal of providing the public the public with ALL the facts good or bad, so that the public may make truly INFORMED opinions.

In the spirit of this goal, I offer the following comments:

‘This writer is passionate, but is, in my opinion misleading readers in his passion. First, his use of the word “illegitimate”. By virtually all definitions the word “illegitimate” means “not legal”.

To date I have seen zero evidence of ABC Recycling doing anything “illegitimate”, which by definition males this statement libelous. Absent hard evidence, libelous statements have no place in honest journalism, even in citizen journalism. This statement by writer Scott Jones should be removed to keep the trust and value of Northwest Citizen intact, and set an example for our community of what legitimate journalism stands for.

Our country was founded on debate. Searching for great community decisions based on hearing the best aurguments both pro and con. This system works, but there has to be some basic rules for decisions based on debate to produce a better society.

The primary rule of this debate is that one cannot make a great argument based on bad facts. Period.

Hopefully as debates occur the veteran editors at Northwest Citizen continue to challenge citizen journalists to meet the high standard of only publishing facts based aurguments.

This writer does not clearly clarify that the ABC Recycling operations at the Port of Bellingham and the proposed metal shredding operation in the County are two distinct projects. Nor does this author point out the potential risk to all Whatcom County taxpayers of rezoning land after a private company has purchased properly zoned land for their business.

This writer complains about the pre-emptive zoning moratorium proposed to County Council not passing.

This is what this writer fails to mention. The County could get sued, and lose millions if this writer got his way.

Would this writer get sued and pay. Nope.

The taxpayer would be on the hook.

Here is the issue. For example, you want to locate a business in a new location, so you buy an expensive piece of land properly zoned for your business. A bunch of wealthy residential neighbors complain and get the zoning changed, even before they have ascertained the facts of your business, relying on rumor and innuendo.

Your business suffers serious present and future economic losses. So you file a lawsuit against the government because you followed all the rules, and the government ruled against you, before gathering any facts, only listening to a handful of irate citizens often armed with erroneous facts.

The US Supreme Court has ruled on this multiple times.

The taxpayer loses. There were some on County Council who were dumb enough to fall for this.

Let’s get ALL the facts on the table for everyone to see first.



Scott Jones

Nov 29, 2023

It doesn’t take much research to prove your statements false Doug.  Lets start with the beginning of your rant.
“To date I have seen zero evidence of ABC Recycling doing anything “illegitimate”, which by definition males this statement libelous.” - Doug Karlberg - 11/29/23 - NW Citizen Comment

Where do I begin on the illegitimate nature of the Metal Pile activity as has already been mentioned in the article? Per defines the activity as heavy industrial. The Waterfront Sub-area Plan never planned for, nor allowed for, Heavy Industrial activity since the inception of the Sub-area Plan in 2013.

Lets continue. 20.37.420(E)(10) is the Land Use designation used by the Port and the City to prove the use to be Permitted. They specifically use “Barge Loading Terminal” because it allows their lie of a similar use to propegate, ‘boulder shipping’. The metal at the Waterfront is far from similar to boulders, and not loaded onto a barge. The correct Land Use designation is (F)(12). Recycling Collection and Processing Facility, which does not require processing to be accomplished to have it be the designation, as is stated in ABC misinformation statements. Further, the F12 designation takes into consideration the expectation of future shipping.

Why would they have not accepted such a designation? Because it comes with conditions. Most importantly being an enclosure and work stoppage at 7pm. Their profits couldn’t stand for it though, so they had to make up a story to undermine the entire Waterfront.

Lets talk Conditional Use. Even if Permitted, a use can be designated as Conditional, 20.16.010, if “Certain uses because of their unusual size, infrequent occurrence, special requirements, possible safety hazards or detrimental effects on surrounding properties and other similar reasons, are classified as conditional uses.

Shall we continue with SEPA? Oh, there was none. Because ABC, the Port and the City bypassed it with a magical swipe of the hand. That’s not how laws work. Just because its what they did, doesn’t make it right, or as you said ‘legal’. 

You can call them bad facts. But if they aren’t, then well they’re not just because you don’t agree with them.


Doug Karlberg

Nov 29, 2023

Mr. Jones,

Thank you for your response.

I am not aware of any authorities that agree with your legal analysis. Not the City of Bellingham. Not Whatcom County. Not the Port of Bellingham. Not the Environmental Protection Agency. Not the Washington State Department of Ecology.

The long time Port of Bellingham attorney Frank Schmelik is a nationally recognized expert in environmental law. He makes certain that the Port of Bellingham follows our laws correctly. Link:

While I mean no disrespect towards you or your legal analysis, but you do not have the qualifications to produce legal analysis that the general public should have confidence in. I respect you for reading the law, but in our legal system simply reading the law is woefully inadequate because what is written down in regulations and statutes is only the tip of the iceberg. Our legal system also utilizes “common law”, which are literally thousands of court decisions which guide interpreting the laws like you have cited above.

One cannot properly analyze whether ABC is following the laws you have cited, without a proper education in fundamental properties of our legal system, a search of all the court cases that pertain to laws like these from all states courts in the nation and federal court decisions.

Following a laypersons legal analysis, in a very specialized area of law, is inherently risky. Period.

If you are confident that ABC is indeed violating our laws, then turn them into the authorities.

You and I do not decide what is legal, the authorities do. If the authorities decide something is legal, then claiming that a company is breaking the law, regardless of your opinion, may be libel.


Scott Jones

Nov 30, 2023



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