Topic: Port of Bellingham (205)

The Scrap Heap - The Real Message

Aggressive citizen involvement carried the day.

Aggressive citizen involvement carried the day.

Yes, the last of the ABC scrap metal dump has been scraped up and loaded into the Ken Haru with a cadential roaring and clattering that dominated the soundscape of an otherwise beautiful weekend. The effects of ABC were so objectionable and invasive that even those who had been engaged in opposing it were ultimately mystified about how such a thing could have appeared  on the Bellingham waterfront.

Ken Haru

Since there was no proper paper trail of ABC's approval to commence operations at the Port, nor any opportunity for citizen input into the Port’s decision to sign an extended contract with this questionable industrial entity, it is impossible to assign responsibility for the multiple evasions that were needed to set ABC in motion. Where was the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) checklist that should have predicted the inevitable air and water pollution resulting from the open storage of stupendous amounts of rusted scrap adjacent to a federal waterway? Where was the license application for scrap metal dealers that is mandatory in Washington state? Where was the record of any discussion of how this operation, which brought with it the repellent view of several mountains of rusted scrap, might fit into the new Urban Village zoning at the Log Pond site? There is no paper trail.

The Port has always presented itself as the protector of the waterfront environment, both air and aquatic. Eventually,  it became clear that ABC was polluting the ground water and was being unresponsive to Department of Ecology citations for their abysmal husbandry of the work environment. Yet there was no move by the Port to send ABC packing.

By that time, citizens had been bombarding the Port commissioners with empirical evidence about the environmental hazards of unsorted scrap metal stored on bare ground. Repeated attempts to get the attention of Blake Lyon, the Planning Director for the Port Planned Action Ordinance, (the statutes under which ABC was likely operating at the Port) were rudely rebuffed. In fact, Lyon repeatedly endorsed the erroneous zoning category which exempted them from SEPA scrutiny. Cargo, it seemed, was cargo, whether boulders, scrap metal, or plutonium.

The Scrap Heap

But the growing empirical evidence mined from the Bellingham Municipal Code, the Washington Administrative Code, and exhaustive Environmental Protection Agency studies of pollution associated with scrap metal recycling, could no longer be ignored by the Port. Evidence was being brought into the public square, especially from studies conducted at California ports with scrap recycling, that concerned Bellingham citizens, both private and those organized under The Port began to look for a way to rectify their error in judgment, without admitting they had erred. And in the end, ABC gave them an opportunity to terminate the contract.

But to reinforce the contention that we’ve not seen the last of such misbehavior from the Port, please remember that they could only send ABC packing after they’d invented a false narrative about the termination of their contract. According to their story, which may unfortunately become the official history,  an ABC ship arrived unscheduled and was forced to dock without proper permission. This egregious offense, which might have otherwise been overlooked, in this instance caused outrage at the Port, and in a flash, ABC was gone. With a little massage of the events, the Port could pretend that it had long been aware of the potential of ABC to be an environmental hazard. 

But the real message is, if citizens had not been aggressively outraged and proactive, we’d still be hearing the lunatic “music” of scrap-loading on every formerly quiet weekend. If we had not loudly opposed, we would still be trying to avoid the sight of mountains of defunct rusted machine parts perfectly situated in our View Corridors, like a raised middle finger to our Waterfront Plan.

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About David Netboy

Citizen Journalist • Bellingham • Member since Mar 09, 2023

Comments by Readers

Doug Karlberg

Jun 12, 2024

Dear Mr. Net boy.

With all due respect, I have to call BS, on your narrative. Sorry to rain on your victory lap.

First, let’s get something factually correct. ABC approached the Port of Bellingham with a proposal to load recycled steel onto ships. Much of the recycled steel came from Whatcom County residents. The Port of Bellingham offered ABC an option to load recycled steel on Bellingham’s waterfront that could be broken without penalty by either party and came with serious environmental restrictions which ABC eventually violated, and the Port kicked them out.

Additionally the Port had 72 public meetings where anybody could have objected. Nobody objected over the year and a half between public notification and the eventual signing of an agreement with ABC.

THE Port meetings are recorded and the public notice and lack of public complaint over a year and a half are indisputable. Your assertions of no public notice by the Port of Bellingham, is simply a lie. The video does not lie.

The City of Bellingham has no authority over airports, interstate highways, railroads, or seaports. Only Congress or its delegated authorities have authority over interstate commerce and the wealthy complainants on South Hill went to Bellingham City Council only to get the taxpayers to pay the legal bills for a lost cause.

Out of the 100,000 people that live in Bellingham, only a small handful of people complained, but of course they did not need the $46 an hour jobs, that our Port had created.

Bellingham has one of the worst homeless problem in the nation. Bellingham also has one of the worst affordable housing problems in the nation. Good wages could alleviate this problem and the Port creating jobs that pay $46 an hour, is nothing to criticize, unless you are rich.

Bellingham needs shelter for the homeless. Is Mr. Netboy supporting homeless shelters in his neighborhood? Are Mr. Netboy and Mr. Jones supporting low income infill housing in their neighborhoods. I hope so, because we need both. Almost 25% of Bellingham’s adults need low income housing. Please lend your support Mr. Netboy. Lead by example.

Today Bellingham’s recycled steel scrap is shipped to another community away from Dr. Netboy’s house. Bellingham’s garbage is shipped to a poor community of predominantly brown people. Dr. Netboy’s recycling is shipped to a nice community in Seattle, along with the smell, traffic, and noise. Maybe we could relocate a transfer station in Dr. Netboy’s neighborhood.

The Port of Bellingham wrote a tough contract protecting our environment, and when a company violated that contract, the Port acted quickly and cancelled the contract. The Port of Bellingham cleaned up our waterfront after GP made a environmental mess.

What did Dr. Netboy clean up?

A victory lap taking all credit, seems a little self centered, when you could have come and complained at the 72 public testimony sessions at Port of Bellingham meetings prior to the contract.

Thank God the idiots at the Port of Bellingham wrote a tough contract in the first place and had the guts to enforce it.

PS (This reference to “idiots” is tongue in cheek. The people managing our Port are not “idiots”)


D. Crook

Jun 13, 2024

Just when my ‘but what about the children’ (unhoused now, how clever), ‘you’re a racist’, what-aboutism changing of the subject and general gaslighting was running low…  DK, you diminish your own argument with such rhetoric and tactics. 


Tip Johnson

Jun 13, 2024

Karlberg, you’re full of scrap metal.  If you are going to start off by making fun of the author’s name, I suggest you reconsider swallowing your bile and not posting. Ad hominem attacks are a no no on this site, as you well know, having been scolded before. Bad boy. 

Your facile reasoning leaves out the fact that the spectacle of a port tenant taking a giant dump (literally) on the waterfront would orphan the millions of city investment in infrastructure, and possibly forever forestall the development of the waterfront plan labored over for years by the city, the port, and many citizens of each. 

As to whether it was properly noticed and administered I’ll leave alone except to say that no one, even apprised of a metal recycling contract, could be blamed for being surprised at the scale and impact of ABC’s operation. 

If its the jobs, or revenue to the port, then stick with that and make your points. The rest is insulting to the homeless, the unemployed, and even dumpsters. 

There, now I’m bad, too. 


Doug Karlberg

Jun 13, 2024

Mr. John Son,

‘Before you get your knickers in a wad, I wish you would have just asked me my intentions. That would have been respectful.

My spell check turned turned Mr. Netboy’s name into two common words; net and boy. I missed the spell check error but I would note that I refer always to either Mr. Netboy or Dr. Netboy. I missed the error, but no meant no ill intentions.

My comments were not ad hominem. When I order breakfast in Texas, I ask for ad hominem. Speak English please.

In our system of constitutional governance the people are the ultimate boss. I think there should be a special hot box in hell for politicians that hide information from their own citizens. That simply did not happen in this case at the Port of Bellingham, and insinuating that it did, is simply not true. You can go to their website and the Port has posted every meeting and every document. Our Port in the past had a history of hiding information from the public, but these Commissioners did not hide a single damn thing.

Now in our democratic republic, citizens have a role to play. Probably the most important lesson of this scrap fiasco is that the citizens did not pay attention. The citizens did not comment in any of the 72 public testimonies offered by the Port of Bellingham.

Everybody makes mistakes, but playing the blame game instead of the learning game, is just cognitive dissonance.

In Bellingham we used to deal with our waste stream within the city limits. Today we send it to other communities, and we really don’t give a damn how our garbage impacts other communities lives, as long as our waste stream does not impact our lives, .... but have another community send their waste stream to Bellingham, and the self-righteous outrage begins. We both know what principle is in play here. NIMBY.

....but we are really trying to save the children.




Carol Follett

Jun 16, 2024

Thank you for this history of the ABC scrap metal debacle and the warning that we need to be more vigilant about the Port Commission’s behaviour. I am grateful to the many Bellingham citizens who took their precious time and attention from the many demands of their days to fight this assault on our environment and community. I look forward to joining in again and more often to keep this a liveable place for future generations. 

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