Scrap metal shipping from Port dock ends this summer

Port of Bellingham commissioners terminate last 13 years of ABC Recycling lease

Port of Bellingham commissioners terminate last 13 years of ABC Recycling lease

This afternoon, March 25, 2024, Port of Bellingham Commissioners voted 3-0 to terminate the remaining 13 years on ABC Recycling’s lease for shipping scrap metal from the Bellingham waterfront. The Port meeting was packed with an overflowing chamber of residents there to support the vote, plus an unknown number watching via Zoom. This large attendance was very unusual for a Port meeting and speaks to the concern throughout our community.  Commissioner Ken Bell presided, showing respect for the audience and for each person who commented.  The meeting lasted about an hour.

Approximately 20 citizens spoke during the comment periods, with every speaker endorsing the termination. While all comments were politely stated, most had sharp criticism of the Port for entering into the leases in the first place. At the end of the meeting, commissioners Ken Bell and Bobby Briscoe admitted regret for entering the leases at all. Commissioner Michael Shepard lectured the audience - an audience loaded with civic activists and savvy citizens - about how they should participate and what behavior was acceptable. Bobby Briscoe chastised one citizen for criticizing Port Executive Director Rob Fix - criticism that the citizen presented in a civil manner. Bobby said it “rankled” him. In all, the audience was more respectful than two of the commissioners. 

Last week, Port and ABC lawyers and managers met to discuss the situation.  From that meeting came a mutual decision to end the leases and shipping of scrap metal from the waterfront dock. Importantly, no more scrap will be received, and all scrap currently piled on the waterfront will be gone by June 30. Several audience members had pointed questions about the final cleanup of contaminated ground once the scrap is gone, and how this scenario may be prevented in the future. The commissioners pledged to do better. As a long time Port watcher, I’ve certainly heard that before, including on other major leases and projects going back almost 40 years.  

No report on this meeting should gloss over the ineptitude of the Port staff’s ability  to manage the microphones, displays, phone connections, and Zoom participants, who were literally forgotten periodically. Further, unidentified voices making obscene comments occurred randomly throughout the meeting - to chuckles from the audience. Staff was unable to determine the source or location of the speakers.  

And then there is Bobby Briscoe; this, no doubt, is about to “rankle” him. Bobby attends port meetings remotely for extended periods, months, at a time - that is, by phone. To clarify, this means he does not attend the meetings, because in fact, connecting by phone is not attending a meeting, regardless of how the Port spins it. He “phoned it in” today, in fact, and today was a good example of how and why this does not work. Bobby had to be coached every time he spoke and when the vote was called. He remarked at one point, he could not understand what was being said in the meeting. Indeed, the meeting was delayed 10 minutes while staff struggled to establish his phone connection; they seemed mystified why Bobby could not hear them. Supposedly, Bobby is out fishing.  

There is an obvious solution for this continuum of poor decision making and expensive ventures by the Port. We need a five (5) commissioner Port commission. The three current commissioners have touted themselves as the best team of commissioners ever at our Port. After today’s display, they are obviously right back there with commissions of the past: mending a huge judgement error and promising to do better. This scenario has been repeating for decades.  

Why doesn’t three work? Because throughout history, triumvirates have only worked so long as all agree on the mission and practices. As soon as there is a difficult decision, they break down. No corporation has only three directors or board members. The conventional minimum is five - and many contend it is the best number for grounded and intelligent decisions. Councils of seven and nine are also fine, but beyond that, the decision making becomes cumbersome.  

We as a community should start now to have an initiative on the November ballot for a five commissioner Port of Bellingham. The details are easy - one each from each county council district.  

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About John Servais

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Fairhaven, Washington USA • Member since Feb 26, 2008

John started Northwest Citizen in 1995 to inform fellow citizens of serious local political issues that the Bellingham Herald was ignoring. With the help of donors from the beginning, he has [...]

Comments by Readers

David A. Swanson

Mar 25, 2024

“Expecto Patronum” is a powerful spell used to ward off Dementors. We are in the debt of those who applied it so skillfully. 

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David Netboy

Mar 26, 2024

Don’t be fooled by the “admissions of regret” expressed by Commissioners Briscoe and Bell.  The Wicked Witch is far from dead. The surprising turnaround in the fortunes of ABC Recycling, which had managed to withstand increasing citizen criticism and even outrage at the obvious harms of their activities at the Port, seems to have been largely based on a few recent unforced errors and “own goals” quite separate from our major concerns.  To emphasize this point, the meeting ended with what I’d call an “Exculpatory Catechism” that seemed scripted to be dismissive of our critiques and to hold the Port harmless from the ghastly year of environmental contamination, noise pollution and failures to comply with even the most rudimentary requirements necessary for a business to operate at the questionable site leased to them by the Commissioners.

Mr. Shepard engaged in a version of the following “dialogue” with the port attorney (I don’t have the recording or transcript so this is an approximation) Shepard: “Is this termination based on the Noise complaint?”  Attorney: “NO”  Shepard: “Does the termination have anything to do with zoning?” Attorney: “NO”...

Apparently Mr Shepard and fellow commissioners live in a universe free of causal relations. The stealth zoning decision that assigned ABC Recycling to a Land Use category that misrepresented their actual activities but carried an automatic SEPA waiver allowed them to go forward contaminating their wastewater with lead, copper and zinc and disseminating particulate matter into the surrounding air where it could drift the short distance to the children’s beach/playground at the Granary and settle out on the decks of the newly built condominiums.  

If SEPA had been triggered on the arrival of ABC—they were not even required to fill out a SEPA check list— the well-known (to all but the Commissioners) environmental hazards of scrap metal recycling would have been immediately obvious.  And the slight-of-hand used by the COB Planning Director to massage the definitions of “maritime related” and “storage” so that they might apply to a scrap metal recycling business would have been seen for what they were.

One’s pessimism might be somewhat mitigated by the fact that everything is now out in the open.  There is no pandemic to allow the Port Commissioners to transact and further such business out of the public gaze.  And I seriously doubt that we shall let them get away with such a travesty again.

 

David Netboy

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Bob Worley

Mar 26, 2024

John,

John, thank you for the excellent synopsis. We absolutely should have five Port commissioners. Like John I’ve also been a 40 year observer of Port commissioner’s mishaps. The poisonous ex GP lagoon is a case in point. Many years ago Port promised to clean up and turn the lagoon into moorage which is much needed. Nothing happening I can see. Our family has been waiting decades for old GP site to be developed and lower Cornwall cleaned up for more much needed and beneficial  parkland for downtown. We need a Port commission with vision that excludes the old GP site as heavy industry.  Bellingham has changed commissioners, that property worth way more for other uses than heavy industry. Please support an initiative for five commissioners. Way better chance of getting  at least one with vision for a future Bellingham.

Bob Worley

 

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Mike Sennett

Mar 27, 2024


Waiting for Doug Karlberg to weigh in…....maybe to join the Mea Culpa Chorus.

Five commissioners could dilute the any job is a win attitude the Port has.

Bellingham fumbled away a great chance to dilute the current troika when Kelly Krieger ran for Commissioner and certain Democrats helped incinerate her campaign and kept Ken Bell in office.

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Tip Johnson

Mar 27, 2024
It appears that bacterial iron oxide can react with mercury compounds, as noted in this article, “Mercury mobilization and speciation linked to bacterial iron oxide and sulfate reduction: A column study to mimic reactive transfer in an anoxic aquifer”. 
I’m no chemist and am not intimately familiar with the contents of the ASB where ABC’s stormwater was deposited, but I’m pretty sure mercury and sulfur are present. Are there potential issues with metals rich stormwater reacting with the basin contents?  I don’t think mobilizing mercury is a good idea.
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