The Other Side of the Scrap Pile

Long-time Port watcher, Doug Karlberg, suggests a different point of view on the waterfront scrap pile.

Long-time Port watcher, Doug Karlberg, suggests a different point of view on the waterfront scrap pile.

I’d like to respond to David Netboy’s article of April 1, 2023, regarding the Port of Bellingham. Since I don’t remember Mr. Netboy ever commenting on the Bellingham Comprehensive Plan, I suspect he moved to Bellingham after that public discussion took place. I did not come from another region. Whatcom County has been my home for 65 years. As a long-time Port of Bellingham observer and often a critic of the Port myself, maybe I can shed some light on this writer’s complaints. 

I suggest the writer read the Waterfront District Sub-Area Plan for this waterfront site more carefully. The shipping terminal was always planned to remain a shipping terminal. Mr. Netboy may be surprised by this because he did not read the Comprehensive Plan, which has been agreed to by many, many parties, including the City of Bellingham and community groups. It took forever to negotiate this agreement.

Quote David Netboy:  “The extent to which this operation is antithetical to the stated purposes of the Waterfront Plan seems glaring.”

Quote Comprehensive Plan: “Shipping Terminal Area: The existing deep-water port in this 25-acre area will be maintained for shipping, port and industrial related opportunities.”

This is a direct quote from the Comprehensive Plan. The Port is honoring the Comprehensive Plan. If you would like to read the Plan, here is a link:  

All readers should check out pages 35 and 36, which lays out what is permitted where. This plan was agreed to by the majority of Whatcom County.

A few thoughts: 

One: The Port’s waterfront cleanup projects have actually left the water, land, and air cleaner than when Georgia Pacific operated a pulp mill and chlorine plant on this land. (See photo above) If Mr. Netboy remembered the stench and noise of Georgia Pacific, I doubt he would complain about what the waterfront is now.

Two: The current Port Commissioners inherited agreements produced by previous commissioners and were bound to honor these agreements. The current commissioners have done a damn good job considering some of the ill-conceived plans they inherited.

Three: The shipping terminal has been right where it is now for a century, and it is not going anywhere because it is the only land appropriate for a shipping terminal. Land that is appropriate for a shipping terminal is quite rare, and it improves the economic well-being of the whole region. Further, the shipping terminal is a solid green solution for shipping. A barge or ship burns one third the fossil fuel per ton compared to a semi-truck. There is lots of land for luxury houses with magnificent views. Please do not destroy good paying jobs just because you want a view, and don’t need a job.

Four: Industrial land, like the shipping terminal, produces the best blue-collar jobs, which are important to the youth of our community who do not attend university.

Five: The piles of steel are at the shipping terminal, not in front of the Waterfront District. That scrap comes from Everson, Lynden, and Ferndale and all goes through the regional shipping terminal at the Port of Bellingham. Scrap is a dirty business, yes, but we play a role in making these messes. Scrapyards cleanup our messes, our messes, not somebody else’s mess. Today’s scrapyards are highly regulated and are not the scrapyards of prior generations. 

If Mr. Netboy is really concerned about unsightly activities around the new Downtown Waterfront District, maybe Mr. Netboy could call Mayor Fleetwood and get the homeless off City property on Cornwall Street.

Six: We all generate waste and the adults at the Port must balance the books. Every dollar generated at the Port is a dollar that the Port can use to reduce taxes.

Seven: The Comp Plan was a balanced plan that rededicated a third of the GP property to the public for recreation and housing.

Eight: If you live in a nice house with a great view overlooking the shipping terminal, and you do not like working people in your view making noise while they work, then move. Welcome to Bellingham. The citizens here vetted this Comp Plan. These negotiations took years to complete, and I doubt you will find many people who are excited to reopen them for you.

About Doug Karlberg

Citizen Journalist • Belingham • Member since Apr 08, 2008

Doug has been a fisherman for over four decades, working out of Bellingham and Alaska. He focuses his civic energy on Port of Bellingham - on their policies and practices. [...]

Comments by Readers

Lisa E. Papp

Apr 14, 2023

Thank you for this excellent article about our working Port, Doug! You are absolutely correct with all of your points. An incredible amount of time, money, and work went into creating the Bellingham Comprehensive Plan and Waterfront District Sub-Area Plan. My husband, James K. Papp, is the former CEO of Transmarine Navigation, a large west coast shipping agency with 10 offices, including a Bellingham office. James, Transmarine, and many other shipping industry workers are very familiar with the need to continue to have working Ports…many well-paying, family wage jobs are created and supported and necessary services are provided.

I agree 100% with your final point! My comment is added in brackets. “If you live in a nice house with a great view overlooking the shipping terminal [or in one of the over-priced units in the to-be-completed-someday, Harcourt-developed ugly building next to the Acid Ball in Waypoint Park], and you do not like working people in your view making noise while they work, then move. Welcome to Bellingham. The citizens here vetted this Comp Plan. These negotiations took years to complete, and I doubt you will find many people who are excited to reopen them for you.”


Tom Dohman

Apr 14, 2023

I appreciate reading the comments reflecting both sides of this issue.  I do not live anywhere close to the Port of Bellingham property being discussed but am generally aware of the scrap activity.

One aspect that is not appreciated in “The Other Side of the Scrap Pile” is the verbiage that seeks to demean and belittle the comments made by the author of the original article “Port Priorities Subvert Their Own Plan”.  Straw man assertions also take away from discussion of the bonafide issues of concern to many.

Statements like “he did not read the Comprehensive Plan” sound like an assumption worded as confirmed fact”; the pejorative labeling of someone’s perspective because they haven’t lived here as long as I have seems unnecessary (and offends many who weren’t born & raised here, i.e. lots of us).  I understand that those who have worked collaboratively on detailed plans for this area can become  irritated by what they perceive as uninformed criticism; methinks it’s better to educate than denigrate.

I’m not sure there was any suggestion in the first article to close down the shipping terminal & kick those blue collar workers down the road so we can build more luxury homes with million-dollar views.  That sounds like a straw man argument to me.  Similar in some respects to the decades-long battle waged by residents of South Hill & Fairhaven to curtail the disturbing BNSF train horns, the concerns raised regarding excessive noise & potential pollutants generated by the scrap operation seem to be legitimate issues regarding livability (sleep deprivation, anyone?).

Perhaps the comment that Today’s scrapyards are highly regulated and are not the scrapyards of prior generations could apply equally to shipping terminals in close proximity to city residents who have a similar expectation of some reasonable accommodation of concerns.  Win /Win approaches seem like they would be a better fit for the current Port of Bellingham and well into the future.


Scott Jones

Apr 15, 2023

I find it sad that the conversation has gone to ‘for’ and ‘against’. Doug Karlberg’s arguments can be seen as simply a smoke screen for a project that of course can be better and may become far worse. He also seems to be more personally concerned with the previous author than with the topic at hand. 
There is much confusion about what is happening at the Shipping Terminal, and what is to happen. Questions asked to the Port are being looked into, but not even they seem to have many of the answers. Are we, Bellingham residents concerned with the environment and our economy, not to be informed about the possible dangers of water, air and noise pollution so close to our homes and work? Can and should we ask for better? I hope your answer is yes.


Carol Follett

Apr 15, 2023

Although I understand your point, Doug, I appreciate what others have said here about keeping the dialogue open.

You have lived here for 65 years; I have lived here for 34, but there are those who will inherit this place who are not yet arrived. Our understanding of what may be best and healthiest for them changes with our growth in knowledge. Perhaps a plan agreed to by some (not necessarily most and definately not all) years ago, is not best for now or the future. Our traditions of consumption, production, and transport are on the verge of radical changes. Perhaps we need to think more about that.

“According to the Future Consumer Index, which surveys over 21,000 consumers in 27 countries, 54% of consumers have seen changes in their values and the way that they look at life. By learning to live with less, many consumers have come to adopt simpler and less consumerist values. Technology platforms and new business models are enabling this with a growing number of enabling this with a growing number of reselling, rental and repair services allowing consumers to moderate their consumption without compromising their lifestyles. These changes in consumer priorities now need to be factored in.” 

Employment is indeed a concern, a big concern. Maybe we should be thinking of ways we can sustainably, healthily, looking to the future, do that. 

“Today, consumers are just as interested in corporate social responsibility (CSR) as they are in a company’s products and services. This is especially good news for eco-minded entrepreneurs.”



Thomas Gilmore

May 31, 2023

How many good paying jobs has ABC Recycling actually created in Bellingham?

What do these trucking and recycling jobs pay per hour?

What worker benefits are included?

Are these ABC Recycling jobs unionized?

Why was a 15 year contract granted to ABC Recycling? Why not a 5 or 10 year contract?

Has a clean up bond been posted for when the ABC contract ends in 2037?

What does ABC Recycling pay the Port Authority for the use if this land?

Is the rental fee adjusted annually? In not annually, how often is it renegotiated?

What environmental safe guards have the port staff negotiate into the contract?

Do other ABC Recycling operations have noise reduction clauses in their operating contracts?




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