By: Wendy Harris (108)

Port Unable To Protect Public Safety

• Topics: Port of Bellingham,

If the port can not construct the airport safely, should it be entrusted with dangerous waterfront cleanup work?

The port has not had a very good week. Northwest Citizen published an article revealing that the port tampered with cost estimates for alternative marina sites. Also this week, KOMO News released a very disturbing story regarding dangerous and substandard construction at the Bellingham Airport.

On Monday, KOMO News ran a story about unsafe public construction by a contractor who has multiple contracts, including Bellingham Airport and Meridian High School. A whistle-blower, a plumber working at the airport, was fired after going to the contractor and asking for corrections. He then went to KOMO News, which had other experts review the information and confirm it held merit and should be reviewed.

Bellingham Airport was at the top of the list, with improperly secured water and gas pipes overhead at passenger screening, causing danger in an earthquake. Paste used in connecting copper pipes could cause water contamination and did not meet the Uniform Plumbing Code for water quality standards. This placed water from drinking fountains at risk.

Here is what I consider the scandal. City and county inspectors signed off on this substandard work, and it was only after the KOMO news investigation that the airport was re-inspected and determined not to meet seismic safety standards. How many other problems exist that were not detected? (The whistleblower just addressed plumbing issues.)

We are relying upon the port to protect public safety throughout the waterfront cleanup process. What I observed from monitoring the Cornwall landfill interim action, which dumped dioxin-contaminated dirt on the site, was sloppy work and dangerous accidents (i.e., unearthing the buried garbage that the dioxin dirt was intended to cap, incorrectly determining the structural integrity of the site sediment, and reports of dioxin dirt spilling out during transport to the site.)

The airport incident was just another reminder that the port and the city are not adequately protecting public health and safety, and the biggest risk is created at the most toxic and dangerous site, which is the waterfront. Are they really up to the task when they do not allocate sufficient resources to ensure proper oversight and monitoring of work projects? This reflects a lack of emphasis on public protection.

A bad waterfront plan and inadequate oversight of contractor work are strong reasons to dump the current plan and start all over again… as is the repeated attempts by the port and city to game the system and undermine the public process. We need to develop a new plan that incorporates community values as its core policies.

An article was just posted by the Herald. (Ed: Friday eve, Nov 22) The port is denying problems with airport construction. An inspector from the port and another from the general contractor failed to find any problem. The port hired a third party inspector, who did find that the subcontractor failed to comply with project specifications for natural gas piping. The port is quick to point out that this problem still meets code requirements, but if code requirements were adequate, why would the project specifications be higher? The port is not going to waste money on unnecessary safety precautions. We are also told that the problem was only temporary and has now been fixed. That is a little too convenient for my comfort. However, the port deserves credit for hiring a third party inspector, and apparently will be doing so for the second issue involved water quality concerns.

In fact, the port's unwillingness to admit fault makes me wonder what else they are hiding.

About Wendy Harris

Citizen Journalist • Member since Mar 31, 2008

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