Sep 11, 2022

#Washington state USA: My comments to Dept of Ecology re "GPWest" Cleanup

July 29, 2018 photo by Liz Marshall

September 7, 2022 photo by Liz Marshall

It seems inauspicious to me that there is frequent deference to other departments within various municipal, state, and federal agencies (e.g. USCG, USACE, see also Ports Primer 3.1 by the EPA) any of whom may also defer to private entities.  I commonly receive responses similar to "The other issues raised are not within Ecology's cleanup authority." And so it goes. Serious concerns are shuffled around. I would expect more big-picture, collaborative, team-like, integrative, serious responsibility taken among authority leaders to meet vital sustainability and public health requirements.

In July 2022 the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) published their response summary to comments submitted by members of the public during a phase of the ongoing decontamination project of this former wood products site.  When completed a multi-use complex will be built on it.

According to Ecology, "The cleanup of the Lignin Operable Unit addresses potentially harmful levels of contamination in order to protect people, plants and animals."

The following link goes to Ecology's page "Cleanup and Tank Search" regarding the Former site of Georgia-Pacific LLC's lignin operations which is referred to as GPWest.

That page was last updated in August 2022 and includes a link to Response to Comments Summary. The comment I contributed is included in its original form in an appendix to that Summary, as were the other contributors' submittals. In the main body mine was split into sections and responses were provided to each. That version of my comments did not publish smoothly and readers may not be inspired to scroll to the end to see it in its original form. There are several phases in a long remediate & rebuild process while several opportunities for citizens to comment are provided along the way. No critical decisions were planned to be made as a result of this particular round of public input.

My original submission dated July 19, 2022 was as follows:

It is always great to invite community input, especially in this locale since there are many experts in Bellingham.

I am not an expert, but do enjoy cleanups wherever they are achieved. I reside across the way from the lignin site. As restoring habitats for fish, birds, and other aquatic life is part of the plan in what Ecology and the Port are doing, it will be great to see this parcel’s decontamination - especially as it is surprisingly scheduled to be completed by the end of this year.

The Port, City, Chamber of Commerce and others are driven primarily to make money from Port enterprise. I would be more inclined to prioritize tree preservation and additional canopy cover, shoreline enhancement, wildlife corridors and other natural aspects, but this type of prioritization has not held sway.

I have observed tall conifer trees being removed from various Port parcels and it is often done in Spring. It would be nice to preserve tall native trees, but if they are absolutely unwanted by those in charge, then it should at least not be done during nesting season. I have a question about the neighboring conifers along Cornwall Avenue and on the property where the Opportunity Council building is. Does anyone know whether they will be protected during these actions or what destiny for those tall trees in future?

Birding tourism is a money-making opportunity that could be added to cruises, bike parks, markets, marinas, hotels, condos, affordable housing, concerts, fireworks, parades, and races. There are impressive statistics on how much revenue can be realized from activities and sales related to birding. Moreover, with killer heat waves in North America and Europe (along with local officials’ ambition to bring in more residents and businesses) people will flock here in ever-increasing droves. They will want the promised prosperity and cool weather. Many nature lovers will be among them. 

First we would need to care about birds, of course, and the plants, fish, tidal pools, and insects and so on which provide them sustenance. All of this is dependent on viable ground and groundwater. It seems to me that we are taking natural foundation services for granted.

I also wonder whether building affordable housing in a brownfield/tsunami tideland is actual compassion for low-income and formerly homeless people. It is easy to understand the financial value for investors and developers; my guess is they could make equal profit building away from the water’s edge. A “resilient city” could weave it all together as is happening in NYC and other cities. I saw this good news on LinkedIn, for example:

I saw a tourist’s YouTube video of the 2005 tsunami in Indonesia. Such a disaster can happen extraordinarily fast and without warning. Living next to a major railway is also fraught with difficulty. I live further away from the tracks than residents, children, and business people in the planned complex will be. I experience beaucoup stress from noise, rumblings, and very special dust. A train wreck, like earthquakes, might also be a risk.

Cornwall Avenue street and sidewalk areas have not been adequately cleaned for over two years. If there is a specter of minimal sanitation and more drug-impaired people wandering the streets and/or tenting on Port property and surroundings, while everything ramps up from cement trucks, boulder shipping, government actions at the Cornwall Avenue former landfill and R.G. Haley sites, and perpetual railroad traffic, then there are increased levels of risks to public safety and property associated with these things.

We need more canopy cover, open space, wildlife corridors, and revitalization of vital things. The Secretary General of the United Nations was quoted in a July 22 article as saying ”Humanity faces a collective suicide” by not cleaning up their fossil fuel dependence etc. on an overheated earth. I agree with him.

Liz Marshall