Cleaning up: Removing contaminated sediment at the Bellingham Shipping Terminal

(Please note: the start date of the dredging work has been revised from an earlier version of this post.)

2023 was a busy year for advancing cleanup of the Bellingham waterfront, and 2024 promises more of the same as dredging of contaminated sediment is expected to begin later this month at the Bellingham Shipping Terminal.

With federal funding, the Port of Bellingham is making improvements to the terminal, including dredging about 22,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment to restore water depths for ship access. This dredging will also accomplish part of the Ecology-required cleanup action for this portion of the Whatcom Waterway site.

The Whatcom Waterway site is one of 12 Bellingham Bay cleanup sites coordinated through the Bellingham Bay Demonstration Pilot. The pilot is a bay-wide, multi-agency effort to clean up contamination, control pollution sources and restore habitat, with consideration for land and water uses.

Past industry along the waterfront contaminated in-water sediment. This included discharges from the former Georgia-Pacific chlor-alkali plant, and releases of contaminants from wood waste products from historic log rafting activities, and pulp mill wastewater discharges.

As a result of these past industrial activities, studies conducted as part of the cleanup process have shown mercury, 4-methyphenol, and dioxin and furan compounds in sediment at concentrations that exceed the requirements of the state’s cleanup law, the     Model Toxics Control Act, and which must be addressed.

When is the work happening?

To protect migrating juvenile salmon, the in-water dredging work will occur at two separate times, January to mid-February and August to October. The winter dredging work is expected to begin in early February 2024. The Port’s non-cleanup related work at the terminal is expected to occur between April 2024 and September 2025. During these timeframes, you will see workers, construction equipment and trucks in the area.

Map of Whatcom Waterway cleanup site showing Phase 1 and Phase 2 Site Areas as well as the monitored natural recovery areas.

What about cleaning up the rest of the site?

Phase 1 Site Areas of the Whatcom Waterway site were cleaned up in 2016. The Bellingham Shipping Terminal dredging work is within Phase 2 Site Areas. Due to the federal funding received by the Port, we expedited the terminal dredging work. 

Engineering design of the cleanup action for remaining Phase 2 Site Areas is underway, with construction activities anticipated to begin in 2025 and last several years.