Bellingham mulls capping 60 years of waste for new park

BELLINGHAM, Wash. - The Port of Bellingham's preferred plan to clean up a 13-acre site along its waterfront for a massive new park doesn't actually include removing the 60 years' worth of waste currently there, according a 1,400-page report released last month.

Two massive mounds of dredged sediment covered in white plastic currently occupy the site, known as the Cornwall Avenue Landfill, along the city's shoreline between Boulevard Park and the former Georgia Pacific pulp mill.

The sediment sits on top of hundreds of thousands of yards of municipal and wood waste collected and disposed of since the 1950s.

"No one can access this site now," says Brian Gouran, site manager for the Port of Bellingham. "We are looking to transform this old landfill and ultimately open up one of the biggest waterfronts park in Bellingham."

However, before that can happen Gouran says major cleanup is needed to make the site safe for the public and the environment.

Earlier this month, the Port, with oversight from the Washington Department of Ecology, released a report evaluating the former landfill site. The study includes years-worth of sampling showing high levels of contaminants associated with waste collection.

"We have found hazardous waste in the soil, sediment and ground water," says Dustin Terpening, spokesperson for the Department of Ecology.

The Port and Ecology studied four alternatives for cleanup of the site, and of those four both agencies have identified a preferred option that actually includes leaving the material on the site.

"Essentially we would cap the landfill, contain it, keeping it from eroding into the Bay, and treat the ground water with sand," Gouran says.

Gouran says what's included in the capping process is a lot more complex than just laying a piece of plastic down and covering it with a few inches of dirt.

"There will be a separate layer to protect against direct contact whether people are playing or construction work is being done in the future," he says.

According to the Port and Ecology, this particular method would protect human health, wildlife and the environment, preventing any sort of contact with the hazardous material.

Capping the material on-site is also the most financially sound, according to the report. It is estimated to cost about $9.1 million compared to the more than $78 million Gouran says it would take to fully remove the waste.

Cleanup of the Cornwall Avenue Landfill is one of 12 other sites the city and the Port are working together to rezone, redesign, and redevelop as part of Bellingham's waterfront development strategy.

"There are 247 acres along the waterfront area which are in the planning process of getting changed from heavy industrial to mixed use for parks and marine trade," Gouran says.

The public has until Sept. 20 to review and comment on the cleanup options for the former landfill site. Gouran hopes work at the site will begin in 2015.