Port promises to dampen loading noise in wake of complaints - Salish Current
January 26, 2023
Port promises to dampen loading noise in wake of complaints
Riley Weeks

Giant heaps of scrap metal to be shipped out of the Port of Bellingham for recycling dwarf the cranes that will load them onto barges. Noise from the site, about six blocks from the north end of Western Washington University’s campus on South Hill, has drawn complaints from residents. The Port has responded with promises to dampen the din going forward. (Amy Nelson / Salish Current photo © 2023)

January 26, 2023
Port promises to dampen loading noise in wake of complaints
Riley Weeks

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The Port of Bellingham’s marine shipping terminal is quiet for now, but community members in the South Hill neighborhood are still making noise in anticipation of future events. 

Over 30 community members attended Wednesday night’s neighborhood association meeting, with many voicing concern over the din created by scrap-metal loading work. (Read more: “Ship-loading noise tests Bellingham port’s neighborliness” Salish Current, Jan. 13, 2023)

A contract between the Port and ABC Recycling signed last August includes the work of loading scrap metal from the Port’s dock onto a barge several hundred feet long, to be shipped overseas and recycled. Shipments will occur every six to eight weeks and typically last for around four consecutive days and nights, according to Rob Fix, executive director of the Port. 

When the first shipment was loaded in October, the Port received a flood of phone calls and emails from community members who complained about hearing the metal being loaded until at least 3 a.m. 

Port commissioner Michael Shepard, who attended a neighborhood association meeting in November, was joined at Wednesday’s meeting by commissioners Ken Bell and Bobby Briscoe and Fix. For over an hour, Port officials gave updates and answered South Hill community resident questions regarding noise. 

Residents and Port officials met to sort through work-noise balance issues, as a scrap-metal loading project is bringing community jobs as well as neighborhood disruption. (Riley Weeks photo © 2023)

The next shipment of scrap metal is scheduled to be loaded in the second or third week of February, and ABC Recycling intends to purchase and stack five 40-foot-wide and 14-feet-high shipping containers around the loading site to dampen the noise. 

A second noise study will be conducted over a period of several nights during the next loading time. The previous study in October measured noise decibels only over one night. As with the previous study, several noise monitors will be placed in and around the South Hill neighborhood. 

Finally, as some complaints received by the Port also addressed concerns over dust and debris raised by the operation, ABC Recycling has agreed to use atomizers to mitigate the worst of the dust on dry days. 

“It’s an important thing for us that you know that we care,” commissioner Bell said.

Economic development mandate

But Port staff also made it clear that the work to revitalize the terminal and bring jobs to Bellingham would not be deterred by noise complaints. As Shepard noted, the Port is mandated by the state constitution to promote sustainable economic development, among other duties. 

Several International Longshoreman and Warehousemen Union (ILWU) workers also spoke, stressing their reliance on Port jobs. Currently, 18 union laborers are employed at the Port of Bellingham shipping terminal, but there are plans to hire more part-time workers and bring the workforce closer to 30, according to ILWU Local 7 Business Manager Joe Schmidt. 

ILWU worker Mark Jerry praised the work of the Port and expressed his gratitude to be able to work and live in Bellingham and provide for his children. 

With additional noise mitigation strategies in place before the next shipment is loaded, the hope is that, “from this point forward, it won’t be as bad as it was,” said Bell.

Fix mentioned that he hopes to create a landing page on the Port of Bellingham’s website to alert community members to the comings and goings of ships at the terminal so that they can at least know when the noise will pick up again. 

But for now, South Hill residents will just have to wait, and listen. 

— Reported by Riley Weeks

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