A panel of city and county officials addressed a gym packed with residents who gathered Wednesday, Sept. 6 to voice their concerns about a proposed metal shredding facility along Marine Drive.
Among residents’ worries: noise, toxic dust, fire hazards and an increase in truck traffic. The meeting, organized by a local group called Save the Waterfront, was held at Alderwood Elementary, which sits within a mile of the proposed site.
ABC Recycling, a Canadian-based metal recycler, purchased the Marine Drive property in 2021 from Lehigh Northwest Cement Co. for $3.57 million. It was first reported in February that the company wants to build a metal shredding facility there.
The metal shredding facility would take depolluted old cars, appliances and other materials to break them down into smaller pieces, sorting the metal using turbines and magnets. The metals would then be shipped to steel mills to be reused and the sorted nonmetal materials would be transported to a landfill.
According to county officials, no pre-application meeting has been held, which is the first step in the permitting process. As such, leaders on the panel, who included Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood and County Executive Satpal Sidhu, said they couldn’t speak directly to what is proposed for the site. The panel also included Steve Roberge, assistant director of county planning; Bill Angel, county environmental health specialist; Suneeta Eisenberg, an Alderwood resident and member of the Whatcom County Climate Impact Advisory Committee; and Whatcom County council member Barry Buchanan.
‘Safe for all’
Sidhu told the audience that the application process for a facility like this is transparent and can be trusted.
“We want to do what is safe for all of us,” Sidhu said. But he cautioned that officials cannot just say no if ABC Recycling follows all the laws and regulations.
Scott Jones, founder of Save the Waterfront, said he’s been working for weeks at trying to raise awareness of the plans — and hopefully to stop them.
Jones is also president of the South Hill Neighborhood Association, where since last October residents have complained about noise from ABC Recycling’s metal scrap pile at the waterfront. When a ship comes to haul away the metal, the work moving the metal onto the ship can continue until 3 a.m. ABC Recycling has a 15-year lease with the Port of Bellingham. (Read more: “Ship-loading noise tests Bellingham port’s neighborliness” Salish Current, Jan. 13, 2023; “Port promises to dampen loading noise in wake of complaints,” Salish Current, Jan. 26, 2023).
Jones said that he has been worried about his daughter’s sleep. Though a study determined that the waterfront noise was within regulated ranges, he said it’s the character of the noise that should be considered.
Jones said that while the noise is what first brought awareness to the waterfront operation, he said environmental and economic impacts are a bigger concern.
“My dream, my goal, would be for it to go away completely,” Jones said. “Because Bellingham is on the verge after 20 years of working through the goals of the developing waterfront. We’re on the verge of it becoming successful.”
He wanted to start a community conversation about the metal shredding facility early, since one was not held about the metal pile operation before it began.
Jones said they will plan another meeting once an official application process for the metal shredding facility begins; but in the meantime, he hopes to work with the county to get the area rezoned. He called the area’s heavy industrial zoning “antiquated” considering the nearby residences. County Councilmember Barry Buchanan during the panel voiced support for this idea.
Liz Darrow, a candidate for city council, said that she is in solidarity with the impacted community members.
“It’s great to see north and south neighborhoods organizing together,” Darrow said.
Eamonn Collins, another candidate for city council, told the Salish Current that he lives in the nearby Birchwood neighborhood and drives by that property every day on his way to teach at the Lummi Nation School.
“I’m encouraged by this level of civic engagement,” he said. “It feels like there’s momentum on heading this off.”
Riley Sweeney, Community Relations and Government Affairs Manager for ABC Recycling, attended the meeting, but was not on the panel. [Ed.: Riley Sweeney previously served on the Salish Current board of directors.]
Sweeney said he was glad that a community conversation has started, and he understands why residents are concerned. He said that ABC Recycling’s mission is to “save the planet, not impact it.”
Though official plans have not been submitted, Sweeney told the Salish Current that ABC Recycling is considering building a shredding facility that is enclosed, which will dampen, though not completely block noise. He said it would operate during normal business hours and not stockpile metal, but process it as it comes.
Sweeney said about three to five trucks an hour would haul scrap metal during normal operating hours, and the facility would also use the railway.
“We want to take the steps necessary so that we can all feel good about this when all is said and done,” Sweeney said. He said the facility will create 30 “green collar” jobs and keep metal out of landfills.
“We believe that’s something that everyone can get behind,” Sweeney said.
— Reported by Questen Inghram
Read more: “B.C. metal recycler may site shredder on Bellingham Bay,” Salish Current, May 12, 2023
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