News Flash


Posted on: April 27, 2023

The Return of Marine Cargo is a Big Win for Whatcom County

In a huge win for our regional economy, ABC Recycling has started exporting recycled metal from the Bellingham Shipping Terminal to global markets every 6-8 weeks. About 40 people are involved with loading each cargo vessel and ILWU Local 7 has registered 8 new longshore workers bringing the total to 18. The Port has the capacity to create more family-wage jobs at the Bellingham Shipping Terminal and we continue to meet with prospective customers interested in a congestion free alternative to the docks and terminals north and south. Washington is part of a great international trade route linking our state to the world’s economy with imports and exports supporting thousands of Washington businesses. It’s about time Whatcom County benefited from this tremendous economic opportunity.

The Port appreciates the community’s patience while we worked to reactivate one of Whatcom County’s biggest potential job-creating assets. Redevelopment efforts stalled for many years due to historic contamination in the Whatcom Waterway. Things changed in 2016 after the Port completed one of the largest environmental cleanup projects in state history and started investing in the equipment and infrastructure needed to modernize the terminal.

The return of regular cargo is cause for celebration and the Port could not have done it without the strong support of waterfront stakeholders throughout the community. Our working waterfront has long championed the Shipping Terminal as the cornerstone of a healthy marine trades economy and written many letters of support helping the Port to secure grants to modernize terminal infrastructure. Over 6,000 people in our community have jobs created or supported by marine trades and they are a big reason why companies are interested in importing and exporting goods from Whatcom County.

The Port also needs to thank the many community members who helped shape a new vision for Bellingham’s downtown waterfront after Georgia-Pacific shut down its heavy industrial Pulp Mill in 2001. The Waterfront District Master Plan balances a healthy mix of commercial, residential and recreational uses while preserving land for marine cargo and industrial uses. It’s exciting to see the Port’s bike park, container village and other mixed-uses connect downtown Bellingham to water for the first time in over a century, but maintaining the industrial character and job-creating potential of our working waterfront are important community values and essential towards achieving a sustainable economy.

Finally, our elected officials have been strong supporters of marine trades and continue to help the Port improve the permitting process and secure the infrastructure funding necessary to maximize the economic potential of the Bellingham Shipping Terminal. Whatcom County is well represented at both the state and federal level.

After more than 20 years of little activity at the Shipping Terminal, some community members have expressed concerns about noise, air quality, stormwater and other impacts; and questioned whether shipping recycled metal is a good fit for our waterfront. While there are significantly less environmental impacts than when downtown Bellingham was dominated by Georgia-Pacific’s Pulp, Paper and Chemical Plant and other heavy industrial uses, the Port is committed to being a good neighbor and making operational adjustments when feasible to minimize any impacts from the Shipping Terminal.

The Port is in regular contact with representatives of nearby neighborhoods and values a respectful, open dialogue with the community. To address concerns about noise, the Port worked with ABC to switch to quieter backup alarms on heavy equipment and created a sound barrier in the ship loading area by stacking shipping containers. To reduce impacts to air quality, ABC is implementing atomizing dust suppression systems and the Port is monitoring noise and air quality. For stormwater, all runoff around recycled metal drains into the Aerated Stabilization Basin containment area from which no water is released into Bellingham Bay. For administrative purposes, the Department of Ecology requested ABC Recycling obtain an Industrial Stormwater General Permit and ABC is in the process of securing this permit. The Port has set up a website for community members to get email or text notifications when the Shipping Terminal Berth Schedule is updated

This summer the Port starts construction on a terminal electrification project giving shipping customers the ability to connect to clean electric power rather than run diesel generators in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality. The Port’s goal is to create a sustainable international gateway which creates family-wage jobs for our community and we are well on our way.

In addition to creating jobs, generating tax revenue for the City, and bringing commerce to Whatcom County; the Bellingham Shipping Terminal helps make a big world smaller. Shipping opportunities change over time and hopefully one day soon we will recycle more metal on American soil, but until that time we have an export commodity which fits well into the recycling culture of our community. Metal is a resource which can be continually reused. Recycling metal conserves natural resources, saves energy, cuts greenhouse gas emissions and slows landfill growth.

The Port is working hard to develop a diverse and vibrant mixed-use waterfront where marine trades are located next to cool public spaces; where affordable housing is located next to higher priced condominiums; and where teenagers working at restaurants and retail shops could one day continue with long-term careers at the Shipping Terminal. This is the fabric of our community as articulated in the Waterfront District Master Plan and the one we are working hard to create on Bellingham’s downtown waterfront.

For more information on how the Port is improving operations at the Shipping Terminal, read our Frequently Asked Questions 

Rob Fix
Executive Director

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