Washington State Department of Ecology - May 16, 2013

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Interim work planned to contain oil seep on Bellingham waterfront

BELLINGHAM – Plans are in the works to contain oil seeping from the shoreline of a cleanup site on the Bellingham waterfront. The oil has intermittently left a sheen on the bay for the past several months.

The oil is seeping from a small area of shoreline at the R.G. Haley cleanup site, which is known to be contaminated with wood treatment chemicals from past industrial activities. The site is about six acres and is located west of the intersection of Cornwall Avenue and Wharf Street. 

The oil sheen was first reported in December 2012. Since then, the city of Bellingham has installed a boom and absorbent pads to catch and contain the oil.

“We don’t know when or if the seeping is going to stop,” said Mark Adams, Washington Department of Ecology site manager. “But we can’t wait for the site-wide cleanup work to begin (in 2015) before doing something. We need to do something soon.”

The Washington Department of Ecology is working with the city of Bellingham to put together an interim cleanup project to contain the oil and protect the environment.

Before any interim work can begin, Ecology and the city have to amend their legal agreement with one another to include this work.

Because the city of Bellingham owns most of the contaminated land and plans to build a park there, they have a legal agreement with the state, known as an agreed order, to investigate the contamination, as well as identify and evaluate long-term cleanup options.

The amendment will allow the city to get in and contain the seep this summer, before the larger site-wide cleanup happens in 2015.

Ecology is making the amendment available for public review and comment May 17 to June 15. It is available on the Ecology website, at Ecology offices in Bellingham and Bellevue, and at the Bellingham Public Library.

Comments can be sent to Mark Adams, Ecology site manager, in writing to mark.adams@ecy.wa.gov or 3190 160th Ave NE, Bellevue WA 98008-5452.

The general plan is to place a 6-inch layer of sand with specially treated clay over a 5,000-square-foot area of the shoreline to absorb oil seeping out. The sand/clay layer will absorb oil while allowing water to pass through. To prevent erosion, a tough fabric sheet will be placed over the top, followed by large rock.

This is just a temporary fix designed to contain the oil until the site-wide cleanup begins.

While Ecology hasn’t tested the oil seeping out, extensive information is available about contamination in the upland area of the cleanup site. Past testing shows there’s diesel-range carrier oil in the soil and groundwater, and it contains elevated concentrations of pentachlorophenol, dioxins/furans and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

From the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s, the site was used for industries including lumber, coal and wharf operations. Various companies have treated wood on the property. R.G. Haley International Corp. was the last company to treat wood there, from 1955 to 1985.

“Based upon what we know about the site, the oil seeping out is nasty stuff,” Adams said. “We need to patch this because we don’t want it continuing to contaminate the aquatic habitat in the area.”

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Media contact:

Dustin Terpening, Ecology media relations, 360-715-5205, dustin.terpening@ecy.wa.gov, or @ecynorth

Janice Keller, City of Bellingham communications manager, 360-778-8110 or jkeller@cob.org

For more information:

Project website (https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/gsp/Sitepage.aspx?csid=3928)

Ecology’s social media (www.ecy.wa.gov/about/newmedia.html)