Low oil prices delay Blaine harbor cleanup projects

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By Steve Guntli

Two environmental improvement projects in Blaine Marina have been put on hold until the state can drum up more funds.

The Port of Bellingham, which has oversight over the cleanups at Blaine Marina and Westman Marine as well as several other projects in Bellingham, announced the projects would be losing funding due to a loss of tax revenue from crude oil.

The state allocated $28 million to go towards cleanup projects in Bellingham and Blaine, but due to the price of crude oil, $14 million of that amount may be lost. The projects have been put on hold until state legislators find more money or the price of oil increases.

The projects were to be funded by grants from the state’s toxic cleanup programs. One grant, the Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA), draws its funds from a .7 percent tax placed on hazardous material, such as crude oil, that enters the state. Since crude oil is currently valued at $34 a barrel, nearly half its value as of June 2015, the funding the port was counting on to complete the cleanups has drastically shrunk.

The loss of MTCA funds will affect projects like the Blaine Marina cleanups and an overhaul of the Harris Avenue shipyard in Fairhaven, but not projects that are already underway, such as the Whatcom Waterway cleanup.

The Washington State Department of Ecology identified hazardous chemicals near Blaine over the course of a three-year study that concluded May 2015. Blaine Marina, Inc. served as a marine refueling station for nearly 50 years, and researchers found several potentially toxic chemicals in the water and soil near the site. Researchers believe most of the hazardous materials in the soil were left there after an accidental fuel release in the summer of 1990.

Researchers also found evidence of chemical contamination at Westman Marine on the south end of Blaine Harbor in 2013. The site was considered a low-quantity polluter for several years, but a series of chemical leaks throughout the 1990s resulted in higher than average heavy metal levels.

The cost of the cleanup for the Blaine Marina and Westman Marine sites are estimated by the port at $2.2 million and $4 million, respectively. Once underway, both projects are expected to take between five and eight years to complete. Workers will treat the contaminated water and soil and remove crumbling infrastructure and outdated buildings from the site.

Port spokesman Mike Hogan said the port sent representatives to lobby for funding from the state legislature in Olympia, which began its first session of the year on January 11.

“At the same time, we’ll be discussing how to adjust the schedule for the remaining projects and prioritize projects from there,” Hogan said. “A big factor for which projects will be dealt with first is the potential harm to human health and the environment, so we’ll be assessing which sites pose the biggest threats.”

The legislature has the power to decide how to obtain funding, whether by issuing bonds or reappropriating funds from low-priority projects. The state will also decide which local projects to prioritize at that time.

“Redevelopment of those properties in Blaine has been a big priority for us at the port,” Hogan said. “We’re going to work hard to make sure that funding is in place as soon as possible.”

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