One of the most prominent visual features of Bellingham’s current waterfront is the G-P Lagoon, a 35-acre containment pool surrounded by a breakwater wall. The lagoon, officially called the Aerated Stabilization Basin (ASB), was built by the Georgia-Pacific Corporation in 1979 as a treatment area for industrial wastewater. When G-P’s tissue mill closed in 2000, Bellingham was left to decide what to do with a lagoon full of toxic sludge.
The ASB is not built or permitted for storage of toxic materials, so the sludge must be removed. And since the lagoon doesn’t offer any practical re-use value for industrial or stormwater treatment, it is time to build something else in its place. The Port of Bellingham is seizing this unique opportunity for aquatic land restoration and re-use of the lagoon by turning it into a new state-of-the-art, environmentally sensitive marina. The plan is to transform a contaminated eyesore into a community asset.
A new marina will help to improve Bellingham in three general ways:
- Create nearly a mile of new waterfront trails and a new landmark waterfront park on the land surrounding the marina.
- Preserve Bellingham’s maritime heritage through construction of about 450 new moorage slips to meet needs of current and future local boaters.
Develop a new public boat launch with opportunities for launching small boats and kayaks.
- Develop a dry stack boat storage facility nearby the marina and boat launch for storage of smaller boats.
- Establish gently sloping beachfronts inside the marina for community access to Bellingham Bay.
- Remove 350,000 cubic yards of highly contaminated treatment sludges from the waterfront to a licensed upland disposal facility.
- Create a Clean Ocean Marina that includes 28 acres of new aquatic land and salmon habitat, and the use of building materials that are environmentally friendly.
- Transform an idle contaminated industrial marine structure into a valuable community asset with reuse of existing clean materials.
- Create more than 50 family wage jobs in the more than 90 local marine-related businesses.
- Develop a marina without the use of local tax dollars through payments made by moorage customers.
- Attract visiting boaters who will support our community tourism and service businesses.
- Generate new tax revenue to support state and local services.
How does a marina help the economy?
Some people think a marina is just a place to park boats. But it is much more than that. There are more than 90 marine-related businesses in Whatcom County. They rely upon boats, large and small, to keep their businesses healthy. Some are one-or two person businesses that provide services such as marine upholstery or engine repair. Others employ large numbers of people manufacturing boats, ships, ropes or marine equipment. Whatcom County has a rich history of maritime businesses.
A recent economic analysis by BST Associates estimated that the new 350-450 slip marina would create more than 50 new local jobs. The same study also estimated that, once built, the marina would generate nearly $154,000 a year in state and local tax revenue. During the cleanup and building stages, the project will generate nearly $2 million in state and local taxes.
But that’s not all. The new marina also is expected to generate additional local spending by visiting boaters and those with permanent moorage.
What will this project cost?
Right now the Port is working on agency approvals and permits to begin cleanup and development of the marina. The cleanup cost is estimated at $34 million. The state of Washington has agreed to partner with us on this project and will provide half of the cleanup costs through a grant from the state’s Model Toxic Control Account – an account created for cleanups. The remaining half will be paid through moorage fees.
The marina construction will cost between $16 and $18 million, depending upon design. That amount also will be paid through moorage fees. The City of Bellingham, as part of an Interlocal Agreement with the Port will design and pay for surrounding park and trail property.
No local tax dollars will be used for this marina.
What is on the waterfront now?
Today this site is a fenced-off contaminated industrial lagoon that still is used by Georgia Pacific for treatment of tissue mill waste water. Although it originally was an open area of the Bay, today it is completely closed off from marine water. The land around the lagoon is wide enough to drive a truck around and is fenced off to the community.
The Port extensively studied the lagoon and knows that there are 350,000 cubic yards of the most highly contaminated treatment sludges in the Bay at the bottom of the lagoon.
Before it can be developed into a marina, the Port will drain the water, remove the contamination and lower the height of the breakwater around the lagoon to prepare it for marina construction.
Why build a marina?
Whatcom County has a rich history as a maritime community. This includes commercial boats, large ships, kayaks and pleasure boats of all shapes and sizes.
Right now both of the Port’s marinas are full and there are 130 people on waiting lists for moorage slips. By 2015 it is forecast that we will have a shortage of 683 moorage slips unless more are built. More than 80 percent of the boats in the Port’s marinas are owned by county residents.
Why not build a park instead?
There are many community members that oppose the plan for a new marina, proposing instead that the ASB be filled in and used to build a 37-acre park. Their argument is that a large, well-kept waterfront park would allow everyone to enjoy the available space instead of just a few hundred boat owners. After considering much input from the public, the City and Port have decided to proceed with the marina as planned. The reason for this is primarily a matter of tax dollars:
- Filling the ASB and creating a park out of it would cost the City over $84 million in taxes.
- Constructing the marina as proposed and adding a 20 acre park outside the ASB would cost the City over $34 million in taxes.
- In contrast, constructing the marina as proposed – with a mile of trails and almost twice the area of Zuanich Park – would cost the City about $3.5 million.
The entire cost of constructing and operating a marina will be recovered from moorage fees. However, the cost of constructing and operating a park would have to come primarily from City tax revenues. Given the strain already placed on taxpayers by the rest of the waterfront development process, the City and Port agree that a marina is still the best option.
It should be noted that, although the trails around the marina’s breakwater will be the only part of the lagoon space open to everyone, public access to waterfront and park areas is still a priority in nearly all the rest of the proposed waterfront development plans.
What’s on the Drawing Board?
Many different ideas that balance the benefits of new marine habitat, community waterfront access and new moorage are being considered. The Port is working with environmental and marina development groups to create a design that best meets the community’s needs. At the same time, the Port is developing new Clean Ocean Marina standards which we believe will demonstrate that modern marinas can be an environmental and community asset.
To meet local boating needs, most of the slips in the new marina will be between 40 and 50 feet long. There will be some that are larger and some that are smaller. The exact numbers will depend on the marina design. In addition, the Port plans to develop a smaller boat dry stack storage facility and an adjacent boat launch beside the marina.
This draft includes ideas from the original Waterfront Futures Group, the Port and members of the community. As design ideas take shape for the marina as well as the parks, trails and habitat within the project, the Port will have community meetings to share those ideas.
In March 2006, the Port hosted a Marina design workshop with marina design, environmental protection, habitat creation and parks experts. Their ideas will become the foundation for the eventual marina design.
What’s a Clean Ocean Marina?
The Port of Bellingham is working with state, local and federal environmental agencies and groups to create a new set of marina development guidelines, similar to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System’s guidelines, that will demonstrate how to build a marina that enhances the environment. The Port hopes the new Downtown Marina will become a model for Clean Ocean Marinas throughout the country.
Marina Development Timeline
2006: RI/FS and Ecology Cleanup Decision
2007-08: Design and Permitting
2008: GP discontinues use of ASB in June
2008-09: Phase 1 — Lower ASB water level, reshape top of breakwater, initial waterway dredging
2009-11: Phase 2 — Dredge ASB sludge, dewater sludge, transport to upland disposal site
2011-12: Phase 3 — Open ASB breakwater, re-shape inner breakwater, install waterway cap
2012-13: Phase 4 — Install Marina floats, gates and complete breakwater park facilities
2013-14: Marina and Waterfront Park Open