Editor’s Note: The following letter was signed by 11 local organizations and sent to the Port of Bellingham Commissioners on March 15, 2016; the letter opposed the leasing of the Bellingham Shipping Terminal to Bio-Fibre Manufacturers Inc and DKoram Inc. for the purpose of exporting logs and wood pellets to China, South Korea and Japan to be burned for electricity.
We, the undersigned organizations, know that one key to a healthy and sustainable future is developing clean and renewable sources of power. The companies Bio-Fibre Manufactures Inc. (BFM) and DKoram propose to clear-cut local forests, grind the trees into wood chips, compress them into “wood pellets,” and ship them to China, South Korea and Japan to fuel electrical power plants. Manufacturing wood pellets from standing timber to supply the Asian electricity market is not clean, healthy, sustainable, or the best use of our forests. Our concerns about the proposed project include its impacts on our localities, forests and wildlife, water, economy, and climate, at extraction and production, from transportation, and when burned for fuel. In short, we oppose exporting logs and wood pellet biofuels from the Port of Bellingham.
We call on the Port of Bellingham Commission to:
- Immediately terminate negotiations with Bio-Fibre Manufactures Inc. and DKoram Inc. and reject any proposed use that involves exporting wood pellets.
- Commit to a transparent community-based vision for the waterfront by prioritizing public involvement and input in addressing clean-up and determining the future uses of the Bellingham Supply Terminal, Log Pond, and the “Chem-Fix” areas and ensuring that at least one public hearing for any clean-up or development project is held.
- Solicit and engage tenants whose business is consistent with and incorporates our communities’ progressive social and environmental values and visions for the Bellingham waterfront, including but not limited to wildlife habitat protections and recreational and public waterfront access, that do not have major negative environmental impacts on our communities, or its carbon footprint.
- Develop and implement wildlife policy that ensures habitat protection in future waterfront development. This includes but is not limited to determining an appropriate fate of the seal haul-out and pup rearing areas that have developed on the top of the extensive array of log booms which delineate the outer aquatic perimeter of the log pond and piers.
- Proceed with and pursue leasing options that are consistent with a robust process for the Department of Ecology’s Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study (RI/ FS) and conduct public hearings and solicit public input and help in determining the appropriate plan of remediation and best future uses for the Bellingham Shipping Terminal, Log Pond, “Chem-Fix” and other sites on the Bellingham Waterfront.
Communities across Northwestern Washington know from experience that extractive industries threaten their health and quality of life. Analysts believe the annual export
of wood pellets quadrupled from 1.3 million tons in 2012 to nearly 6 million tons by 2015. Giving the wood pellet industry a toehold is a grave mistake for our forests, wildlife, communities, and climate. Development that destroys the environment and health of the people hurts the long-term prosperity of the region.
Our detailed concerns about the proposed use follow in Appendix A, but our primary concern is the health, safety, quality of life and environmentally and socially responsible
economic development of our communities. For this reason, we oppose using
trees sourced from our local forests as fuel for electricity-generating power plants in Asia. We urge you to stop this project and do all that you can to protect our communities,
forests and climate. The Bellingham Shipping Terminal should not be used to export our local forests to China, South Korea and Japan to be burned in power plants.
■ Matt Petryni,
RE Sources for Sustainable Communities
■ Pam Borso,
North Cascades Audubon Society
■ Judith Akins,
Mt. Baker Sierra Club
■ Shannon Wright,
■ Nicole Brown,
SafeGuard the South Fork
■ Eleanor Hines,
Northwest Straits Chapter,
■ Jill MacIntryre Witt,
■ Carlo Voli,
■ Julianna Fischer,
Students for Renewable Energy, WWU
■ Jim Ace, ForestEthics
■ Ahmed Gaya,
Seattle Rising Tide
1) Bad business decision with negative impacts on our local economy.
The wood pellet industry is a poor economic investment, vulnerable to changes in carbon emission legislation, sustainability requirements, and a volatile energy market. Exporting minimally-processed raw materials sends jobs overseas. What few jobs the facility would provide locally will come at the expense of our forests, watershed infiltration integrity, air, water and the sustained economic growth of our communities.
The increased industrialization of rural landscapes will diminish the beauty of the region, reducing the flow of tourism and new residents and businesses, threatening the economic vitality of Bellingham and surrounding communities. According to a study published in 2015, “The Economic Contribution of Outdoor Recreation to Whatcom County,” Whatcom County residents enjoy an average of over 71 days per year engaging in outdoor recreation (well above the state average of 59 days) and spend $708 million on those activities. The 279 outdoor recreation businesses based in Whatcom County generates $508 million in annual revenue and maintain 3,728 jobs. The proposed facility would threaten this critical component of our local economy and culture.
Further, this proposed could effectively lock up the entire Bellingham Shipping Terminal and adjacent lands and waters, a majority of Port’s industrial-use land, signing away other potential opportunities to one single use. This proposal takes us in the wrong direction and is a distraction from the long-term waterfront development and serious job creation that we need.
A look at Sampson County, North Carolina, where the wood pellet industry approached local governments promising jobs and assorted economic benefits, provides an illuminating example of how things could go wrong. There, instead of economic benefit, industry extracted natural resources and damaged the environment in exchange for a handful of low-paying jobs. The industry degraded the economic vitality of the area and impacted public health and community well-being. According to one Sampson County resident: “For other neighborhoods and communities that might be facing this same sort of plant, I would say: do everything you can to keep it out.”
2) No projects that interferes with or prevents the proper remediation of GP’s toxic legacy
In 1963, Georgia-Pacific built a Chlor-Alkali plant in its Bellingham pulp and paper mill. The G-P plant used mercury to produce chlorine and sodium hydroxide for use in bleaching and pulping wood fiber. Wastewater containing mercury and phenolic compounds was discharged directly into Bellingham Bay from 1965 to 1971. Construction of an industrial waste treatment lagoon halted discharges of untreated wastewater from the Chlor-Alkali plant into the bay in 1979. Georgia-Pacific West Corporation closed the Chlor-Alkali plant in 1999 and the pulp mill in 2001.
In 2005, the Port of Bellingham acquired 137 acres of waterfront property from G-P, accepting lead responsibility for cleaning up the site with WA Department of Ecology oversight. The contaminants include petroleum hydrocarbons, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, arsenic, cadmium, lead, nickel, mercury, copper, and methane gas, and in concentrations that exceed standards established under the state’s cleanup law, the Model Toxics Control Act. The area must be cleaned up. The Department of Ecology will soon conduct a remedial investigation and feasibility study (RI/FS). The RI/FS will include sampling and testing of the soils and groundwater on the site to identify the types and extent of contamination. The feasibility study will consider an array of containment and treatment methods and determine the best cleanup scenario for the property.
The former Georgia-Pacific site was subject to decades of toxic pollution. Leasing or occupying the G-P site will prevent the appropriate remediation of GP’s mercury sludge dumpsite (“Chem-Fix” Project) on that portion of the site, one of the most contaminated sites in Washington State. The only appropriate use of the site is one that is consistent with and allows for the highest level of remediation.
3) Impact on surrounding communities’ quality of life, public health, and public safety
Noise, traffic impacts, particulate and diesel emissions relating to a wood pellet factory and export operation at, to and from the Bellingham Shipping Terminal and Piers will negatively impact our quality of life, especially for residents and downtown businesses along the path of fully-loaded logging trucks.
Public safety: 50 or more logging trucks a day passing through downtown Bellingham will make our city’s roads more dangerous and pose a serious safety threat to drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
Noise and air pollution: The transportation of logs and production of wood pellets will disrupt the quality of life, public health, and safety of nearby residents. Truck traffic will increase noise, diesel exhaust and other pollutants to unhealthy levels. The noise generated by an industrial factory running day and night, grinding timber to pulp will disturb downtown residents and businesses. The wood dust and fine particulate matter that are generated in the production of wood pellets present serious health concerns for nearby residents. Children, elderly people, and those with weakened immune systems and lung problems will be most affected, but everyone residing near the factory or along the truck routes will face increased risk and incidence of respiratory problems. The environmental impacts and health consequences that would afflict our communities for decades.
Damage to transportation infrastructure: Bio-Fibre Manufactures Inc. and DKoram propose to bring trees from Whatcom, Skagit, and Snohomish Counties, and possibly Canada. Fully loaded logging trucks, which typically weigh about 80,000 pounds, will drive to Bellingham from as far as 75 miles away. The increased traffic and weight of these trucks will damage our public roads, roadways and bridges. Washington residents’ vehicles are put at higher risk from roads in poor condition, and taxpayers will be forced subsidize these companies by paying for repair and maintenance of roads.
4) Impact on shoreline, Bellingham Bay, and Salish Sea
Industrial activity on Bellingham Bay has a history of pollution and habitat destruction starting in the 1850s, which has left our communities with more than a legacy of over a dozen toxic cleanup sites. As our waterfront undergoes the cleanup process, redevelops, and recovers, the Port and City should carefully consider how we use our waterfront in ways that will make it better, rather than worse. Our communities deserve clean and quiet industries balanced with ample access to a shoreline that maintains healthy standards for recreation and habitat, particularly for marine mammals such as harbor seal and seal pups.
5) Impact on Climate – Burning whole trees is worse than burning coal.
Burning forests for electricity is not a solution to climate change. Until recently, electricity produced by burning plant material –- called biomass energy — was considered to be a “renewable” resource, along with technologies such as solar, wind, and geothermal power. But biomass was never meant to include whole trees, much less entire forests. Over the past two years, emerging scientific evidence has discredited biomass generated from whole trees as a clean, renewable fuel.
Recent research has clarified that burning trees to produce electricity actually exceeds carbon emissions from fossil fuels and contributes to other air pollution problems. In fact, published research examining the growth rates of trees in the southeastern U.S. has concluded that it may take thirty-five to fifty years for these new trees to offset the carbon released by harvesting and burning the forests that preceded them, even in scenarios involving the burning of small-diameter trees from fast-growing pine plantations. Further, a study by Dartmouth College published this year suggests that current estimates of carbon impacts may understate the problem because disturbances created by logging may result in far more rapid and extensive transfer of carbon from the forest mineral soil to the atmosphere than previously thought.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also has serious concerns about the effects burning wood has on our climate and environment. According to the EPA, any claims of emission reductions from biomass projects, “must be quantifiable, verifiable, non-duplicative, permanent and enforceable” with respect to each power plant.
Forests represent one of our best defenses against climate change. Trees decrease the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by absorbing it and converting it into oxygen, which they release, and carbon, which they store. In fact, forests have the potential to absorb about one-tenth of global carbon emissions projected for the first half of this century. Healthy, natural forests are one of the most efficient and inexpensive systems we have to combat climate change. Managing forests to help them retain and increase their carbon storage potential can maximize their ability to mitigate climate change. It is essential that we recognize the value of this system by preventing deforestation, restoring damaged forests, and maintaining healthy ecosystems.
Climate scientists are sounding an increasingly urgent alarm that if we are to have any chance of avoiding the very worst impacts of climate change, we must reduce global emissions sharply within the next decade. This is precisely the period during which CO2 emissions from burning biomass is certain to increase global CO2 concentrations. Burning biomass makes no sense as a strategy for dealing with global warming; in fact, it will expedite climate change by pumping huge quantities of carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere.
6) Impact on forests, wildlife, fisheries, and biodiversity
In the lowland forests of Whatcom, Skagit, and Snohomish Counties, Douglas-fir, Sitka spruce, western red cedar, and western hemlock thrive. Our local forests are vital for biodiversity, wildlife, fisheries and recreation. Forests are where we hike, camp, hunt and fish with our families. Forests enhance our quality of life and our well-being.
Industrial logging of natural forests has significant social and environmental impacts. Clear-cuts and short rotation forestry fragment ecosystems, degrade water quality, and displace wildlife. The damage can last for decades. After cutting, many companies spray a toxic cocktail of chemicals that can poison freshwater, wildlife, and surrounding communities. Natural forests converted into ecologically barren industrial tree farms, sometimes using genetically modified trees, are denuded of most of their life-sustaining qualities. Once natural forests are destroyed and converted to monocropped tree plantations, biodiversity and most of their other benefits to our communities vanish. Our natural forests simply cannot sustainably meet the soaring global demand for timber products under current forest management practices. Now is not the time to increase the rate and extent of logging. It is the time to put greater investment into protecting our forests by employing more ecologically sustainable management practices so that they can do the jobs they do best: sequestering carbon, providing wildlife habitat, purifying water, and preserving our natural heritage.
7) Transparency and Accountability
Openness and transparency are key ingredients to build accountability and trust, which are necessary for the functioning of democracies and market economies. Yet the Port of Bellingham’s decision-making process for this proposal is unclear. There is no publicly available written proposal for this project. Neither the Port nor the companies involved have announced any opportunity for community input or involvement in the decision making process. The future of our forests and our health is too important to be determined without stakeholder input.
8a) Misleading claim: sawdust residuals
Whole trees, rather than “sawmill residuals” such as sawdust, will necessarily be the primary source of the wood pellets export facility. Long-term, the volume of logs required by this facility would not be met through so-called “waste wood” such as sawmill residues and urban wood waste alone. Wood pellet and biomass operations may start by using residuals, but will quickly exhaust that resource and then move to whole trees. As the facility’s demand for trees increases, harvested timber would quickly become needed to remain economically viable. Further, given how expensive it is to collect and transport wastes and residues, producers would have little incentive to focus on them.
The companies’ claims should be put to public scrutiny, particularly in light of other, similar, companies (or their own track record) initially promising to use only scraps and thinnings, but transitioning quickly to whole trees due to low supply of “wood waste”. However not much of such “wood waste” is available, so they quickly move to whole trees to keep up with demand.
In fact, their outlined plans shows every indication of using whole trees: BFM and DKoram have proposed “50-150 logging trucks per day.” According to our allies at Dogwood Alliance in the US South, who have assessed many of these proposals, it is a common practice of the wood pellet industry to claim it will only use “sawmill residuals” to gain approval, even when the reality is the facility cannot function on sawdust alone. Burning biomass almost always requires a large volume of trees to function. Based on our assessment of the numbers, this facility will require whole logs cut down from our local forests to sustain operations.
8b) Misleading claim: sustainable forestry
The composition of the facility’s feedstock is a critical issue. Potential options include sawdust residuals, whole trees cut down from local forests, and the use of forest certification program. Supporters of this proposal will claim that if whole trees are ever used, they will come from “sustainably managed” and “sustainably harvested” forests and will be “certified sustainable.” Unfortunately, history suggests that instead of a widely accepted sustainability measure, such as Forest Stewardship Certification (FSC), the wood pellet industry opts to use industry-created standards like the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and American Tree Farm System (ATFS), which have a dubious track record in delivering environmental benefit. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) is financed by logging and can mislead consumers looking for socially and environmentally responsible products. If BFM and DKoram plan to use SFI-certified forests as an assurance of “sustainability,” then it raises serious questions as to their environmental and community commitment.