The Shredder May Be Dead — The Story Is Not Over

by Bill Craven

On April 30, ABC Recycling withdrew its application for a metal shredder on land it owns on Marine Drive. This writer heard about ABC withdrawing its application after a phone call. “Ding dong, the witch is dead,” the caller said.

The shredder died just a month after the Port of Bellingham terminated a long-term lease where ABC Recycling trucked and barged in scrap metal, which was piled on the waterfront, loaded into ships, and exported to foreign steel mills. The termination document says it was by agreement. Does that leave the door open for a second act by ABC Recycling at the waterfront? That may be one of the future chapters to this story, although, at this time, the do-over would not include a shredder.

The waterfront activity aggravated many residents in South Hill, Sehome, and downtown neighborhoods. The proposed shredder aggravated many residents in Alderwood and Birchwood. Together, volunteers from both areas joined together as Save the Waterfront to fight both aspects of the ABC Recycling operation.

Together, if they prove to be permanent, pulling the application for the shredder and the lease termination on the waterfront, are the biggest environmental and public health victories in Bellingham in a long time — since the Gateway Pacific coal port proposal at Cherry Point was rejected by the Corps of Engineers in 2016.

Save the Waterfront does not know of another example anywhere in the United States where a proposed shredder has been stopped in its first proposed location. Shredders have been stopped when they try to move locations, or when they violate environmental regulations. But, Bellingham may be the first example of a shredder being stopped before it is built — even if it was stopped by the operator.


Neighborhood victories

Holds Cards Close

Remarkably, the company basically pulled the plug on its own plans, although it had to face some hard facts first. But, ABC Recycling holds its cards close, and, although its lease with the Port of Bellingham was terminated, one has to wonder if it is really all over — or not? Sadly, it is not hard to imagine the port falling all over itself to spin out a new deal with the Canadian scrap dealer.

The Port of Bellingham started this mess with its lease in June, 2022, that was recently terminated. It cited three reasons, two of which were well-known months in advance of its action and even when the lease was first signed. ABC had not complied with stormwater management regulations nor had it purchased insurance as required by the lease.

The third reason was the unauthorized arrival of a barge full of scrap metal at the waterfront. So, let’s not award the port any merit badges. The port, proudly locked into its 19th century views about working waterfronts, had actually been defending ABC before the lease termination occurred.

Change of Direction

A “working waterfront” could be a shared community-wide goal. The vision has been laid out in earlier planning agreements between the port and the city (light industry, tourism, shops, housing, public recreation, marine/fishing businesses, diverse incubators and apprenticeship programs). That is where the port should focus and that would be a welcome change of direction. We don’t need or want large-scale polluters to make Bellingham’s waterfront an economic success story.

Meanwhile, the City of Bellingham could have played a much stronger hand, but decided instead to let ABC Recycling exploit some squishy language in the city code to continue to bring in scrap metal. It could just as easily have interpreted that language to shut down ABC Recycling or dramatically alter its waterfront operations, but it failed to do so even when repeatedly asked.

Of the three local governments involved with this situation, only the county gets passing marks. As the land-use regulator of the proposed shredder, the county, to its credit, determined that an environmental impact statement (EIS) would most likely be required, triggering the search for a consultant to produce the EIS and the city’s decision to become co-lead on the eventual EIS. Separately, the County Council has opened a discussion about allowable land uses in the urban growth area of Alderwood, where some other heavy impact industrial activities could still legally develop in that area along Marine Drive.

Not Economically Viable

So why did ABC Recycling walk away? The most logical conclusion, confirmed by ABC Recycling spokesperson Riley Sweeney, its community relations and government affairs manager, is that the company decided that the shredder was not economically viable after it lost its lease on the waterfront. After all, the whole point was to locate the shredder near the waterfront for purposes of export. Sweeney also said that there was nothing about the pace of the regulatory process or the necessary cleanup of the Marine Drive property that was a factor in the decision.

The Marine Drive property will eventually be for sale, Sweeney said, adding that the company has had “a lot of interest” in that parcel.

Somewhat mysteriously, Sweeney observed that the company “remains committed to its U.S. operations,” implying that a future expansion into this or a nearby region is in the works. So, the company may be scouting another deep water port. One can only hope that ABC Recycling has learned one lesson and that is not to propose a shredder near residential neighborhoods.

Rail Access Into a Port?

Of course, ABC could also consider rail access into a port. Such a tack does not rule out a do-over in Bellingham. (This is where one asks: Would the port welcome ABC back to the waterfront if scrap metal were delivered by rail and not by truck, especially if the shredder is not located adjacent to the city in a residential area?)

In the public agitation department, Save the Waterfront created a website, actively joined together formerly unaligned neighborhoods in Bellingham, attended every relevant public meeting whether that was the port, the city or the county, and gathered 2,600 signatures against the metal piles and the shredder. Surely you have seen the “Don’t Shred on Bellingham” yard signs? Maybe you signed the petition at the Saturday market or attended the informational meeting at Alderwood Elementary? That was Save the Waterfront in action. The leaders of the South Hill and Birchwood Neighborhood Associations did themselves proud.

So what’s next? Save the Waterfront has decided to continue its work for two major reasons: The laws that allowed ABC Recycling into the region still are in effect at the city and the port. And, heavy industrial land-use zones still exist in the residential areas of Alderwood, which is in the county. ABC Recycling may be gone, but some other outfit could step in to the same legal environment that ABC Recycling exploited. Save the Waterfront thinks these are reasons to stick around.

Save the Waterfront’s Plans

County Councilor Todd Donovan has sponsored an ongoing effort to look at the allowable uses in the high impact industrial zone in the urban growth area in Alderwood which is supposed to wrap up by the end of 2024. Save the Waterfront will push for all such future uses to move away from residential areas.

Next, the county will undertake a comprehensive plan review during 2025 and Save the Waterfront will be pursuing the re-zoning of land in the Alderwood urban growth area — again, to move heavy industry away from residential areas. And the Bellingham City Code that let ABC Recycling slip through the cracks has not changed. Oversight of the city remains essential to make sure this does not happen again.

At the Bellingham waterfront, the port has proven time and again that it needs the biggest, baddest watchdog the community can muster. Save the Waterfront plans to fill that niche now and through the next election cycles when the three incumbents will need to run for re-election. Or not, if one or more of them thankfully steps aside. More information and updates will be available on the website at as the next chapters unfold.


Bill Craven is a retired environ-mental professional with more than 30 years experience as a legislative policy consultant on resource issues and as an advocate in state legislatures and for nonprofit organizations.

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