March 08, 2010

Wyden: Proposed NOAA Fleet Site in Bellingham, WA, Plagued with Environmental Hazards, Potential Health Problems

12 Toxic Cleanup Sites Surround the Location Being Promoted as an Alternative to the Already-Selected Port of Newport

Washington, D.C. - Citing numerous environmental problems and health hazards at the Port of Bellingham (WA), Oregon Senator Ron Wyden today urged the Department of Commerce to cease consideration of the port as a proposed alternative site for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Fleet.

"What has been missing from discussions about the Bellingham site is surrounded by myriad environmental problems and hazards," Wyden said in a letter to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. "I believe this extensive environmental contamination would prevent it from being a practicable alternative and could limit the ability of the fleet to function properly and compromise the health and safety of the NOAA employees who would be located there,"

To save taxpayer money and improve its facilities, NOAA decided to move its Marine Operations Center - Pacific (MOC-P) from Seattle, Washington, to Newport, Oregon. Since then, the non-political decision has been challenged by members of the Washington State congressional delegation, who received a GAO report raising questions about minor floodplain issues at the Newport location. The environmentally challenged Bellingham site has been promoted as an alternative to Newport.

New information, however, shows that Bellingham's proposed home for the NOAA fleet is surrounded by one federal Superfund site and no less than 12 different Washington State Department of Ecology cleanup sites.

One of the environmental hazards, the Whatcom Waterway, which would likely be used by the NOAA fleet, has had historic discharges of mercury and, according to the state, contains more than 500,000 cubic yards of contaminated sludge and sediment. Clean up of the waterway has not even begun and will eventually require an investment of $44 million over six years.

Other environmental hazards include:

  • The Georgia-Pacific West property immediately adjacent to the proposed MOC-P site contains a variety of toxic chemicals. An assessment of this site has yet to be completed, meaning that efforts to clean up the site could continue for decades.
  • The R.G. Haley site located immediately south of the proposed MOC-P site is contaminated with pentachlorophenol (PCP), a highly toxic substance responsible for numerous health problems.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund site (the Oeser Company site) is located within a mile of where the Port of Bellingham wants to put the NOAA fleet

"I do not believe the environmental hazards within the Port of Bellingham were taken into full consideration in the original NOAA decision-making process," Wyden wrote, adding, however, that "when these problems are taken into account it makes NOAA's selection of Newport look that much better."

To read the letter click below:

To view the map click below: