ABC Recycling withdraws plan for controversial metal shredder along Bellingham waterfront

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ABC Recycling has apparently canceled plans for its controversial metal shredder near the waterfront just outside Bellingham city limits, the company said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

Andrew Anthony, vice president of U.S. operations for ABC, told the Whatcom County Planning and Development Services Department about the company’s decision in a brief letter.

“ABC Recycling would like to hereby withdraw its applications for permits for the development of its property located at 741 Marine Drive, Bellingham, Wash.,” the letter said. It cited permit application numbers and nothing else.

Company spokesman Riley Sweeney told The Bellingham Herald in a text message that ABC would have “no additional comment at this time.”

The site for the proposed metal shredder facility is highlighted on a satellite map. The property is owned by ABC Recycling and is zoned as heavy industrial. City of Bellingham CityIQ Map/Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald
The site for the proposed metal shredder facility is highlighted on a satellite map. The property is owned by ABC Recycling and is zoned as heavy industrial. City of Bellingham CityIQ Map/Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Anthony’s letter canceled a planned major project permit, site plan review and associated preparation of an environmental impact statement that is required under the State Environmental Policy Act.

ABC Recycling submitted application materials Oct. 23, 2023, for its proposed facility, just one day before the County Council was set to revisit its proposed moratorium on new heavy industry. That measure failed on a 3-3-1 vote Oct. 24.

County Councilman Todd Donovan, who voted for the moratorium, said he hopes that the community can start looking at other possible development in that area.

“It’s now back in the realm of public discussion about what we want that area to be again and advancing our plans that are already on the books for that being affordable housing multifamily housing in that area. And finding ways that that would be compatible with. Industry but maybe not heavy industry and we can now we can start talking about the now instead of being told by our attorneys that there’s a pending permit that keeps us from talking about that stuff. So good news,” Donovan told The Herald in a voicemail.

Both the Bellingham City Council and the Whatcom County Council were giving the ABC shredder application intense scrutiny after recent public outcry about noise and pollution, and Bellingham had joined the County Council as a partner for the required environmental review.

Scrap metal is piled at the Port of Bellingham to be shipped out via cargo ship as part of a recycling operation run by ABC Recycling, a British Columbia-based recycling company. Residents have voiced concerns about the noise generated from the activity after the waterfront was largely quiet for the last 20 years during a period of inactivity. ABC Recycling/Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

“We are so grateful that Bellingham and Whatcom County won’t become the latest community to be hurt by an Industrial Metal Shredder in close proximity to residents and sensitive ecosystems,” said Scott Jones, the founder of the ABC Recycling opposition group Save The Waterfront, in an email to The Herald.

“Save The Waterfront was gearing up for the long haul fight, and we will continue to work against dangerous antiquated zoning. The location just did not make sense. There was little benefit to the community, and so much potential for damage to residents and the environment. Shredders and Heavy Industry must be located away from residents. The activity of recycling is needed, and there are great locations for that work to be done. Bellingham’s municipal UGA is not that location,” Jones told The Herald.

ABC Recycling’s scrap metal recycling operations have been a source of controversy since they began along the waterfront in 2022, restarting the first regular cargo activity at the Bellingham Shipping Terminal after a 20-year industry pause.

Over the last year and a half, scrap metal has frequently been exported from the Bellingham waterfront, drawing frustration from some nearby residents about loud noise and concern from others about possible environmental impacts.

ABC Recycling’s Riley Sweeney answers questions from community members about the company’s proposed metal shredder facility on Sept. 6, 2023, at a community-organized meeting at Alderwood Elementary School in Bellingham, Wash. A panel of county and city leaders, including Whatcom County Executive Satpal Sidhu and Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood, also answered community questions. Rachel Showalter/The Bellingham Herald

In 2023, ABC Recycling proposed to expand its Whatcom County footprint by building and operating the metal shredder and recycling facility on Marine Drive, just outside of Bellingham, gathering further community backlash.

The proposed facility would have been built to process post-consumer goods like de-polluted vehicles, old water tanks and washing machines.

The shredded metal was initially planned to be taken to the company’s shipping facility at the Port of Bellingham and shipped to various steel mills overseas to be remelted for future use into things including rebar, I-beams and sheet metal.

However, that process would have required re-evaluation if the facility moved forward with its plans due to the anticipated end of ABC Recycling’s scrap metal recycling operation along the waterfront.

The Port of Bellingham executed a Lease Termination Agreement with the company on March 25, effectively ending ABC’s shipping terminal lease by Sept. 30, 2024, due to Port allegations that ABC committed various defaults under its lease agreement.