ABC Recycling — the same British Columbia-based company at the center of a controversy involving its metal recycling operation along Bellingham’s waterfront — is now facing more community backlash over its proposed metal shredder and recycling facility just outside of town.
The company is proposing to construct the facility adjacent to the Lehigh Northwest Concrete factory off Marine Drive. ABC Recycling already owns the proposed development property, valued at more than $3 million.
The facility would process post-consumer goods like depolluted vehicles, old water tanks and washing machines. The shredded metal would then be transported to the company’s existing 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.
The proposal, which is in the early stages and has not yet been submitted as an application for development through the county, is already creating worry for Bellingham and Whatcom County residents.
If approved, the metal shredder facility is expected to create up to 15 jobs at the start of operations, with 30 jobs anticipated when the facility reaches full capacity.
Barring any challenges in permitting and development, ABC Recycling expects to begin operations at the facility in 2025.
Community members share concerns
About 200 people gathered Wednesday, Sept. 6, at a public meeting to talk about the impact of the facility and the possible dangers it could bring to the community. A panel of city and county leaders, including Whatcom County Executive Satpal Sidhu and Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood, along with representatives from ABC Recycling, answered questions from residents.
“We know that this permit process hasn’t started yet. But we, as a community, have started worrying about what’s going to happen,” said Scott Jones, organizer of the meeting and South Hill Neighborhood Association president. Jones is also a founding member of Save the Waterfront, a group opposed to ABC Recycling’s activities.
The meeting quickly grew tense as residents raised concerns about potential noise, additional truck traffic and possible environmental impacts such as dust and chemicals. Organizers also shared examples of fires and deaths that have occurred at other metal shredders across the country.
City and county leaders made clear that all laws and regulations would be strictly followed along with the permit process if and when ABC Recycling submits an application for development. Sidhu told residents their concerns would be heard.
“We are not against you or you are not against us. Don’t think in those terms,” he told the residents gathered. “We want to do what our citizens want. We want to do what is safe for all of us. We want to do what is safe for our kids.”
Commitment to regulation
In a telephone interview prior to the meeting, ABC Recycling Community Relation representative Riley Sweeney told The Bellingham Herald he understands the public concern about the facility, but said this kind of operation is not new and it will follow strict safety protocols.
ABC Recycling will also have to meet or exceed all of the standards set by the Northwest Clean Air Agency, the Department of Ecology and Whatcom County in order to proceed with operations.
“Metal shredders are operated all over the United States. ABC has been in the metal recycling business for over 100 years, so it’s a well-worn path,” Sweeney said.
ABC Recycling anticipates the metal shredding facility would operate during typical daytime hours from Monday through Friday. The operation would likely generate between three and five truck trips per hour, depending on traffic conditions.
In order to limit pollution, Sweeney said both the shredder and the post-shredding process would be fully enclosed inside buildings. The shredder itself would be in a building designed to mitigate the operation’s sound and emissions. The facility’s main metal intake and shredder would be located on the northern part of the development site where existing vegetation would create a barrier and limit impacts to nearby residential neighbors, Sweeney said.
The facility is also expected to process all raw material stockpiled on the site each day, so there will be no accumulation of material waiting to be shredded — something community members were also concerned about.
“Every pound of metal that we take is landfill diverted,” Sweeney said. “They are things that would end up in the trash and we are giving them a new life.”
Many residents who live close to the proposed site in the nearby Alderwood annexation area and Birchwood neighborhood shared frustration about their proximity and what some called “antiquated” zoning. The proposed project site is zoned as heavy industrial but borders residential neighborhoods.
The Alderwood annexation area is technically in the county but borders the Bellingham city boundary and is proposed to be incorporated by the city. It has some of the highest rates of demographic diversity in the area, with nearby schools practicing dual language. The area is also projected to have high levels of population growth in the coming years, especially among historically marginalized communities.
Whatcom County Council Chairman Barry Buchanan, who also sat on the panel to help answer community questions, told residents it would be possible to rezone the proposed metal shredder site and was met with cheers when he said he would be in favor of the change.
“We would have to go into a process that would probably involve our Planning Commission as well as the council and our Planning Department,” Buchanan said. “We would want to consider all the facts and look at that hard because I would be in favor of moving toward rezoning (the property).”