Monday, December 26, 2011

The Cornwall Landfill in 1963

There's a lot of work going on along our waterfront these days. In reading the Bellingham Herald and in my wanderings about town, two waterfront projects are evident. At the old Cornwall Landfill (near the waterward terminus of Cornwall Avenue) a whole lot of scraping and piling is happening. And at Gate 3 in Squalicum Marina, all kinds of muck are being scooped up onto a dredge barge, and old creosote pilings are being removed. These projects remind me of one of my favorite stories about Bellingham and the Cornwall Landfill in the 1960s.

Ralph Munro told this story and showed these photos as part of a speech he gave a couple of years ago. Ralph is a former Washington Secretary of State, and has been a long-standing voice in the quest to save the Puget Sound Orcas from extinction, as well as many other causes. He was a student a Western in the early 1960s, and didn't like the fact that the City of Bellingham dumped garbage right into the bay, off the end of Cornwall Avenue. Here, in his words, is his story about trying to shut down the Cornwall Landfill:

"One of the most fun things that happened that year, one of the most interesting things, was that Bellingham dumped all its garbage into the Bay. As a young Republican and somebody concerned about the future of the community I thought [the dumping] was pretty awful. But environmental programs hadn't been heard of and the EPA was yet to come. But we just thought it was awful that we could put our garbage in the garbage can and the garbage can would go out to the garbage truck and the garbage truck would then proceed to drive down the hill and dump it into the Bay."

So Ralph and his two buddies did something about it. They dressed up in their fanciest outfits, pretended they were from the "Environmental Protection Division," went down to the dump, and told the guy running the bulldozer that from now on, the dump was closed, and that they'd have to find a new place to dump the garbage. Evidently this trick caused quite a stir at City Hall!

According to the Herald and my Baykeeper colleagues, the muck from the Squalicum Marina dredging project is being taken to the GP site, where it will dry out before it is mixed with a small quantity of cement. Then it will be spread over the 3.5 acre Cornwall Landfill site, where it will be covered with plastic sheeting to help keep rainwater from seeping down into buried garbage and into the Bay.

I'm having trouble believing the muck will dry out this time of year, and there is dioxin (a persistent, bioaccumulative toxic waste) in the sediment that's being dredged up. Do we really want supposedly dry muck that contains dioxin mixed with cement and spread over the Cornwall Landfill site? The Baykeeper Team said no - and we made extensive comments, as others have, to this end. The Port of Bellingham and the Department of Ecology discounted our concerns.

50 years ago we dumped our garbage into the Bay. It was standard practice back then, and lots of other towns did it too. 50 years from today are we going to regret that we didn't take enough action to protect our water? Are we going to look back to 2011 and wonder why we did nothing to stop stormwater pollution? Will all the "permits to pollute" come back to haunt us? I don't know, but I love this story about Ralph, and wanted to share it. Thanks to Ralph and Phil Robbins, who took these photos in 1963. In the photo below, Ralph is in the middle. The person on the right is Ralph's roomate Chuck Sarin. The person on the left is the bulldozer operator from the dump. Thanks for reading!

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