On June 10, 1999, an Olympic Pipeline Company pipeline exploded in Bellingham, Washington. Approximately 236,000 gallons of gas spilled into two Bellingham creeks. A fireball erupted and burned for a one-and-a-half miles down one of the creeks. Smoke billowed to 30,000 feet in the air. Tragically, the gas leak and explosion killed three youth and thousands of animals, fish, and plants within the Whatcom Watershed.
RestorationBecause of the devastation, it was apparent that environmental restoration needed to take place. The City of Bellingham enlisted the Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) and funded efforts to restore the native vegetation and habitat loss along the watershed.
Liz Anderson, Bellingham crew supervisor and former WCC member has served on the Bellingham pipeline restoration project since 2006. She spoke of the devastation that the explosion caused to the Bellingham community, and the importance of returning the watershed to its original state.
For nearly 15 years, WCC restoration efforts have included:
- Re-engineering the creeks; creating ponds and flood plains, installing woody debris, and developing cable bogs
- Planting more than 100,000 trees
- Creating habitat
- Monitoring water quality and animal usage
- Thinning alder trees and allowing space for conifers to take over as the primary forest covering
- Removing invasive plants
- Maintaining the site
- Removing litter
The success continuesSite monitoring has shown huge improvements in the quality of the watershed. Over the past few years, WCC crews have witnessed the once damaged site becoming a habitat to fish, birds, and mammals. A bobcat has even been spotted taking up residence in the area.
According to Liz, the site is not yet fully self-sustaining, however, crews are seeing success beyond the primary stage of restoration on the project. "This is a great example of what can be done after a disaster," Liz said.