Thursday, March 18, 2010

The straight scoop on Bellingham Bay cleanup funding

By Katie J. Skipper, Communications Manager, Bellingham Field Office

During legislative sessions, predicting budgets and project funding is a little like predicting the weather – next year. So we understand why some people might be confused about what’s going on with funding for Bellingham Bay cleanup projects.

Hopefully, we can clear things up, though we won’t know all of the answers until legislators and the Governor settle on the state’s final budget.

One thing we do know is that no state cleanup money has been taken away from Bellingham Bay sites. Through grant agreements, state funding is committed to reimburse up to 50 percent of local government cleanup costs at many sites. Other sites don’t have a grant agreement in place yet, so no money is committed to them.

The state has committed $24 million in a grant agreement with the Port of Bellingham for Whatcom Waterway cleanup – the largest and most complex of the 12 Bellingham Bay cleanup sites. We also have $3.5 million in remedial action grant agreements for seven other sites: Cornwall Avenue Landfill, G-P West, Central Waterfront, Weldcraft Steel and Marine, Harris Avenue Shipyard, I & J Waterway and South State Street MGP.

When Ecology prepared its 2009-11 budget request to the governor, the R.G. Haley site wasn’t in public ownership yet, so it wasn’t eligible for grant funding. We understand this site is a top priority for its new owner, the city, and it’s a top priority for Ecology, so we’re working to obtain future funding there.

Yes, the Legislature transferred $179 million from state and local toxics cleanup accounts into the general fund to manage a historic revenue shortfall in the last two years. But legislators protected projects like Bellingham Bay using state bond funds.

We didn’t lose any money, but we didn’t get any more.

This year, transfers of cleanup account funds and restoration of cleanup funding for new projects are both under consideration. We won’t know how cleanup funds will be used until the final budget is completed.

For now, we have funds to do plenty of work, and we’re doing it.

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