Home Features Stop that noise!

Stop that noise!

Hey, we’re working here!

An ordinance being developed by the Bellingham City Council would prohibit “construction and industrial noises” between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. that “unreasonably disturb” people in residential areas. Why? Residents of South Hill and other neighborhoods objected to crashing sounds coming from Bellingham Shipping Terminal, where ABC Recycling occasionally loads scrap metal into ships for overseas transport.

As of this writing, an agreement between ABC Recycling and the longshoremen’s union has activity ceasing at midnight instead of their previous 3 a.m. stoppage. Also, Rob Fix, executive director of the Port of Bellingham, has proposed pausing any new ordinance until ABC Recycling loads its next ship, sometime early this year.

“To be competitive, local businesses need to have similar rules as similar businesses in other communities,” Fix said. “Shipping terminals up and down the west coast operate 24/7. Stopping work at 3 a.m. was more than reasonable for the shipping industry. The port’s tenant and the longshoremen made a generous concession to appease a few vocal folks; let’s at least give them the courtesy of seeing if the concession makes a meaningful difference.”

What’s next?

So, we’ve pressed pause for now. But what’s next?

It’s not just waterfront businesses that would be affected, Fix said.

“Any business that does shift work and makes noise will be impacted,” he said. “Folks complain when they hear a backup alarm after dark; backup alarms are mandatory. So, anyone with a backup alarm, noisy exhaust fan, machinery and any other industrial noise will get complaints. If this passes, they will have a new tool to shut down industry. They won’t stop at noise; next up will be lighting, smells and sights someone finds unseemly.”

Ron Wille is president of All American Marine, a company with 65 full-time local employees that builds aluminum commercial vessels such as ferries, scientific survey vessels and hybrid vessels. Founded in 1987, the company moved into its new-construction facility on Squalicum Harbor in 2017. Wille points out that the company is a commercial industrial operation in a commercial industrial zone, which comes with assurances that businesses can continue with their business.

“These are long-term investments made in these businesses,” Wille said. “We go from 6 a.m. to 4:30, Monday through Thursday. We work Fridays as well.”

A 6 a.m. start would be during the quiet times outlined in the ordinance draft.

“Goods and services in the maritime world move at all hours,” Wille said. “Boats go out to assist ships 24/7. Our business is no exception. We launch boats at high tide in early morning. You could see us at the boat ramp with trailers at 3, 4, 5 a.m. High tide doesn’t care about the hours of 10 to 7.”

Shannon Terrell is president and CEO of Brooks Manufacturing, a company whose 55 full-time local employees help make the wood crossarms that hold up power lines on utility poles. The company has been family owned and operated since its 1915 Bellingham beginning. Terrell voiced concern about the ordinance’s unintended consequences.

“The Department of Ecology already has noise ordinances in place for Washington state,” Terrell said. “The council is being redundant from what’s already on the books, already measurable, from Ecology.”

Like Fix, Terrell said that such an ordinance would present a slippery slope.

“If this is passed, who’s to say council won’t go after an odor profile?” Terrell said. “What if work has to get done — road repair on the freeway, railroads, trains coming through Bellingham — I see us going down a rabbit hole when we don’t need to.”

Colin Bornstein is CEO of Bornstein Seafoods, a family-owned company founded in Bellingham in 1934 that sources and processes seafood via six locations on the west coast.

“All our facilities and unloading stations are on the water,” Bornstein said. “Waterfront access is key to our business to support the fishing fleets and shipping goods. We are a 24-hour operation.”

A noise ordinance like the one proposed would be concerning for the company, Bornstein said.

“We’re a seasonal business,” Bornstein said. “We take care of vessels that come in at all hours. They have their lights on so they can dock the boat. 

We’ve been at this waterfront location since the early ’50s. We’ve always mitigated any complaints, but as urban growth gets closer to the waterfront, it becomes more pertinent. Noise is a factor in all types of businesses.”

Besides providing jobs, a working waterfront gives the community a sense of charm, Bornstein said.

“We are highly regulated,” Bornstein added. “Whether it’s wastewater, stormwater, fishery issues … I’m interested in all of them and how to continue to be a good steward of our oceans and waterways and a good steward of our community. I want to continue to provide solid jobs.”

Keep working

Wille of All American Marine echoes that sentiment, saying a working waterfront adds character and flair to life in Bellingham.

“We want to retain the working culture, the waterfront jobs,” Wille said, “but those uses and residential uses are not always going to be in harmony. When you have (residential) projects that encroach onto the industrial zone, it could lead to conflicts. Some of the issues can be negated by making sure that when you build condos on the waterfront, it’s very clear that there will be noises. Everyone in town is used to the train. Nobody’s trying to stop the train, and that’s the noisiest thing around.”

Compromise is possible, Wille said.

“We’re happy to work with the community to create standards that people can live with,” Wille said. “We want to be part of the solution.”  ν

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