Bellingham Shipping Terminal

Harbor Improvements
The Municipal Dock, which had been built by the City of Bellingham in 1918 and purchased by the port in 1924, was in need of repair and better rail access. The dock had served well in the boom years of the 1920s until the Great Depression hit. By the time the new port commissioners met in the corner of a warehouse in the mid 1950s, it was reported that shipping was nearly nonexistent, with all docks and warehouses requiring repair and renovation.

In 1962, the port approached voters to secure a tax levy for an ambitious array of harbor improvements. With its passage, the early 1960s saw drastic improvements to port facilities. Improvements included filling in the port dock with six acres of fill-land for a larger unloading area, extending the main pier from 850 to 1,375 feet with ship berths on both sides, adding a six-ton capacity gantry crane servicing Berth A and a 50-ton capacity crane for Berth B, and installing a 30,000-ton salt storage pad and conveyor system as well as a rail-barge transfer facility and chemical barge.

Shipping Boom
By the late 1960s, shipping was booming. Much of this was due to the success of the Georgia-Pacific plant in downtown Bellingham and the Intalco Aluminum plant in Ferndale. In 1966, the port purchased the former PAF cannery properties, operating a can-labeling factory until the early 1980s. The port had 14,000 tons of cargo traffic in 1950 and 36,000 tons by 1960. An astounding 506,179 tons were moved in 1970. Annual figures in excess of 600,000 tons of cargo were seen throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

The 1980s foresaw significant changes on the horizon as Georgia-Pacific began to slow its operations. This was a prelude to the closure of the pulp mill in 2001 and the entire operation in 2007.

Shipping Decline
With the loss of cargo from Georgia-Pacific and Intalco by 2001, shipping out of the Whatcom International Shipping Terminal had all but halted, and the situation has not changed much since. For the last few years, the Bellingham Shipping Terminal has been home to the Horizon Fairbanks, an older ship with poor fuel economy that Horizon keeps idled simply as a cost-saving measure.

Marine Pacific Operations Center
From 2005 to 2010, the port mounted an effort to bring the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Pacific Operations Center from Seattle’s Lake Union center to the Bellingham Shipping Terminal. Hoping to secure Bellingham as the home port for the fleet of research vessels and an anticipated 188 new jobs, the port submitted a proposal in a federal site competition. Ultimately, the Department of Commerce selected Newport, Oregon, after the state of Oregon offered $19 million to subsidize to the $40 million project.

The shipping terminal now awaits the redevelopment of the Bellingham waterfront.

Next: Squalicum Harbor