Intalco Aluminum & Georgia Pacific

Intalco Aluminum
The Intalco Aluminum plant was located north of Bellingham in Ferndale and shipped tons of aluminum out of the Whatcom International Shipping Terminal. Facing massive increases in the price of electricity while producing a high energy-consumption product like aluminum, the plant has had to reduce operations severely throughout the last ten years. In 2001, Intalco had to close its plant for six months at the behest of the Bonneville Power Administration simply to ensure electricity for other local users. Since then, the plant has run under capacity, and local demand has been high enough that they no longer need to export aluminum overseas.

Georgia-Pacific dominated the downtown Bellingham waterfront from the 1960s to 2007, at various times shipping out bleached sulfite, pulp, alcohol, paperboard, lignin products, tissue products, chlorine, caustic soda, sodium chlorate, and sulfuric acid and shipping in raw materials such as wood chips, logs, and salt.

Environmental Regulation
Though economically viable to the community, the chlor-alkali plant utilized liquid mercury as a conduit for electrical current that broke down salt water into chlorine and sodium hydroxide. Unfortunately, from 1964 through 1971, an unknown quantity of mercury ended up in Bellingham Bay. However, by the early 1970s, new environmental regulations stemming from the 1972 Clean Water Act prompted the company to seek out new treatment methods, culminating in the 1978-1979 construction of the 38-acre, 250 million gallon Aerated Stabilization Basin.

Decline of Operations
By the end of the 1980s, Georgia-Pacific was beginning to slow their operations. Ultimately, high energy costs and other economic factors spelled the fate for the Bellingham plant. Facing rising electricity prices and city opposition to their plans to add a set of diesel generators to the mill, the company permanently ended pulp-mill operations in Bellingham in March of 2001. It appears as though it was becoming all but policy not to invest additional resources into plants near downtown areas or within community centers, most likely for the heightened public-relations problems it often generated.

The decline of the Bellingham mill left hundreds of local residents without jobs. Employment numbers declined from a high of 1,200 workers in the late 1970s, and with the pulp mill’s closure in 2001, 420 jobs were lost. Georgia-Pacific continued to operate its tissue-manufacturing plant, producing household products such as bathroom tissue and Sparkle paper towels. By 2007, Georgia-Pacific had ended all operations in Bellingham.