Worst contamination from Harbor Island Superfund site will go to landfill

This was in direct response to a letter a drafted from a dozen NGO’s to the Port and King County.



Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Last updated 12:47 a.m. PT


The Port of Seattle commission voted Tuesday to send the most PCB-contaminated mud dredged from the Harbor Island Superfund site to a landfill, rather than dumping it into Elliott Bay as it had previously planned.

The split vote, which was hailed by King County, the state’s Puget Sound Partnership and representatives of a dozen environmental organizations, was controversial because the port had passed the state and federal regulatory hurdles for disposal into Puget Sound.

Other state ports fear that they, too, will be asked to go beyond what is currently required. Commission President John Creighton has said the location of the navigational dredging — in a Superfund site slated to be cleaned up beginning in 2010 — played a role in his decision, which was shared by Commissioners Alec Fisken and Lloyd Hara.

“In line with the Port of Seattle’s direction as the cleanest, greenest and most energy-efficient port out there, and in line with the state’s direction on cleaning up Puget Sound, we need to err on the side of a cleaner Puget Sound,” Creighton said.

Commissioners Pat Davis and Bob Edwards voted against sending the toxic mud to a landfill, expressing anxiety over finishing the project on time and doubts as to the environmental benefits of sending the PCB-laden sand and mud to a landfill.

The vote was also decided in part by the county’s agreement to split the direct costs of sending the toxic mud ashore.

King County owns the sewage and stormwater pipe that discharges into the area to be dredged just east of Harbor Island and may be responsible for much of the pollution found there. The port is sending to a landfill about 21,000 cubic yards of dredged material containing seven pounds of PCBs at a cost its staff estimated at between $2.9 million and $5.4 million.

The county also is dredging a similar amount of material at a more polluted site along the Myrtle Edwards Park shoreline just north of the Olympic Sculpture Park, where 41 pounds of PCBs will be removed and sent to a landfill for $3.6 million. PCBs are polychlorinated biphenyls, industrial chemicals that were banned in the late 1970s because of the harm they cause to humans.

The port and the county’s collaboration on the cleanup earned them high marks from David Dicks, the executive director of the newly formed Puget Sound Partnership, a state agency focused on the estuary’s health.

“The port and King County are going above the current standards to do the right thing, so we should make sure that we help them do so in a timely fashion,” Dicks said. “I will do everything in my power to ensure the permits will be granted in as timely a fashion as possible.”

The port staff’s main concern is to have their permit modifications in hand to begin the dredging of the dirtiest sediment in a year, deepening that waterway enough for container ships to use it by the scheduled spring 2009 opening of Terminal 30. The dredging may add to the rising costs of a $118 million project to move the cruise-ship berths from there to Terminal 91 in Interbay.

David Kendall, head of the Army Corps of Engineers’ Seattle-area office that regulates marine disposal of contaminated mud and sand, said the port could have legally disposed of all its dredged material in Elliott Bay.

Kendall said he’d rather see the money that’s being used to haul the sludge to a landfill instead used to haul away sediments nearby in the Duwamish River that are many times more contaminated and are part of another Superfund cleanup.

Kendall has said the Elliott Bay dumping ground, which has received nearly 2.5 million cubic yards of similarly tainted material since it was opened in 1989, is still cleaner than the rest of the polluted urban bay. That’s because the agencies bury the more toxic sediments they dump there under cleaner dredged sand and mud in an effort to “cap” them, he said.

Even the port’s dirtiest sediments passed tests of their toxicity to water fleas, baby mussels and a marine worm, Kendall said. The dozen environmental groups that fought to have the sediment sent to a landfill argued that what’s protective of a flea is not protective of salmon, which build up PCBs throughout their life cycles, or the humans and orcas who eat them.

Dicks said the Puget Sound Partnership is in the process of creating an action plan for Puget Sound that may necessitate changing programs and standards that are now status quo.

P-I reporter Kristen Millares Young can be reached at 206-448-8142 or kristenyoung@seattlepi.com.

© 1998-2007 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

~ by fredfelleman on December 12, 2007.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: