EVERETT — A little more than a week after Mayor Ray Stephanson halted a controversial plan to remove most of the trees in Legion Memorial Park, the city announced that it was postponing the whole project.
That will give the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and the state Department of Ecology time to draw up a new cleanup plan for the park that will be less likely to damage the trees.
“We’re concerned it would be impossible to complete the work over the whole park without impacting the trees,” said Meghan Pembroke, city spokeswoman.
Much of northern Everett, including Legion Park, is contaminated by heavy metals left over from the operations of the Everett Smelter.
The smelter closed in 1912, but leftover pollution was detected in the 1990s, especially arsenic and lead, but with smaller amounts of thallium, cadmium, mercury and antimony also present.
The state Department of Ecology has been working on cleaning about 1.1 square miles of area, mostly by removing up to 18 inches of topsoil and replacing it with clean fill.
The original plan for Legion Park would have closed the park for the winter while contractors continued the cleanup. The city parks department would have used that opportunity to remove up to 90 trees that it said were sick, dying or otherwise near the end of their natural lifespan, and replace them with more than 100 saplings of various species.
A public outcry over the removal of the large shade trees that dominate and give character to the park convinced Mayor Stephanson to halt the tree removal plan.
As a result of the delay, the park will not be closed this winter and the annual Sorticulture garden festival, which takes over the park for a week every June, will not have to relocate, as was anticipated.
A new plan probably will take a few months to finalize, Pembroke said, but it means that the cleanup work in the park won’t start up again until the second half of 2015.
This also means the cancellation of a public meeting scheduled for Tuesday that was to focus on both the city’s tree removal plan and Ecology’s cleanup process.
The cleanup will focus primarily on those areas of the park that see the highest amount of traffic and the highest concentrations of pollution. The work will likely take place in phases, so that other parts of the park can remain open while the project is under way.
With a more limited scope, some contamination will still remain in the soil afterward, but that is the case elsewhere in the city, said Meg Bommarito, who is overseeing the cleanup for Ecology.
“For any property that we work on, there’s going to be some contamination left in place, because there’s always areas that we can’t get to,” she said.
In residential neighborhoods, contaminated soil may be buried under sidewalks or driveways. In the park, it might be around roots and building foundations.
“We’re trying to make sure the trees will survive,” Bommarito said.
The heaviest contamination was found in the footprint of the former smelter site, which is near the intersection of Broadway and East Marine View Drive.
Farther out, the most significant pollutant is the arsenic that blew over the city, Bommarito said.
The city’s delay on the park cleanup won’t change Ecology’s schedule for cleaning up residential properties.
The state has cleaned up 257 properties in north Everett, and will begin removing soil at 19 more this fall. Another 23 are beginning the process that will result in a cleanup in 2015, Bommarito said.
The residential cleanup program is funded with $44 million from a bankruptcy settlement with Asarco, the last inheritor of the interests and liabilities of the smelter.
The Legion Park cleanup is funded through a separate appropriation from the Legislature, and the tree removal program would have been paid for by the city.