Kimberly-Clark says former mill site better without grass

EVERETT — Kimberly-Clark Corp. wants city planners to waive requirements to cover the site of its demolished waterfront mill with topsoil and grass.

Those final steps are spelled out in Everett’s demolition permit.

The company, however, contends the land is best left blanketed under pulverized concrete — until somebody builds something new there.

City staff has yet to reach a decision on a waiver.

A June 10 letter from a Kimberly-Clark consultant states that forgoing the post-demolition work will provide better water runoff, easier access for heavy equipment and more curb appeal for potential buyers. Left unsaid in the letter is the fact it would also cost Kimberly-Clark a lot less money.

City Council president Jeff Moore said it’s up to city staff to weigh the merits and recommend which course to take.

“If there’s something that creates a win-win that doesn’t harm our environment or our community, we should certainly look at it,” Moore said. “But we shouldn’t compromise the intent of our land action pertaining to the central waterfront district.”

The mill, which operated for roughly 80 years, shut down for good in April 2012. About 700 people lost jobs. It had been the last mill still operating on a waterfront that was once defined by them.

In an attempt to replace some of the lost jobs, a City Council majority voted in January to re-zone that part of the shoreline for marine industry. At the same time, they left flexibility for office parks, open space and other types of development farther from the water.

A demolition contractor finished work last month, leaving the 66-acre former mill site largely flat.

The next big step is cleaning up the land, which could take three years or more.

Kimberly-Clark on Friday announced plans to get a head start on removing toxic soil. The work is to focus largely on petroleum contamination, some dating from the 1930s. Clearcreek Contractors of Everett has been hired for the initial work, which could begin as early as this week.

“That’s a really smart move on their part and we’re really glad about that,” said Barry Rogowski, a section manager with the state Department of Ecology. “We’re hoping that gets a lot of the worst contamination that we know of out of the site.”

Kimberly-Clark and state ecology officials expect to spend the next year or so reaching agreement about how the cleanup should be handled. The public will have a chance to comment before any deal gets finalized.

Public scrutiny of the site’s environmental problems increased this spring.

While demolition work was ongoing, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency issued a warning notice about excessive dust. The agency has received no new complaints after the demolition contractor started spraying more water to control the dust.

City leaders also drew attention to new sampling data from demolition debris — including the crushed concrete ground cover — showing higher-than-expected levels of arsenic and other heavy metals.

Dallas-based Kimberly-Clark maintains that the site is safe for industrial development, but Moore and other City Council members want assurances it will be cleaned to higher standards, allowing all types of potential development.

Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher, an outspoken critic of zoning the area for heavy industry, said it looks as though Kimberly-Clark is trying to sidestep cleanup responsibilities while shutting out all future uses except industry. That, she said, goes against city leaders’ wishes to keep open other development possibilities.

“This latest salvo from K-C makes it clear that they intend to circumvent that option in any way they can,” she wrote in an email. “I hope that our city administration and council do not allow them to get away with it.”

Stonecipher offered a point-by-point challenge for Kimberly-Clark’s justifications. She labeled the anti-erosion argument as “specious” and said not covering the area could lead to more dust which is known to contain industrial pollutants.

Kimberly-Clark has marketed its waterfront real estate as a single property and reports several inquiries.

Interest in the property is “almost universally” coming from industrial users, company spokesman Bob Brand said.

The June 10 letter makes the case that the site’s current gravelly aesthetic makes it more marketable.

“The visual message of a crushed concrete surface reaffirms to potential buyers and the local community that the property is zoned for ‘industrial use’ and is not destined to become a park or remain open space,” the letter says.

Though the company cannot disclose who the potential buyers are, the Port of Everett has confirmed it’s looking at the real estate for possible expansion. Due diligence studies of the land’s environmental problems and suitability for port operations are likely to continue for at least another month, a port spokeswoman said.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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