Kimberly-Clark told to cover site with topsoil, grass

EVERETT — Kimberly-Clark Corp. must comply with its demolition permit by covering the site of its former waterfront mill with topsoil and grass, Everett officials told the company Tuesday.

Kimberly-Clark wanted the city to waive the post-demolition requirements, saying the extra layer of dirt would make the 66-acre property harder to maintain and sell.

In a letter sent Tuesday, Everett denied the request.

“Our position hasn’t changed, which is that we expect them to meet the conditions of their demolition permit,” Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson said.

Stephanson added that, “Staff did a very open-minded, thorough review of the request.”

The city will allow Kimberly-Clark to wait until April 2014 to plant grass over the fill dirt, through a process known as hydroseeding. The extension should allow time for environmental sampling to help control dust during the drier months next year, Stephanson said.

A spokesman for Dallas-based Kimberly-Clark said it was disappointing that no one at the company saw Everett’s letter before a reporter provided a copy, “since we have spent a considerable amount of time communicating with the city on these issues.”

“We will review the letter carefully and continue to work with the city to address the concerns they raised in their response,” Bob Brand said.

The former mill site has remained blanketed with crushed concrete debris since crews finished tearing down buildings earlier this summer.

In a June 10 letter to the city, a Kimberly-Clark consultant argued the merits of leaving the waterfront property as is, without going through the final steps of trucking in fill dirt and planting grass.

The letter went on to enumerate why that aesthetic would be more appealing to potential buyers. Other merits of the crushed concrete surface are better access during environmental cleanup and redevelopment, according to the letter.

Filling the area with dirt would cost Kimberly-Clark considerable time and money. It also would temporarily increase truck traffic through downtown Everett.

Tuesday’s letter from Everett planning director Allan Giffen touches on other points beyond the topsoil requirement.

It clarifies that Everett expects environmental cleanup to meet “unrestricted standards,” allowing for open space and other types of nonindustrial development on the property.

Members of the City Council have gone on the record with doubts that Kimberly-Clark will clean the property beyond industrial standards.

The City Council voted 6-1 early this year to rezone the shoreline of the mill site for water-dependent industry. At the same time, they left flexibility for office parks, open space and other types of development farther from the water.

Without additional cleanup, the site could be limited to manufacturing and other industrial uses, which isn’t what the council intended.

Council members’ concern about the cleanup grew this spring, when tests of demolition debris revealed elevated levels of arsenic and other industrial pollutants.

Stephanson said on Tuesday his administration shares the council’s position.

“Kimberly-Clark is required to clean (the property) up to unrestricted use standards,” he said.

Decontaminating the land is expected to be an ongoing process for at least three more years. An agreement between Kimberly-Clark and state environmental officials about how that process should proceed is at least a year away.

Kimberly-Clark announced last week it was preparing to get a head start on removing petroleum-contaminated soils deposited in the area since the 1930s. Clearcreek Contractors of Everett has been hired for the initial work, which could begin in days.

“We are looking forward to beginning the voluntary, early action clean-up work next week on those portions of the site that we have already identified as needing to be addressed,” Brand said.

Another issue raised in the city’s letter to Kimberly-Clark is whether demolition debris that wound up being placed closer than expected to the shoreline will require extra environmental review.

The city did not require Kimberly-Clark to obtain a permit for shoreline development when it sought approval for its demolition plans. City officials now say they were unaware that crushed materials would be spread within 200 feet of the water.

Kimberly-Clark has said the fill used in that area meets cleanup standards allowing for anything to be built on top of it. However, permitting officials still may decide that closer environmental scrutiny is warranted.

“If violations have occurred, they will need to be remedied,” Stephanson said.

The mill, which operated for roughly 80 years, shut down for good in April 2012. About 700 people lost jobs. Demolition started last year and finished in July.

Kimberly-Clark is trying to sell the mill property in one piece and reports interest from several industrial users. Nondisclosure agreements prevent Kimberly-Clark or the potential buyers from discussing specifics. The Port of Everett is on record about eyeing the land for possible expansion. Snohomish County Assessor records estimate the land’s value at more than $30 million.

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

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