EVERETT — Two neighborhoods are trying to convince Snohomish County officials, yet again, that it’s a bad idea to build a subdivision next to a dormant landfill where underground fires smoldered decades ago.
Two years ago, the neighbors succeeded in having plans for the Bakerview subdivision east of Everett’s Silver Lake area sent back for more environmental study. That included updating a plan to permanently close Go East Landfill.
The county hearing examiner is set to revisit the plans during three days of testimony, starting Tuesday.
“We still have a lot of deep concerns about the whole thing,” said Peggy Hurd, one of the neighbors who filed the appeal.
The hearing examiner’s decision is due a few weeks later, unless proceedings get extended or delayed.
The Bakerview subdivision would include 97 houses off 108th Street SE at 44th Avenue SE. The homes would take shape on a 40-acre parcel that includes the former landfill. The dump opened in 1972, filling a natural ravine with wood, mineral and concrete waste. Operations ceased in 1983.
Neighbors contend the full extent of what’s buried there remains unknown. Today, the land is forested and criss-crossed with walking trails.
The dump takes up about seven acres. Proposals call for building houses near that area, but not on top of it.
Gary East, a Seattle attorney, bought the site in the late 1970s. The company trying to build the project, P &GE, LLC, is a partnership between East and Marty Penhallegon, a Kirkland-based engineer.
On May 7, county planners said the project could move ahead, if steps are taken to address likely environmental impacts. Since 2015, the plans had been updated with a new housing layout and an updated landfill closure plan conditionally approved by the Snohomish Health District with guidance from a third-party consultant.
Homeowners associations for the 108th Street Point and King Ridge neighborhoods appealed the county decision, known as a mitigated determination of non-significance. They’re challenging the landfill closure plan, a proposed rezone and the subdivision approval.
“Several (HOA) members will be directly affected by any explosion or fires that may occur due to the release of methane gas that is generated in the landfill or the combustion of other flammable materials, similar to what occurred in the 1970s and 1980s,” the appeal states.
The developer’s engineering report contends that a fireball eruption on the property in 1974 occurred in an area where metal scraps from the Boeing plant were buried and was a one-time event. Then-owner Rekoway, Inc. removed the suspect material.
“This was the consequence of mixing metal dust and scraps with water in a defective soil cell that failed to prevent oxygen from joining the mix,” the report says.
Attorneys for the developer called the neighbors’ arguments “hyperbolic.” They contend that the particulars of the landfill closure are beyond the scope of the hearing examiner.
“This project is addressing vacant land in the midst of an urban growth area, which has lain fallow for decades with (the) appellants’ very community repeatedly using the property rampantly without landfill-related incident,” attorney Duana Kolouskova wrote in an opening statement.
Updated plans include a consultant’s analysis of how to limit dust, noise and environmental impacts, water pollution or gas emissions. The analysis looks at how erosion or a landslide on the property’s steep slopes might expose buried waste.
The closure plan calls for logging trees above the old dump, grading the area and relocating waste on site. If any hazardous materials such as asbestos or lead paint are found, they would be hauled off. The area would be capped with a synthetic liner and earth.
Neighbors worry that long-term oversight of the closed landfill would be turned over to a homeowners association. That includes monitoring for possible groundwater contamination and methane emissions.
Who assumes responsibility remains an unanswered question, said Kevin Plemel, the Snohomish Health District’s interim environmental health director. That would be part of a financial assurance plan developed with the state Department of Ecology.
Properly closed, the landfill would be safer than the status quo, Plemel said.
“What we’re talking about is closing a landfill that wasn’t necessarily built to today’s standards,” he said. “But we’re closing it to today’s standards. What you end up with is a project that’s a lot better than what we have today.”
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; email@example.com. Twitter: @NWhaglund.