Port of Everett has decades of contamination to clean up

EVERETT — The smokestacks and sawmills are gone. What remains on the city’s waterfront are heavy metals, petroleum and other byproducts of a city built on the backbone of gritty industry. The lingering bad stuff is in the dirt, sediment and groundwater.

The Port of Everett plans to finish cleaning five old industrial sites by the end of the decade. Estimated price tag: $35 million.

The state Department of Ecology has identified 342 polluted sites in and around Everett, and scrubbing decades’ worth of pollution from the landscape is a long-term, pricey problem for the port and other property owners.

Some sites have been cleaned up. Many are being cleaned now or are slated for future action, including the shuttered Kimberly-Clark paper and pulp mill, a private parcel that is for sale.

Port of Everett officials say they want to do right by the environment. It’s a stated goal in the port’s strategic plan. Plus, getting rid of the pollution is essential to putting the land back to productive use, said Les Reardanz, the port’s chief administrative officer.

“We want to get these properties back into economic use for the community,” he said.

Doing so is an incredible challenge, he said, one that’s not getting easier or cheaper with time.

Three of the port’s cleanup sites are clustered off W.t Marine View Drive, part of a chunk of land between 12th and 15th streets called the Marina District, which the port plans to redevelop. One, known as the West End Site, is already cleaned up.

Today that area is a mishmash of weathered buildings, parking lots and fenced-off storage. Contractors are pulling down buildings at the former location of Scuttlebutt Brewing Co. in preparation for cleanup.

The port’s development plans include apartments, restaurants, small shops, a boutique hotel, a clubhouse for marina tenants, an information office and a place for short-term marina guests to tie up their boats.

The port also plans upgrades to nearby North Marina, including moorage for commercial vessels, guest moorage and an area of open water for sailboat classes.

The port also plans to clean up the former site of what was known as Weyerhaeuser Mill A. The port uses that site for loading and unloading cargo, including large areospace parts bound for Boeing.

Cleanup is also planned at a fifth site, the former location of Bay Wood Products at 200 W. Marine View Drive. There are no plans yet for this land. Cleanup is scheduled next year.

Before the port can redevelop the Marina District, officials must deal with years of pollution from the heavy industries that lined the waterfront.

Typical is the case of a parcel in the Marina District known as “North Marina Ameron/Hulbert.” It’s already been partially cleaned up.

The port bought the land in 1991 and has used it to stockpile soil. The company Ameron also makes concrete poles at the site.

For decades, shingle mills, lumber mills and marine industries occupied the land. Tests have found a host of contaminants, including arsenic and copper, in the groundwater and petroleum and heavy metals in the soil.

The state identifies properties for cleanup but it’s the current owner — in this case, the port — that oversees the details.

Probably the greatest challenge is getting the previous owners to help pay for cleanup. The state identifies what it calls “potentially liable parties,” but it’s the current owner that must wrangle those parties into helping pay.

Not surprisingly, many are reluctant to pony up the cash.

A company might no longer exist. Figuring out how much pollution a business caused is difficult. And some outfits are reluctant to pay to clean up pollution when they had just followed standard practices of the time.

“It becomes a big wild card,” Reardanz said.

The port has had good success with past tenants on cleanups, particularly Weyerhaeuser.

Unlike private companies responsible for cleaning polluted land, the port does get financial help from the state.

The five port sites have all been targeted by the state as part of the Puget Sound Initiative, which seeks to scrub pollution from pinpointed areas around the sound.

The initiative comes with money. The state is expected to pay for about half of the port’s costs, which are only a portion of the estimated $35 million total cost.

The state money comes from a voter-approved tax on barrels of oil and other hazardous substances.

The state fund doesn’t pay for the port’s legal costs, however, which can range anywhere from $40,000 for an uncomplicated cleanup to $300,000 or more.

The port’s money comes from a combination of property taxes paid to the port and from money made by port operations.

Once the five sites are clean, there’s more pollution to be cleaned up by the port.

“The vast majority of our property has some sort of environmental nexus to it,” Reardanz said.

Much of the rest of the waterfront will need pollution cleanup in the future, with the exception of Jetty Island, which is a nature preserve.

For example, the East Waterway south of the Kimberly-Clark mill awaits more study. The cost to clean it is unknown.

Debra Smith: 425-339-3197; dsmith@heraldnet.com.

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