Cleanup begins at polluted Everett waterway

EVERETT — The East Waterway is finally getting cleaned up. Just don’t expect it to happen quickly.

The waterway, an inlet off Possession Sound between the Port of Everett and Naval Station Everett, has long borne the brunt of industrial activity along the city’s waterfront.

On June 30, the state Department of Ecology issued an agreement that begins the first stage of a multi-year cleanup process.

The so-called Agreed Order between the Ecology department, the Port of Everett, Kimberly-Clark Worldwide Inc. and the state Department of Natural Resources lays out the order of events that will transpire over the next several years.

The early stages of the process will be focused on identifying what pollutants are present, and at what concentrations, in the sediment of the waterway.

Only after that will the signatories to the agreement figure out who is responsible for what share of the costs of cleanup

“There’s not a lot of information to go on right now,” said Leonard Machut, the Aquatics Unit Supervisor in Ecology’s Toxics Cleanup Program.

The East Waterway has been on the state’s cleanup list since 2007. Some testing of the sediment has revealed elevated levels of metals such as arsenic, mercury, copper, lead and zinc. Other compounds are also present, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, semivolatile organic compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls (commonly known as PCBs), and dioxins, a group of chemicals believed to cause cancer in humans.

In 2011, sampling in the sediment revealed an average concentration of dioxins of more than 63 parts per trillion. The Ecology department considers anything more than 4 parts per trillion to be potentially unsafe.

Those tests also revealed a layer of wood pulp on the bottom of the waterway, smothering all sea life.

While there has been periodic sampling and testing for toxins over the years, there has never been a comprehensive survey of all the pollutants in the bay.

“Right now we have a couple of data points, but the gaps between them are pretty large,” Machut said.

The source of the pollutants is less of a mystery: lumber mills have operated on that waterfront since at least 1902, and in 1931 the Puget Sound Pulp and Timber Co. built a mill that would later be acquired by Scott Paper Co. and Kimberly-Clark.

Kimberly-Clark operated the mill until 2012, then closed it down and demolished the mill. Cleanup of the former mill site — excluding the waterway — has been entangled in a lawsuit with the city of Everett since last August.

In addition to the mills, the Navy operated its Naval Industrial Reserve Shipyard from 1942-1960 on the land that later became Naval Station Everett, and the Port of Everett has operated several marine terminals.

Raw industrial wastewater and sewage was discharged into the bay until the first deep-water outfall pipe was built in 1951. Treatment of wastewater didn’t begin until 1965.

Bob Brand, a spokesman for Kimberly-Clark, said that because cleanup was still some years away, it wasn’t possible to estimate what share of the costs the company will have to pay.

“It is basically a framework for an investigation of the remediation that will be required to clean up the East Waterway,” Brand said.

“We want to get the investigation done first and identify all the correct steps,” he said.

The agreement also lists the Department of the Navy as a “potentially liable party” alongside Kimberly-Clark, the Port and Natural Resources department, but the Navy is not a signatory to the agreement.

The Navy’s policy is generally to use arrangements other than Agreed Orders to clean up properties, Machut said.

“They will be sitting at the table, they will be a responsible agent,” he said.

The initial stages of the cleanup will focus on developing a work plan for investigation and a feasibility study, which might take up to a year before the actual investigation begins, to say nothing of drawing up a final plan and beginning the cleanup.

Several stages of the process require public notification and comment periods, including the first one. The Department of Ecology is holding a public meeting July 14 on the project and accepting comments through July 30.

Plans for the cleanup are available online at http://1.usa.gov/1COHtrw, at the Everett Public Library, 2720 Hoyt Ave., or at Ecology’s headquarters, 300 Desmond Drive SE, Lacey (contact Carol Dorn at 360-407-7224 or carol.dorn@ecy.wa.gov to make an appointment).

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; cwinters@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

Public meeting and comments

The state Department of Ecology is holding a public open house July 14 on its plans to clean up the East Waterway. The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. in the Mount Baker Room of Everett Station, 3201 Smith Ave., Suite 131, Everett. Public comments can be sent to Andrew Kallus via email to andrew.kallus@ecy.wa.gov or regular mail to Department of Ecology, Toxics Cleanup Program, P.O. Box 47600, Olympia, WA 98504-7600. The comment deadline is July 30.

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