EVERETT — The city of Everett is anxious to return a vacant plot of land on its waterfront to industrial use.
The 66-acre site of the former Kimberly-Clark pulp mill has been empty since the mill closed in 2012 and the buildings were demolished.
When it was announced last week that a cargo handling company planned to set up shop on the parcel, many people cheered the possible arrival of 100 more jobs to Everett’s working waterfront.
There’s a hitch, however: The city sued Kimberly-Clark in 2014 over what it contends is the company’s failure to properly clean up the property.
When the Dallas-based company vacated the property, it pulverized the former mill buildings, then spread 120,000 cubic yards of debris on the surface.
Soil on the former mill site has been found to be contaminated with arsenic, lead, cadmium and other toxic materials.
The city said that in issuing its demolition permit to Kimberly-Clark, it required the company to cover the debris with clean topsoil and grass. That would prevent the pollution from spreading while the state developed a long-term cleanup plan. The city is concerned that airborne dust might affect nearby neighborhoods.
Kimberly-Clark, however, said that taking those measures would make it more difficult to sell the property. The city and the company have been at an impasse ever since.
It’s not clear whether Kimberly-Clark or its potential new tenant, North American Stevedoring, would remove the debris before beginning new development on the site.
The city maintains the cleanup must happen first.
“We want jobs down there, we want someone to do something with the property,” Everett Deputy City Attorney David Hall said.
“In connection with any development proposal, there has to be a plan to clean it up,” he said.
North American Stevedoring has requested a meeting with city planners as a prelude to starting the permitting process, but a date hasn’t been set, city communications director Meghan Pembroke said.
Mayor Ray Stephanson met with representatives from North American Stevedoring in January and Kimberly-Clark in February, Pembroke said. She said both meetings were high-level preliminary discussions about North American Stevedoring developing the property.
The state Department of Ecology also has been conducting an investigation of the contamination that accrued over a century of mill operations there. That’s usually a multi-year process under the state Model Toxics Control Act.
“It’s a problem, but it’s been a problem for a long time and there is not usually the sense of urgency that we need to get in there and take immediate actions,” said Jay Manning, an attorney with the Cascadia Law Group, which has been representing the city in its lawsuit.
By depositing the debris on the site and leaving it exposed, Kimberly-Clark has created another environmental problem, because the toxins have leached into the ground water and made it very corrosive.
That in turn has caused the heavy metals in the debris and the soil to begin leaching into the groundwater and Puget Sound.
“They’ve made matters worse,” Manning said.
Last week, Manning wrote to Ecology to ask the department to take immediate enforcement action against Kimberly-Clark because of the problems caused by the uncovered debris. He also said the company “misrepresented the volume, quality, location, and environmental impact of the demolition debris it places on the mill site … ”
The city’s lawsuit has been on hold, Hall said, but the city is evaluating its options.
“Our position is the debris has to come off no matter what the cleanup will be,” Hall said. “If nothing else, it violates our zoning code. They’ve essentially created a solid waste landfill there.”