New look on the horizon for Mukilteo eyesore

MUKILTEO — For years, the city’s waterfront has been has been an area of sharp contrasts, offering both stunning views and something of an eyesore.

On summer days, people jam Lighthouse Park, with its views of the Olympic Mountains, Whidbey Island and Puget Sound. Nearby restaurants often are packed with visitors wanting both a good meal and a dramatic view.

Yet close by is an area that for nearly 50 years was the site of the U.S. Air Force’s tank farm. The 22-acre site is bordered by a tall metal fence. Weeds poke up along the road that runs through the property. It also has an aging, abandoned pier.

There’s only one functioning building on the site, a research lab operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The future of the tank farm site has been debated since the Air Force shut it down in 1989. Now, plans for new uses for the land are beginning to take shape.

A transfer of 7 acres in and around the former tank farm from the Port of Everett to the city has been formally approved by the Mukilteo City Council.

That’s a step in a city project for redevelopment of the adjacent waterfront areas for parks, open space and possible development.

“The port has worked for more than 10 years to get this back in local ownership,” said Lisa Lefeber, a spokeswoman for the Port of Everett. The land was transferred from the US Air Force to the port in late 2013, she said. Since then, the port has been working with several groups, including the City of Mukilteo, the Washington State Ferries and Sound Transit to open up a large portion of the waterfront property that has been blocked off from public access for decades, she said.

A number of projects are planned in the area. One of the first changes people will see is coming soon. The port is building a 1,200-foot access road through the tank farm to the parking lot at Edgewater Beach. It’s scheduled to open in May, Lefeber said.

An $11 million project to add a second platform at the nearby Sounder commuter rail station is expected to open in early spring. The south platform project includes a pedestrian bridge, passenger shelters and public art.

And a new $129 million ferry terminal will be constructed near the former tank farm property. The first phase of construction, removing the dilapidated tank farm pier, is scheduled to get under way in July. Near the end of the year, a preliminary design on the terminal is expected to be completed.

The fence surrounding the tank farm property eventually will come down, said Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson. That will occur as the new ferry terminal is constructed. The master plan for the waterfront is now scheduled to be discussed by the city council in April or May.

City Council member Steve Schmalz said he likes having the land in and around the tank farm transferred to the city, which is committed to keeping it as open space. Yet there’s still some risks involved with the property itself, he said. Its decades-long use as a tank farm means the property has been exposed to fuel and contaminates, he said.

The state Department of Ecology once had the site on its list of places that could pose a health risk to the general public. The state agency supervised a clean up and the tank farm was removed from its hazardous sites list in December 2006.

However, a recent consultant’s report on the site says some contaminants remain. These include petroleum hydrocarbons and other fuel or oil-related contamination. Restrictions have been placed on the property’s use, such as not allowing homes to be constructed on the site. The site’s groundwater can’t be used for drinking or irrigation.

The Air Force would be responsible if any additional cleanup is needed, Lefeber said.

Both the Port of Everett and Washington State Ferries will be working on the site before the city starts any work there, Gregerson said. The city will be able to learn from their experiences as it develops the site, she said. “The opportunity to return our waterfront to public ownership is one we don’t want to miss,” Gregerson said.

Both Schmalz and Gregerson said they look forward to the changes that are envisioned along the waterfront.

“It’s a great piece of property,” Schmalz said. “I know it’s kind of decrepit and needs to be cleaned up. Hopefully, we’ll take our time, do the right thing and not rush into something.”

There will be opportunities for commercial development in nearby waterfront areas, Gregerson said. This includes land near the current ferry terminal and stretching to the tank farm site. “Hopefully, there will be new businesses and restaurants and artists shops to visit,” she said.

Plans call for the city’s waterfront area to include a boardwalk, promenade, and viewpoints, she said. “Imagine what it will be like in the future,” Gregerson said. “In about four to five years, we’ll be able to walk from Lighthouse Park to Edgewater Beach.”

Sharon Salyer: 435-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

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