Nostalgic stroll along tainted Pilchuck Path

EVERETT – His childhood home was long ago reduced to a concrete foundation surrounded by arsenic-tainted soil, but Gene Fosheim Thursday felt compelled to see it one last time.

In the next few weeks, bulldozers and jackhammers will finish off the remains of the north Everett home that Fosheim’s family owned for nearly half a century.

The house is one of 22 that was razed in the late 1990s after high levels of arsenic were discovered at the old smelter site.

On Tuesday, a contractor hired by the smelter’s former operator, Asarco Inc., finally began preparing the site for cleanup.

Before the site was a toxic-waste danger zone, it was a neighborhood of modest homes filled mostly with mill workers and their children.

“Everyone knew everyone,” said Fosheim, 53, as he gazed at the plastic sheeting that covered the old front yard through which neighbors arrived for get-togethers.

Fosheim’s parents bought the 1940s rambler-style house in 1950, one year before Fosheim was born.

He moved out in 1978, and his mother died in 1990, just before the contaminated soil was discovered. Many newer residents panicked, he recalled. But his father and other old-timers weren’t alarmed.

“He thought, ‘I’ve lived here most of my life and nothing happened,’” Fosheim said.

Asarco offered to buy the houses at prices equal to what they would have been worth without the contamination. At first, Fosheim’s elderly father and uncle stayed put even as neighbors were selling their property and fleeing the neighborhood. In 1995, Fosheim convinced them to finally move.

His dad lived to see the barbed wire fences and “Contaminated Area: Do Not Enter” signs go up. He died at age 83 in 1997, a few months before the house was demolished.

“It would have broken his heart to see that,” Fosheim said. “He put so much into that house.”

Fosheim still can’t accept what happened to his neighborhood. As he stared at the light poles on Pilchuck Path, he remembered how they served as end zones for street football games.

Underneath a pile of branches in the distance were the remains of a small figure-eight concrete pond in which giant goldfish swam. Near the pond was a sandbox in which he and his friends used to reenact the Normandy invasion with toy soldiers.Fosheim’s dream was to pass the house on to his son. He had wanted it to always stay in his family.

Fosheim likes what he’s heard about plans to build as many as 85 homes in the area. They will finally make this eerie, desolate landscape of plastic sheeting and bare foundations a neighborhood again. But things never will be the same for him.

“They can make the most beautiful neighborhood in the world, and it won’t be as nice as mine was,” Fosheim said as he walked down Pilchuck Path after what may be the last look he’ll have of his childhood home. “This is where I grew up. There are so many memories here. So many good memories.”

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