Proposed development on landfill near Everett to be scrutinized

EVERETT — As some neighbors see it, the former Go-East landfill is a Pandora’s Box of unknown contaminants that could be unleashed by a proposed housing development.

For the owner and would-be developer, the property southeast of Everett has been an ongoing headache since the 1980s, when underground fires smoldered there for years.

Peter Camp, Snohomish County hearing examiner, is preparing to weigh arguments from both sides. Four days of hearings are scheduled to start in late January and conclude in February. Camp’s decision could open the door to a 97-home development — or mandate further studies into human and ecological concerns.

“It’s just too complicated of a project to do without that,” said Peggy Hurd, who has lived next door in The Point neighborhood for 32 years. “I think the biggest worry is that if there are houses built on the landfill, that those people (who move there) are at risk from those environmental concerns. And all of the rest of us are at risk.”

Gary W. East bought the wood-waste landfill back in 1979, while it was still in operation.

To hear East tell it, stubborn fires, and later changing government regulations, stymied plans to redevelop the property.

The landfill has been in limbo for 30 years. Still unfinished is work to cap the old disposal site and set up environmental monitoring.

“What we’re trying to do is finish a process that was started in the 1980s,” East said. “We’re running into opposition from the very people who will benefit directly from the improvement of this property — the neighbors.”

From the get-go, redeveloping the property factored into East’s plans. Now more than ever, he contends, revenue from the development is necessary to pay for sealing off the landfill to the government’s satisfaction. He calls the process “draconian and complex.”

“The cost of that closure is into the millions of dollars,” he said.

The development would be known as Bakerview, for the breathtaking views the land affords of 10,781-foot-tall Mount Baker to the north.

East, an attorney, is pursuing his development through a partnership with engineer Martin Penhallegon as P &G East LLC. The property’s entrance is on 108th Street SE, in unincorporated Snohomish County. The houses wouldn’t be directly on top of the dormant landfill, but nearby, on the northern part of the property. About two-thirds of the 40-acre site would remain as open space or buffers.

The examiner must consider two issues. One is a request to rezone the property as residential from its current designation as a rural conservation area.

The other is a land-use appeal from two homeowners associations, The Point and Kings Ridge. The appeal challenges a decision called a mitigated determination of non-significance that county planners issued Aug. 31.

If it stands, the county’s decision means the property could be developed subject to meeting specific conditions. That includes following a landfill-closure plan the Snohomish Health District signed off on in early 2014. The plan calls for capping the former landfill with compacted soil and installing a liner to reduce water infiltration. That work requires extensive grading. There are post-closure requirements to manage methane gas and to monitor groundwater.

Neighbors believe the land’s history makes it imperative for the examiner to order a full study under the State Environmental Policy Act. That could cost P &G East LLCC significant time and money.

The land was used for sand and gravel excavation from 1969 to 1972, then started accepting wood waste in 1972. Discarded material gradually filled in a ravine. By 1979, excavation had ceased. Landfill operations stopped in 1983.

Subterranean fires broke out in 1984 and burned for at least three years. The cause was never identified.

The Snohomish Health District in 1988 acknowledged that the fires had been extinguished. East says they had stopped burning more than a year earlier.

“Essentially, the property has lain fallow from that time to the present,” he said. “The health district wants closure. I can’t believe the neighbors don’t want closure.”

Nowadays, the land serves as a de-facto nature park, where people walk dogs or ride bicycles along wooded trails.

East began pursuing the redevelopment more actively in 2008.

The neighbors’ attorney, Claudia Newman of Seattle, said “there are a number of post-closure issues that are really quite alarming and significant.”

One of the neighbors’ arguments is that the developer’s plans don’t adequately address steep slopes on the site. That complicates the landfill closure and poses a risk of erosion, they say. Geological studies classified the south end of the property, with slopes of up to 70 feet tall, as a having a high risk of landslide.

Neighbors want to know more about the materials in the landfill, which they believe contains asbestos and old car parts. They don’t think P &G East LLC has set aside enough money for future monitoring. They worry about groundwater contamination and the adequacy of proposed stormwater ponds.

“If you’re going to close a landfill and build houses either on it or near it, you need to have a very comprehensive analysis and follow a high standard of care to make the human health impacts as low as possible,” Newman said.

Hearings for the project, known as Bakerview, are scheduled last from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Jan. 28. Proceedings are to resume at 9 a.m. Feb. 11, with a special time slot for public testimony from 6 to 9 p.m. that evening.

The hearing is to continue on Feb. 12 and 13. The examiner’s decision is expected a few weeks later.

The hearings will take place in the first floor of the county’s Robert J. Drewel Building, 3000 Rockefeller Ave., Everett.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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