Tank farm pecked apart

Ten years after the last fuel was pumped out at the Edmonds Unocal site, which ferried fuel for nearly 70 years, the giant tanks are finally coming down to make room for something new.

By Janice Podsada

Herald Writer

EDMONDS — Giant metal-cutting shears slice through the tank’s half-inch-thick steel walls as if they were paper. It will take just two days to cut apart a 4-million-gallon fuel storage tank that took three months to build in 1938.

This is speed metal at its finest — Edmonds style.

"I could have sold tickets on Pine Street Wednesday and Thursday," Unocal senior geologist Mark Brearley said.

Brearley was describing the number of spectators who have lined the street to watch the beaklike cutters rip apart the empty tanks at the former Unocal bulk fuel terminal.

The view from Pine Street resembles a scene from "Jurassic Park," said Margaret McAndrew, who has lived next to the 47-acre Unocal site for 20 years.

Work is expected to continue until November.

The long-awaited cleanup, paid for by Unocal, has finally gotten under way; the tank farm closed in 1991. It took years of investigation to determine the extent of the site’s pollution, as well as discussions between Unocal, the state Department of Ecology and an Edmonds citizen’s group.

McAndrew stopped her car on Pine Street Friday to watch the fourth of 23 empty tanks be dismantled and "to say goodbye to the tanks — I call them the sentinels.

"Change is always a concern. You never know what’s going to take its place," she said.

That’s true. It is unknown what will take its place at the site. It could be housing, or King County’s Brightwater wastewater treatment plant. A decision on its placement won’t be made until December.

So far, no cracks or leakage have been detected in the three tanks that have come down, Brearley said. The work is being monitored for environmental safety by the Ecology Department.

When the tanks are dismantled, engineers will take core samples from the ground beneath them to determine if there’s been petroleum leakage. Spills were routine as petroleum and fuel were piped to the tanks from ships anchored near the shore from 1922 until 1991. The lower yard absorbed the bulk of the pollution.

In the upper yard, the tanks are first being cut into 20-foot steel sections, then rolled up like a burrito. The steel is being trucked to a scrapyard in Tacoma for recycling.

So far, there have been few complaints about the noise or dust caused by the demolition work in the upper yard, Brearley said.

The upper yard will be cleaned to the Ecology Department’s highest standard, the residential standard, which would allow developers to build apartments or homes on the site.

Work on the 22-acre lower yard is expected to begin Monday. Workers will be digging up three underground pools of oil there, which are estimated to be one to three acres in size. The lower yard saw far more contamination, and so its cleanup won’t get under way until spring 2004, and then only after an environmental cleanup plan is written, made available for public comment and approved by the Ecology Department.

If no contamination is found in the upper yard, Unocal could sell the land to a private developer by as early as next summer.

You can call Herald Writer Janice Podsada at 425-339-3029 or send e-mail to podsada@heraldnet.com.

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