Tulalip landfill is finally capped


Herald Writer

A sometimes-contentious effort to cap the 147-acre Tulalip Landfill to prevent toxic chemicals from seeping into wetlands between Marysville and Everett has ended.

And the site may one day be home to athletic fields, although that will have to wait at least three years, said John McCoy, executive director of governmental affairs for the Tulalip Tribes.

Construction on the cap to the landfill, which took more than two years and cost an estimated $34 million, has been completed, said Loren McPhillips, manager of the project for the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The site, located on a finger of land on the Tulalip Reservation between Ebey and Steamboat sloughs and west of I-5, hasn’t been run as a landfill since 1979, when it was shut down at the request of the EPA.

Between 1964 and 1979, the landfill accepted about 4 million tons of commercial and industrial waste, including materials containing potentially toxic heavy metals, as well as traces of PCBs and pesticides.

The landfill was capped shortly afterward. Sometime after that it was found that rainfall was leaking through the cap. As a result, traces of heavy metals, including aluminum, arsenic, cadmium and manganese, were seeping into the surrounding wetlands and Ebey and Steamboat sloughs, which drain into Puget Sound.

"There were health concerns raised with this," McPhillips said, but the effects of the seeping metals on marine life and ecology were the biggest concern.

McCoy said, "God only knows what destruction they were having on the environment."

In 1995, the site was placed on the EPA’s federal Superfund list, making it a high priority for cleanup.

To obtain the funds to recap the landfill, the EPA used historical records to identify companies that had contributed to originally filling the landfill, McPhillips said. Those responsible included the owners (the Tulalips), the operators, (Seattle Disposal Co.), several waste-hauling companies, and companies that disposed of waste at the landfill, he said.

Each group was asked to contribute money based on how much they had used the landfill, McPhillips said.

The process was one reason the landfill has been one of the regional EPA’s most contentious projects, McPhillips said. Responsible parties filed five lawsuits against the EPA during that time.

About 200 of the smaller parties settled on contributions in 1996; another 20 or so of the larger responsible parties settled with the EPA in 1997.

In all, about $20 million was garnered from the settlements. Waste Management, a waste-hauling business, pledged another $2 million to design, oversee and implement the project. The Tulalips also helped with management of the project.

The completed cap consists of several layers, starting at the bottom: fill dirt, sand for allowing release of any gases, a plastic liner to keep out rainfall, netting, a layer of felt-like material, and then topsoil.

The site will be maintained and monitored for at least 30 years, first by Waste Management for four years and then by the tribes.

The tribes will contribute $1 million toward the site’s maintenance.

As part of the monitoring process, tests will be conducted to determine the present state of the site, and then again in three years, to determine if anything has changed, McCoy said.

Then, he said, "We’ll see if anything needs to be done about it or we leave it alone."

Test results also will indicate if the tribes will be able to construct a structure on the site, he said. "It would have to be a one-story building so the cap doesn’t get punctured," McCoy said.

McPhillips confirmed that no cellar, foundation or utilities that might puncture the cap could be built on the site.

McCoy said the tribes have received a number of suggestions on what to do with the site. For one, Snohomish County, Everett and Marysville have asked that athletic fields be built atop the old landfill.

Such athletic fields would not be the first of their kind. McCallum Park in south Everett is built on top of an old landfill.

McCoy didn’t elaborate on other suggestions of what to do with the site. But he and the EPA are glad the project is finished.

"It’s capped now. All that stuff won’t be oozing into Puget Sound," he said.

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