Cleanup of tainted soil will continue at Harbor Square

  • Sue Waldburger<br>Enterprise writer
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 6:46am

It’s vestiges of the past, not building for the future, that have prompted the digging in the Harbor Square area near the Edmonds waterfront.

This past week, the Port of Edmonds, owner of the property, finished another segment of the excavation to remove underground contamination by asphalt tars, diesel oil and sticky pools of hydrocarbons, all of which are waste from heavy industry that once operated on the land east of the railroad tracks and west of Highway 104.

The clean up is being conducted in three phases. The first one recently ended, the second one will be launched next year and the third — and toughest — one, which will involve digging under land already built upon, will occur at a future time when the properties are renovated, said Chris Keuss, Port director.

In the six years since contamination was discovered within a 10-acre chunk of land that makes up the Harbor Square area, the Port has spent about $2.5 million (not counting attorney fees) on the clean up, according to Keuss. There is no estimate, yet, for the total cost of clean up.

The land on which Harbor Square Athletic Club and several other commercial buildings sit was bought from Unocal in 1978, Keuss said. In 1982, a lease agreement with Harbor Square Associates, developers of commercial activity there, was inked.

Harbor Square Associates owns all buildings in that area, except for the tennis center behind Harbor Square Athletic Club, Keuss said.

Before the Port purchased the property, activity on the property included asphalt production and the washing out of railroad cars, Keuss said. There was relatively little concern at the time about dumping heavy-industry waste into the ground, he said.

After the buildings were constructed, some sinking and cracking alerted Dick Beselin and his partners in Harbor Square Associates to possible ground problems, Keuss said. Once the Port was notified, environmental and geotechnical professionals from Edmonds-based Landau Associates were hired to drill monitoring wells to check out possible problems, he continued. That firm continues to head clean-up efforts.

Contamination that may or may not have been related to the problems was discovered three-to-four feet underground, according to Keuss. The good news was that the gooey masses were “encapsulated…not moving and not impacting (ground water) or anyone,” Keuss said. It was removed.

In 2001, while cleaning out storm drains, the City of Edmonds public-works crews notified the Port “goo” was found in a drain in the vicinity of the marsh south of the Harbor Square property, recalled Keuss. A plan was hatched by the Port, state Department of Ecology and Landau Associates to clean up hydrocarbon particles that had washed into the marsh and then seal the compromised pipe work. Keuss said that job was completed in August of 2001 and the marsh — now a wildlife refuge and educational center — was not damaged.

The most recently completed project in the soil remediation involved digging a trench west of Harbor Square Athletic Club. The Port plans to reseal the asphalt disrupted during the dig next spring.

Landau Associates has been asked by the Port commissioners to design the second phase of the clean-up effort to begin next year. “Pockets (of contamination) in other parts of Harbor Square…around Las Brisas restaurant” will be the target, Keuss said. The cost of that phase likely will approach $1 million, he added.

Contamination is being identified through soil sampling. When it’s found, it’s removed and carted off to a certified waste or reburning site, explained Steven Johnston, an environmental planner and CEO of Landau Associates.

It’s important for the public to know “ground water never was and isn’t now contaminated,” Johnston emphasized. But he agreed the thought of working in a building set on contaminated land can be unsettling for some people.

Disruption of the land reportedly has translated into disruption of business for Harbor Square Associates and their tenants.

So serious is the contention that in 2003 Harbor Square Associates filed a lawsuit against the Port contending the company has been damaged by the contaminated land. The Port, in turn, filed a lawsuit against Unocal, making it a third party in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit trial is scheduled to begin in Snohomish County Superior Court on Dec. 5.

Neither Beselin nor other principal of the development firm returned Enterprise phone calls asking for comment on the clean up and lawsuit.

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