Port approves payment for contamination cleanup costs

  • Jim Hills<br>Edmonds Enterprise editor
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 6:47am

An expensive project for the Port of Edmonds became more so at the March 28 port commissioners meeting.

The commission unanimously approved an additional payment of $59,463 to Anderson Environmental Construction for the firm’s work on cleaning up tainted soil found beneath the Harbor Square development. The payment pushes the total cost of the cleanup to more than $1 million.

“I’ve been assured … this is the last change order,” port director Chris Keuss told the commissioners.

Commissioner Bruce Faires just wanted to be sure, asking, “There’s no residual with that contract?”

Keuss assured Faires and the others, saying, “This is the final invoice from Anderson Environmental.”

When it began in September, the project was expected to cost about $742,000. Through February, the actual costs had run to $986,000, according to port documents. The payment approved Monday pushes the total to more than $1 million.

Initially, it was expected that about 2,800 tons of oil-contaminated dirt would have to be moved. By the end, officials said Monday, the total was 7,750 tons of soil. Although port, Unocal and state Department of Ecology officials had know for years about the contamination, it was thought to be contained by the Harbor Square development and the state had ruled that no clean up was required.

Then, in 2001, a few globs of sticky oil made their way into the adjacent marsh through a storm drain. The port plugged the drain and did some excavation but the state asked for a plan to clean up the contamination.

Despite the hard gulp by the commissioners at the extra cost, it was understood at the start of the project that expenditures could escalate. The port also hopes to recoup the money from the previous owner, Unocal oil. The port has sued Unocal and while a December court date is set, port officials said they are in negotiations with the company.

“You always hope for a settlement and save money on the lawyers,” Faires said after Monday’s meeting.

In 2003, Harbor Square tenants and management sued the port over the issue.

“(The contamination) causes us problems in trying to rent property,” Harbor Square owner-operator Dick Beselin said in December.

Unocal, then Standard Oil, established the site in 1920 as a bulk fuel terminal for storing, blending and distributing fuel that arrived by ship.

Fuel was pumped to the storage tanks on the hill from the delivering ships. Tanker trucks and rail cars were filled for distribution to retailers. An asphalt plant was operated on the property between 1953 and 1978. Unocal had stopped all fuel storage and distribution activities in Edmonds by 1991.

The Unocal property originally consisted of a flat area that served as the center of operations, a hillside tank farm and the areas now known as the Edmonds Marsh, Marina Beach Park and the Harbor Square commercial center.

The Harbor Square property was purchased by the Port of Edmonds in 1978. The marsh was turned over to the city in the 1980s. Marina Beach Park, formerly part of the Unocal site, was leased by the city as a park for many years and bought from Unocal in 2001.

The flat area, known as the “lower yard,” will be sold to the state for the Edmonds Crossing project. The hillside was recently cleaned up and sold to a condominium developer. The hillside was studied by King County as a site for its proposed Brightwater sewage treatment plant, but amid strong opposition, the county selected a site on Highway 9 north of Woodinville instead.

Herald writer Bill Sheets contributed to this story.

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