Officials with the Washington Department of Ecology plan to step back from the Wyckoff-Eagle Harbor Superfund Site on Bainbridge Island, pull community members together and begin looking for a new way to clean up the underground mess.
The ground near the entrance to Eagle Harbor became saturated with toxic creosote from the Wyckoff wood-treatment plant, which operated there for 80 years. After working on the problem more than 20 years and spending close to $100 million, the Environmental Protection Agency has announced a final solution.
The idea approved by the agency is to pump the waste out of the ground at a rate that will keep pollution from reaching Eagle Harbor, while leaving hundreds of thousands of gallons of waste buried for 100 years or more.
EPA has asked Ecology to sign off on the cleanup plan and take over operation of the pumping system. Check out the Kitsap Sun story by reporter Tristan Baurick.
Tim Nord, Ecology’s toxics cleanup manager, told me there are two reasons the state is unwilling to take over at this time. One is the uncertainty of leaving such a huge amount of waste in the ground. The second is that running the pumping system could cost between $700,000 and $1.5 million each year with no end in sight.
In his story, Tristan pointed out that the EPA may have lost $3 million by not getting a final agreement with the state, but that seems like peanuts compared to the ongoing costs that nobody wants to pay.
Nord has informed the EPA that the state cannot agree to the longterm remedy that agency staff proposed.
In the meantime, Nord will take an unprecedented step outside normal regulatory procedures by creating a panel of experts who might just come up with a new idea. It will be a wide-open discussion that will include the city of Bainbridge Island, the Suquamish Tribe and the Association of Bainbridge Communities — none of whom like the idea of leaving all that waste in the ground — as well as other interested people, he said.
“I am trying to look at this problem differently,” Nord told me. “Is there a way to get as much of that material out of the ground as possible?”
It isn’t so much about how long it will take to reach some numerical cleanup standard, Nord said. It is about the community, including people who would like to create a safe park on that site to be used for generations.
If the best minds in the business can come up with a plan for mass removal, then it will be laid out for a full discussion.
“The people need to be able to follow it, trust in it and believe in it,” Nord said.
Nord was not ready to talk about the step to follow, which will involve money. But if his group finds a viable solution, I would bet that state and federal elected officials could work together to get it done.
Given the ecological value of Eagle Harbor, I can understand why so many people feel uncomfortable with the idea of running pumps forever to hold back pollution from seeping into the bay.