Tag Archives: creosote pilings

After environmental restoration, quiet has returned to Port Gamble

Twenty-five years ago, I stood and watched as a screaming buzz saw tossed clouds of sawdust into the air while slicing through thick logs of Douglas fir at the Pope & Talbot sawmill in Port Gamble.

Last week, I walked across the vacant site of the old mill, which was torn down years ago. Along the edge of Port Gamble Bay, I could hear nothing but the sound of the wind and an occasional call of a seagull.

Linda Berry-Maraist, restoration manager for Pope Resources, describes the renewed shoreline along Port Gamble Bay. // Photo: Dunagan

I came back to the old mill site to see how things looked following completion of the $20-million-plus cleanup of Port Gamble Bay. Some 111,000 cubic yards of dredge material is now piled up in the middle of the site, an amount roughly equivalent to 10,000 dumptruck loads.

In addition, nearly 8,600 wooden pilings — most imbedded with creosote — were removed and shipped off for disposal, making it one of the largest piling-removal projects in state history. The final number of pilings removed far exceeded original estimates, largely because buried ones kept turning up during the removal work.

“It’s a huge relief to get this done,” said Jon Rose, vice president of Pope Resources who has overseen a decade of planning and cleanup. “It has been very hard on our staff, hard on the town, hard on our financial statements.

“I think we are on the right side of the mountain,” he added. “Look at how incredible the shore looks.”

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How much does it really help to remove old pilings?

Old wooden pilings sticking up out of the water serve as a reminder of our maritime past, so their removal kind of tears at a piece of history. Tristan Baurick, writing for the Kitsap Sun, addressed this issue in a story Feb. 10:

Wes McClain watched with mixed feelings as a crane yanked more than 100 old pilings from the waves near his home.

“I’m not too happy to see this place change,” the 17-year-old said Sunday while pilings were heaped onto a barge near Eagle Harbor’s Strawberry Plant property. “But if it’s for making the environment better, that’s OK.”

That about says it for many people, although more than a few have told me that they see the old pilings as an eyesore, so it’s good riddance.

Frankly, I’m still trying to figure out how bad these old creosote pilings are to the environment.

Creosote is a distillate of coal tar. You know it’s toxic, because these old pilings have warded off the influence of biological organisms for many years. But how much of the chemical is getting into the water?

I’ve heard it said that the average piling contains 60 gallons of creosote. I assume that this amount was what went into the wood when it was first treated. But how much is left in the wood and how much is getting into the water? I’m still trying to track down this information, and I’ve asked for help from the Department of Natural Resources.

Meanwhile, studies have shown that creosote, even in aging pilings, can have a detrimental effect on fish. A study in 2000 by Carol A. Vines, et. al., showed that all herring embryos that attached to creosote-treated wood died within days and 40 to 50 percent that were nearby also failed to develop. Of those that did survive, 93 percent experienced a reduction in heart rate with abnormal rhythms. The findings go on in that fashion in the article was published in the journal “Aquatic Toxicology.”

If anybody is aware of other scientific articles on this subject, please let me know.