Another study proposed on Swift Creek asbestos near Nooksack

Whatcom council may vote Tuesday

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDFebruary 22, 2014 

A $180,000 study to find places to store hazardous sediment from Swift Creek can begin if it gets Whatcom County Council approval on Tuesday, Feb. 25.

Local, state and federal agencies have spent years trying to reduce the risk posed by naturally occurring asbestos washing out of a landslide on Sumas Mountain and into Swift Creek. The material, which can be harmful to farm soil and human health, is transported downstream as far as Vancouver, B.C.

"The amount that actually gets into the system is very small compared to the overall composition of the sediment," said Roland Middleton, special projects manager for the county. "So while it is certainly below any kind of detectable levels, or levels of great concern, it's still happening - and it will only benefit anyone downstream to manage this sediment."

The county, the state Department of Ecology and the Environmental Protection Agency would own in trust the land where sediment trapped along Swift Creek would be stored.

A 2012 planning document for managing the sediment in Swift Creek proposes traps in the steeper reaches and basins in lower sections that would capture large quantities of the hazardous material.

In addition to the health and environmental risks posed by the asbestos in the sediment, the Sumas Mountain landslide creates a high flood risk, which the plan is intended to reduce.

Middleton recognized that progress toward a solution for Swift Creek has been slow, but he expects progress this year.

"Though people haven't heard anything for a while, it's not like we're not working like crazy to get something done," he said. "I'm hopeful that through this year we have some successes so we're able to things done on the ground rather than on paper on a shelf."

The council will consider approving the $180,000 cost to hire a consultant to find locations for sediment storage, and vote on a preliminary agreement among the county, Ecology and the EPA, at its 7 p.m. meeting Tuesday at the county courthouse, 311 Grand Ave., Bellingham.

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

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