Plan would move contaminants, cap others at Bellingham waterfront site

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 15, 2014 

Bellingham waterfront Georgia-Pacific West Inc.

The former Georgia-Pacific West Inc. property on Bellingham's waterfront.

ANDY BRONSON — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

BELLINGHAM - The Washington Department of Ecology likely will recommend the Port of Bellingham spend $5.7 million to cap and remove some contaminated portions of a waterfront site rather than asking for removal of all contaminated materials.

The plan is the cheapest of four cleanup alternatives Ecology proposed for the 31-acre parcel on the former Georgia-Pacific Corp. property in a recently released feasibility statement that is up for public review.

In comparison, the fourth and most expensive alternative would call for removing and replacing all contaminated soils on the 31 acres, up to 15-feet deep, and would carry a price tag of $91 million.

The proposed plan covers a portion of the 74-acre G-P West cleanup site that was formerly home to a pulp and tissue mill. The northern 31-acre site contains acidic areas and contamination from metals, petroleum, volatile organic compounds and dioxin/furans, according to Ecology. The plan does not address the southern "chlor-alkali" area, which is contaminated with mercury and other materials.

The recommended plan, "Alternative 1," calls for removal of some petroleum-contaminated soil that was not removed during an interim cleanup process. The plan also includes capping the 31 acres with soil, asphalt and buildings to eliminate possible contact with contaminated soil. The port and Ecology also would continue monitoring groundwater contaminated with metals to make sure levels continue to decrease naturally (the groundwater does not reach Bellingham Bay), and place deed restrictions on the land preventing certain actions, such as using the groundwater for drinking water.

The nearly $5.7 million cost estimate assumes 50 percent of the 31-acre area "would be capped by future building foundations," which would be a cost to future developers, according to Ecology. The estimate also includes about $770,000 already spent on an interim cleanup for the area.

Two other alternatives call for additional action, including treating groundwater to speed up the natural decontamination process, more extensive capping, and/or removal of contaminated soils that caused the groundwater contamination. Each of those alternatives would add an estimated $1 million or $2 million to the cost.

"We chose Alternative 1 because the other three incurred additional cost without a proportional increase in environmental benefit," said Krista Kenner, spokeswoman for Ecology's Bellingham office.

"We worked very closely with Ecology to make sure the cleanup of all these sites is safe and protective for the uses we have planned for them," said Mike Stoner, director of environmental programs for the port. "Alternative 1 does that."

The proposed cleanup plan also looks all right to the city and potential developer Harcourt that have been kept in the loop during this process, Stoner said.

"We're getting feedback this looks like a good, solid remedy," Stoner said.

Public comment on Ecology's proposed cleanup plan alternatives will be accepted through Aug. 27. Comments can be sent to Brian Sato, Ecology site manager, at brian.sato@ecy.wa.gov or 3190 160th Ave. SE, Bellevue, WA 98008-5452.

Ecology will schedule a public meeting if 10 or more people request one.

To view the plan, go to ecy.wa.gov and search for "G-P West," or find copies at Bellingham Public Library, 210 Central Ave. or Ecology's Bellingham Field Office, 1440 10th St., Suite 102.

If things continue on course, the public will be able to review a final report in late 2015 and cleanup will start in mid-2016, with scheduled completion for that portion in early 2017.

Ecology is also working to prepare a cleanup plan for the southern, more polluted part of the property, referred to as the chlor-alkali area. That cleanup plan should be ready for public review in early 2015.

Reach Samantha Wohlfeil at 360-715-2274 or Samantha.Wohlfeil@bellinghamherald.com.

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