State commits $16M to clean former mill site of contaminants

State commits $16M to clean former mill site of contaminants

Source:, May 9, 2019
By: Jerry Cornfield

One day, cargo ships stretching 1,000 feet in length could berth at Port of Everett’s South Terminal, where workers would unload shipments of large airplane parts destined for the Boeing factory.

But first the port must deal with thousands of tons of contaminated sediment, a legacy of a century of sawmill and pulp mill operations, as well as enlarge the existing berth by 30 percent.

While a little of the work is done, it’s going to cost in the neighborhood of $105 million and take three to five years to finish it all.

Port officials don’t have all the money in hand. They did receive good news in April as lawmakers earmarked $16.25 million for the project in the next state capital budget.

Those dollars will come out of the state’s Model Toxics Control Account, which was reformulated this year to enable the state to pledge bigger sums to larger cleanups — like this one.

“We really appreciate all of the support the Department of Ecology has provided us to get this level of resources,” said Lisa Lefeber, the port’s deputy executive director. “We’re finally getting to the point that we have the legislative framework in place to know the state will be there when we’re ready to go.”

Weyerhaeuser is the former owner of the South Terminal property, also known as the Mill A site.

From the 1890s to 1980, the firm conducted a slew of wood-related industrial operations such as pulp manufacturing, saw milling, ship building, shingle milling and log handling. The facility produced about 300 tons of pulp per day until pulping operations ended in 1980, according to the state Department of Ecology.

The Port of Everett bought the property in 1983.

Since taking ownership, it’s had samples of marine sediment tested for possible contamination. Those tests found sediment made up of wood waste and contaminants, like heavy metals and polychlorinated biphenyls (or PCBs). Samples of upland soils found contamination as well.

As a strategy, the port has looked to meld remediation efforts with specific economic development projects. Today there is a roughly 700-foot berth where container cargo ships can be handled.

Efforts to rid the Mill A site of contamination stretch back more than a decade and are an element of a regional focus on cleanup known as the Puget Sound Initiative.

A 2008 lawsuit by the port to recover costs from Weyerhaeuser led to the two parties reaching a cost-sharing agreement in 2012. At that time the port put on hold its lawsuit.

Then, in 2016, an interim action plan for cleanup was prepared and carried out. Contaminated sediment and wood debris was removed from a 1.7-acre portion. The work cost a little under $5 million, with Weyerhaeuser paying 60 percent and the port and the state splitting the remainder.

Now, as the port looks to deepen and widen its South Terminal berth to accommodate an approximate 1,000-foot ship, it also must address the next phase of cleanup. Another interim action plan is likely, Lefeber said. It would examine both dredging of contaminated material and containing some on a site away from where ships would berth.

Paying for it will be a challenge.

Weyerhaeuser terminated its financial cooperation agreement with the port in March 2018, Lefeber said.

“They do have a financial responsibility, but at this point we have no mechanism (or) amicable way to cost share,” she said.

And the state’s allotment of $16.25 million must be matched dollar for dollar by the port. There are no available matching funds right now, she said.

Port commissioners have options. They could issue bonds or get loans to access those dollars and begin the next stage of cleanup, Lefeber said. There’s hope Weyerhaeuser can be brought back to the table as a contributing financial partner, she said.

While an exact timeline is not set, port leaders have been eyeing construction in 2021 or 2022.

“The seaport modernization and Mill A cleanup is the port commission’s top priority,” Lefeber said. “We are very confident we will find a way to leverage those funds to promote trade and jobs in our maritime complex.”

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