Small city park planned at Unocal site

A group of islanders are attempting to have a small park built at the old Unocal site, which has been off limits to the public for more than 20 years after petroleum hydrocarbons and other contaminants were discovered flowing free in the soil.

The preliminary plan is to receive a Shoreline Substantial Development Permit from the state Department of Ecology sometime this fall, followed by park construction next summer.

Project coordinators and Rotarians Jim Chapel and Steve Davis, along with attorney Bruce Weiland, said that about 40 community members are now involved in the proposal.

It began a year ago when Chapel decided that he was tired of looking at the fenced-in acre of land and wanted to do something about it.

While Weiland said there is “no fixed concept as the process goes forth,” a tentative vision is to place a substrata down, layered with topsoil and grass. It may also include a path connecting Winslow Way and Olympic Drive, an information kiosk and signage.

The property is owned equally by the city and Kitsap Transit, both of which paid $50,000 for it in 2005. The previous owner was Unocal Corp. (Union Oil Co. of California), which operated a service station on the corner until its closure in 1989. Unocal, which spent years cleaning up the site, is defunct after merging with Chevron Corp. in August 2005. The sale absolved Unocal of any responsibility for the polluted property and became the liability of the two public entities.

Weiland said the park needs to be a community discussion, and that he and others involved have had conversations with city staff and council members, Kitsap Transit and the Bainbridge Island Metropolitan Park & Recreation District. They are scheduled to address the council at a public study session on June 15.

The Park District was approached last week with the idea of it eventually designing and operating the park.

“Our commissioners are fine with where it’s going, but it wasn’t instigated by us and we haven’t committed to a thing,” said Terry Lande, the park district’s executive director. “They told us the contaminants are contained. If DOE gives it a clean bill of health and it is actually contained and you can’t dig down into it and cause health problems, then it might serve as a gateway park. If all that is taken care of and there is promise of a 99-year lease, then we’d talk about it.”

Davis said the park would be privately financed “and wouldn’t cost taxpayers any money.”

Weiland and Chapel said they understood after talking with some consultants, including those from the environmental firms Parametrix and Aspect, that it’s possible that the contamination is stable and is not moving toward the ravine.

“It could be a situation like Gasworks Park in Seattle that was very polluted at one time,” Weiland said. “But those are just assumptions about the Unocal site and the plan is to go to DOE to see what can be done. We just want to see if it’s possible. But first we have wanted to know if the community is behind it.”

The city’s Hazardous Materials Assessment Report for the ongoing Winslow Way Improvement Project included geotechnical information from 2005 that indicated:

“The specific contaminants of concern remaining in the soil are primarily benzene and gasoline-range petroleum hydrocarbons and exceeds groundwater cleanup levels in a roughly circular area approximately 60 feet in circumference beneath the location of the former dispense islands. ...Depth to groundwater is generally less than 22 feet in wells located to the southwest along the slope of Winslow Ravine. ...Monitoring well coverage to the southwest (of the dispenser islands) appears adequate and affected groundwater does not currently appear to be moving off-site to discharge pints in Winslow Ravine.

“The area of affect groundwater appears to have shrunk considerably since groundwater monitoring began in 1993 and suggests (in 2005) that the dissolved petroleum plume many have reached steady stage conditions.”

The city has had 13 groundwater monitoring wells in place since 2005, but they have generally been ignored, said local geologists/hydrologists Melanie Keenan and Malcomb Gander, who have researched the polluted site during the last year.

“The little monitoring that has been done indicated the presence of gasoline-contaminated groundwater, including free-phase gasoline floating on the water table... moving to the west-southwest toward Winslow Creek,” Keenan wrote in a letter to Kitsap County Commissioner Josh Brown, citing reports from the DOE and the city.

Keenan said this week that the city’s use of the site as a staging area for the Winslow Way project has included a heavy groundcover of rocks that threatens to destroy the monitoring wells.

“The city has been out of compliance and breaking the law since 2005 because it has done nothing to clean up the contaminants,” Keenan said. “DOE is not going to be pleased with the city because it has done only two rounds of sampling in six years, and it’s clear from those samplings that free product is moving toward the ravine.”

She said it’s obvious that before a contaminated site can become a park it would have to get clearance.

“They want to put a park on a listed hazardous waste site. I’d say that’s putting the cart before the horse. Clean it up first, then give us a park,” she said.

Keenan said she and Gander were invited to one of the park group’s meetings “and we told them what we knew, answered some questions and left.”

Chapel said there is no hidden agenda involved, just the desire to do something good for the community by getting rid of an embarrassing eyesore that is the first thing people see when visiting the island.

“We need some wins here,” Chapel said. “We need something good to happen. There’s been too much negativity here.”

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