Planned piling-pull leaves neighbors perplexed

Islanders call for more information before consenting to shoreline cleanup.

In the eyes of the state Department of Natural Resources, they’re a threat to the health of Puget Sound – slow-release capsules capable of releasing a million toxic gallons of creosote into local waters.

To others they’re history, habitat and Bainbridge kitsch.

They’re creosote-treated pilings, the left over foundations of Mosquito Fleet docks, rail ties and telephone poles long since abandoned by time and necessity.

This week, public officials, landowners, history buffs and conservationists gathered to learn about the DNR project to remove pilings and driftwood from Bainbridge shores.

“The people need to have the nitty gritty, we need to know the details. and they have to come from all sides of the issue,” said island resident Iver MacDougall. “We have a right to look at the facts and make sure no truth is hiding behind them.”

The propposed removal is part of the state’s broader Puget Sound Initiative to restore a “healthy” by 2020.

Earlier this year, the state Legislature allocated $238 million to stormwater runoff, septic pollution, toxic cleanup and habitat protection. Creosote was also identified as a priority under the plan and the DNR was allocated $4 million to remove treated pilings.

The initiative was described by city Shoreline Stewardship program coordinator Peter Namtvedt Best as fighting “death by a thousand cuts” with “solutions by a thousand bandaids.”

Piling removal being one possible fix on a larger problem that humans have wrought on the Sound over the years, Best and DNR representatives are hoping to begin removal in February.

However, Tuesday’s meeting ran into a rough patch early when two toxicologists failed to show up, leaving no one to answer the laundry list of questions posed by the public on the science behind creosote pollution.

Other shoreline property owners were grateful for the public meeting, but were worried that their questions would not be answered prior to an Oct. 22 deadline for piling removal consent forms.

“The scientists and toxicologists aren’t here. How can we even be here without knowing?” asked one islander. “What is the process for me to be informed and to return a document in three weeks?”

Some pilings will require landowner permission for removal, which will be tricky since many pilings rest in ambiguous boundaries in the low tidelands.

“There can be uncertainty over ownership because there are no clear property line markers out in the tidelands,” Best said. “In order to truly to know whether or not they own those pilings they will have to look at their property deed description.”

Citizens can also contact the Monica Durkin at the DNR, who will work to assess which pilings are private and which are under the state’s jurisdiction.

“There may be cases where pilings offshore are clearly within DNR’s aquatic land, making them the property owner, so they get to make that decision on removal,” Best said.

Some attendees wanted to be sure the historical significance of pilings was saved and properly documented for future generations.

Others worried about destroying the habitat that old pilings create for birds and wildlife, and pushed for the timbers to be either preserved or replaced.

The Bainbridge Island Shoreline Stewardship project has taken note of many piling and driftwood locations around the island, primarily concentrated on eastern shores.

Piling still standing in the water will be hit with a vibration hammer, chained up and hauled out for transfer to a hazardous waste landfill in East Washington.

Another meeting, with toxicologists among the planned participants, will be held sometime before the Oct. 22 consent deadline.

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