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Logging a shoreline

(Top) The hazy Seattle skyline looms over pilings from a former dock at Murden Cove. The dock is one of many marine structures around the island that could pose a threat to the environment, depending on whether they were treated with creosote. The city and state are exploring a plan that would remove some 800 pilings, with consent from property owners, from the island’s eastern waters.  (Bottom) Bob Selzler (left) and Gregg Peterson measure a treated log Tuesday morning at Fay Bainbridge State Park. Plans also are in the works to remove beach debris.  - Brad Camp/Staff Photos
(Top) The hazy Seattle skyline looms over pilings from a former dock at Murden Cove. The dock is one of many marine structures around the island that could pose a threat to the environment, depending on whether they were treated with creosote. The city and state are exploring a plan that would remove some 800 pilings, with consent from property owners, from the island’s eastern waters. (Bottom) Bob Selzler (left) and Gregg Peterson measure a treated log Tuesday morning at Fay Bainbridge State Park. Plans also are in the works to remove beach debris.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photos

Old creosote pilings may be removed from island waterways to boost cleanup efforts.

Shore thing: This story is the first of two parts on proposed shoreline restoration measures. Saturday: Blakely Harbor and Pritchard parks.

In the waters surrounding the island, scores of splintery fingers reach up from the past.

They’ve lost their grip on utility, but as the remnants of old docks and other marine structures, they still hold an important place in local maritime history.

Unfortunately they also hold creosote – on average about 61 gallons per piling, scientists say – that can have deadly impacts on fish populations and other marine wildlife if it finds its way into the environment.

It’s a troubling reality, said city shorelines planner Peter Namtvedt Best, but it’s far from a lost cause.

“It’s not too late,” he said. “We’re not so far past the tipping point that we can’t restore the health of the island’s shorelines.”

Which is why the city and state hope to remove some 800 derelict, creosote-treated pilings from the island’s eastern waters.

The pilings are left over from a variety of former uses, among them docks, piers and railroad lines.

Along with removing pilings, planners hope to rid island beaches of treated wood debris that has washed ashore over time.

The exact scope of the project has yet to be determined because the city is still inventorying the pilings and talking to property owners, who would have to give permission for removal to proceed.

More details will be presented at a public meeting on Sep. 18. The work – at an estimated cost of $500,000 – would be funded by money allocated by the Legislature for cleanup of Puget Sound.

Two million dollars already has been spent on similar projects elsewhere, and an additional $4 million has been earmarked for this biennium.

Over the past two years, the state Department of Natural Resources has removed more than 1,300 pilings and 900 tons of derelict beach debris from Puget Sound shorelines.

Removal of derelict over-water structures – which can damage eelgrass beds and other marine habitat – also is a priority. Officials stressed that all of the projects associated with the effort rely on voluntary participation from property owners.

DNR targeted Bainbridge for the program following a request by the city.

“We want to work with the city and property owners to develop Bainbridge as a model for projects like this in other communities,” said Lisa Kaufman of DNR.

Before the project can proceed, though, several factors must first be considered.

Historic preservationists have raised concerns about the historical significance of pilings, something that planners say must be weighed against any potential environmental benefits of piling removal.

Best said the city already is working with the Historic Preservation Commission to identify and rank the island’s historic marine structures, of which there are several, according to local historian Jerry Elfendahl.

They include former ferry docks – such as those used by mosquito fleet vessels – and leftover structures associated with the mill at Port Blakely, he said.

Creosote, once widely used to treat wood products, has since been banned due to its harmful effects on the environment, including fish populations.

Along with being used in the past to treat hundreds of pilings that still sit in island waters, an estimated 1 million gallons of creosote remains in the ground at Bill Point, following pollution from a wood treatment facility that operated there through much of the twentieth century. Debate continues over the best treatment options for that site, as the state intensifies its efforts to restore the failing health of Puget Sound.

Specifically, studies have linked increased mortality rates of herring to creosote exposure; herring are known to spawn in the waters around Bainbridge Island, particularly on the west and northwest coasts.

Along with impacts on marine life and habitat, planners are concerned about the potential threats to humans associated with treated logs that wash onto beaches.

Best said such logs are ubiquitous on Bainbridge beaches, and those who don’t know how to identify them sometimes sit or play on them, or use them to fuel campfires.

Treated logs tend to rot from the inside first, and sometimes ooze with the substance, which in some cases resembles tar.

Oozing is worse in warm, dry weather, Best said.

Depending on input from property owners and the public, the removal project on Bainbridge could begin as early as February 2008. The work itself would require two barges, one to hold equipment, and the other to store removed materials.

Workers would use a special machine to vibrate individual pilings and shake them loose, before pulling them out with a crane.

Doing so reduces the amount of disturbance caused by the process, Kaufman said. Following their removal, the pilings would be disposed of at a hazardous waste site.

For now, the project would only encompass the eastern shore of the island, from Agate Passage to Pleasant Beach.

Planners hope to eventually remove some pilings on the western shore of the island, but are waiting until a better inventory exists along the Kitsap Peninsula, since logistically it would make sense to do both sides of the water at the same time.

The inventory phase continued on Tuesday at Fay Bainbridge State Park, with volunteers and planners picking their way through an army of stained debris strewn along the shoreline. Their goal was to identify, measure and electronically tag treated logs for future removal.

It’s a big task, Best said, but response to the project has thus far been supportive.

“Most people want to be good stewards,” he said. “And we’re doing what we can to make it easy for them.”

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