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The Broom marks 25 years of muckraking

(L-R) Judy Hartstone, Lew Andrus, Charles Schmid and Jerry Schoenberg are longtime contributors to Bainbridge Broom, the island’s environmental journal. - Douglas Crist/Staff Photo
(L-R) Judy Hartstone, Lew Andrus, Charles Schmid and Jerry Schoenberg are longtime contributors to Bainbridge Broom, the island’s environmental journal.
— image credit: Douglas Crist/Staff Photo

ABC’s newsletter drove cleanup of the Wyckoff creosote plant and the town dump.

There are scant few corners on Bainbridge Island “The Broom” hasn’t swept over the last quarter century.

The magazine, established in December 1980 by members of the Association of Bainbridge Communities, has tackled the filth of a former landfill, the grime of industrial contamination and led the way through dust-ups over suburban growth and land use.

“We started it because this is a beautiful island,” said Elane Hellmuth, who helped start the magazine – then called “The Scotch Broom” – after founding ABC in 1978. “Back then, there were only 7,000 people on the island. They tried to put 2,000 more people at the Port Blakely tree farm. We fought that and we fought (pollution) at the Wyckoff property and at the dump.

“They’re still going and doing a great job.”

Helmed by a small staff and filled four times a year by a long list of volunteers, including 385 artists and authors over the years, the Broom at 25 has achieved status as the island’s venerable voice for environmental preservation and activism.

“The Broom brings a singular viewpoint nothing else in the community provides,” said Judy Hartstone, who served as the magazine’s editor from 2002 to 2003. “Because of its history and its knowledge of history, the Broom has a real credibility that newcomers can’t provide.

“When it speaks, it really behooves the community and elected officials to listen.”

The inaugural issue featured two articles cut and pasted from pages banged out with an old typewriter. Humble in appearance, the magazine aimed to play a pivotal role in the community.

On its first page, the Broom declared its mission as a “town crier” furnishing readers with information on “proposed changes to Bainbridge.”

“Change” was a broad topic, and it grew even wider as the magazine championed one of the biggest changes the island’s ever known.

“In the first issue we were worried about self-government,” said Charles Schmid, who helped found the Broom and now serves on its editorial board. “Important decisions were being made about the island in Port Orchard when most of the island was part of the county. We wanted home rule and we started planting the seeds for it in our first issue.”

The strategy for cultivating these seeds for change were simple: “People write stories, people get mobilized and people take off,” said Schmid.

Taking off

Within 10 years, and after dozens of articles advocating home rule, the magazine had helped achieve its goal, expanding the reach of City Hall from Winslow’s borders to the entire island shores.

Incorporating the island gave residents more control over what could have been stampeding growth, according to the magazine’s writers.

“Rural fields have been developed, often without thought to limited water resources or inadequate drainage,” wrote Eric Hermanson – then a senior at Bainbridge High School – in the magazine’s fall 1981 issue. “Under the auspices of the Kitsap County administration, Bainbridge Island often appears to have lost much of its former rural beauty and small-town ambiance.”

The magazine devoted gallons of ink to its fight against the Wyckoff creosote treatment facility on Eagle Harbor’s south shore. Contributors railed against the toxic chemicals leeching into the harbor’s waters, informing readers of creosote’s risks to humans and wildlife.

In 1987, the facility was shut down and placed on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund list. Much of the site is now covered with a protective sediment cap and serves as 50-acre park.

“I’m proud of what we did to get the Wyckoff clean-up,” Schmid said. “It started with a woman in the community writing a little article about the smell and asking questions about whether it was polluting Eagle Harbor.”

The scent of creosote put the magazine on the trail of another heap of contaminants hidden at the island’s dump.

Articles in the late 1980s revealed over 400,000 gallons of creosote waste had been deposited in the area later known as the Vincent Road landfill.

The Broom promoted public meetings to discuss the landfill and called on government officials to defuse the toxic “time bomb” before the island’s water supply was put at risk.

By 1992, the industrial contaminants had been carted off to a hazardous waste site in Oregon. But the Broom wasn’t satisfied with the clean up. It encouraged further public pressure for a full landfill reclamation.

After 15 years of citizen involvement – and 25 articles in the Broom – the 40-acre site was scraped clean of all trash in 2001 and now serves as recycling center.

With the toxic remnants of the island’s industrial past under wraps, the Broom began to tackle what became it’s lasting adversary: suburban sprawl.

Many of the magazine’s longtime contributors point to efforts that brought down a proposed 1,200-unit development at a former tree farm at Port Blakely.

Fearing the new homes’ effects on the water supply and the loss of trees on the 800-acre building site, the Broom promoted public meetings that echoed a community chorus against the new homes. Plans for the development were abandoned in 1994 with over a third of its proposed area eventually falling under the protection of the IslandWood education center and a waterfront park.

Despite this victory, the magazine has lost many battles on the anti-sprawl front, Broom graphic designer and longtime ABC member Lew Andrus admits.

“We’ve had a lot of success and a lot of failures,” he said. “Sadly, as time has passed and the island’s grown, the number of people becoming active in preserving the character of the island has dwindled.”

The magazine’s base of volunteers has dwindled as well, with fewer residents contributing articles and key roles – including the editor’s – remaining unfilled.

But those that remain say they’re still willing to put in the long hours to see the Broom rolling off the presses four times a year.

The Broom’s latest issue, a 40-page retrospective now available on local newsstands, is the magazine’s largest. While fewer people are lending a hand, the magazine’s typical print run of 700 copies proves people are still reading.

“The Broom helps keep Bainbridge a great place to live,” said Hartstone. “It really brought high standards for development, for livability, water quality. If (the Broom) hadn’t championed those issues, those issues might have been lost.

“It fills a niche nobody else does. It’s the rabid watchdog that nobody else is willing to be.”

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