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"What's next for Wyckoff?Pound, pound, go the hammers; buy, buy, say proponents of a new island park."
"Is there a pounding in your head that just won't go away?You probably live in the vicinity of the Wyckoff/Eagle Harbor Superfund site, where pile-drivers have been hammering away at a row of steel pilings intended to fence in the site's plentiful subsurface contaminants.Construction of the wall - 2,000 feet in length, running around the perimeter of the cleanup site - will continue through Feb. 15. It will be followed later this year by the installation of a small boiler plant and numerous wells and injection pipes, all for a pilot steam cleaning underground. The high-pressure steam, it is hoped, will free up the viscous globs of creosote - measuring in volume perhaps 1 million gallons, by some estimates - left over from decades of industrial work and saturating the ground below.We just want to get it as clean as we can clean it, said Ken Marcy, project manager for the Environmental Protection Agency. It's really unclear what the future use of the property will be. We have to be prepared for anything.The work marks what is expected to be the beginning of the end - a decade-long denouement of groundwater extraction - of a costly cleanup that began in 1987.And when it's done?Certainly, there's much to be done between now and then. But interests are lining up to shape the future of the 55 acres that form half the gateway to Eagle Harbor.A new committee of city and park district officials will soon consider changes in the property's zoning. Some would like to see it purchased as a park.Even Congressman Jay Inslee, who recently moved into a new home across the harbor and has been treated to the steady din of the pile-drivers, has taken an interest and hopes the property's future includes some sort of public use.It's hammered its way into my consciousness, Inslee said Friday.Industrial pastHaving operated as a wood-treatment plant under various ownerships from the early 1900s through 1988, the Wyckoff site remains the quintessential symbol of Eagle Harbor's industrial past. There, huge retorts - essentially giant cylindrical pressure cookers - were loaded with logs harvested elsewhere on the island and pumped full of hot, oily creosote. A coal-based biocide, the substance was cooked into utility poles, railroad ties and other timber products to protect them from damage by worms, insects and the elements.But the excess creosote was generally allowed to spill out onto the ground, and tanks on the property were notoriously leaky. And the land soaked up the creosote like a sponge. Even today, stroll the nearby beach when the tide is low and you can still see little oily rivulets coming up through the sand.So the site - and the central Eagle Harbor bottom, fouled by mercury and other contaminants after years of shipyard operations around what is now the Washington State Ferries maintenance facility - made the Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund list in 1987.The Wyckoff/Pacific Sound Resources company ceased operations and eventually dissolved. Assets were liquidated in 1994, with the proceeds placed in an environmental trust to offset the cost of the cleanup.The plant itself was dismantled (one of the retorts can now be seen outside the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum), and there followed a good decade of soil excavation as well as capping of contaminants in the harbor bottom with fresh material.But simple extraction of the subsurface creosote - which has been under way via several wells for the last five years - has proved inefficient, as the substance generally clings to the material around it. Ergo the steam-cleaning plan, which EPA officials believe could speed up the extraction and return the property to productive use within a decade.The vision for the site is when it's all cleaned up, you'll see the shoreline back the way it was, Marcy said. Zoning plansIt's a mess today. But with its brilliant, 180-degree views of Puget Sound and Seattle, the Wyckoff site represents a rare prize for a future owner - or owners.And the list of possible uses - waterfront retail, studios and galleries, boat repair or other water-related industry, cross-harbor ferry dock, park - would at first glance seem long. So, recognizing that the property's zoning would have to be resolved to reflect its post-cleanup possibilities, then-Mayor Janet West commissioned an eight-member Wyckoff Zoning Advisory Committee in 1995.After months of study and public meetings, the committee recommended that the property be considered as two pieces.Under the group's recommendations, a south parcel of approximately 10 acres - bounded by Eagle harbor Drive, Creosote Road and Taylor Avenue - would be rezoned for residential use at one house per acre.The north parcel - 45 acres bounded by Eagle Harbor Drive, Taylor Avenue and the waterfront - would see an array of uses, including multi-family housing, commercial, and marine-related industrial such as a boatyard.And the coveted point that juts out into the mouth of Eagle Harbor should, the committee said, become an 11-acre park.The committee issued its final report in April 1996, but because of the uncertainty of the cleanup, the recommendations were never adopted. Instead, the property remains under a marine-industrial zoning, which it shares with the ferry yard across the harbor.That may soon change. With growing consensus that the property's fate should be decided sooner than later, a new city committee has been formed to re-examine the zoning plan and make its own recommendations.Among the members is Bainbridge Island Park Board commissioner Dave Shorett, who has been an early champion of purchasing most of the property for use as park and open space. Everything below Eagle Harbor Drive would be ideal, Shorett said.Echoed park board member Ken DeWitt, also an advocate of public use: I think it could be a crown jewel on the island. What a gateway.Even Congressman Jay Inslee (D-1st District) is getting into the act. Inslee appeared before the city council Wednesday, announcing plans to set up a meeting of his own to bring together all stakeholders - the city, the EPA, and the property's trustee - in the next few months.Inslee noted that the public has already invested heavily in the property, by virtue of the EPA's Superfund cleanup.The trustee may sell the property at any time, Inslee said. I don't want to see the opportunity for public use disappear overnight.There, though, it gets complicated.Al Lowe of Seattle - appointed by the court to act as trustee for the property - says his mandate is to maximize its sale price, to help pay for the cleanup. Proceeds from an eventual sale will go the EPA and several other federal agencies.He too wants to see the zoning resolved. And he believes the property would be easiest to sell - and develop - as a single parcel.Lowe said he supports zoning that would allow a mix of residential and commercial uses, but believes the 1996 committee got too specific in its recommendations - limiting building height, for example.What I pointed out is, it might be more practical for that to be part of the negotiations between the city and a developer, he said, adding, We obviously haven't had a lot of people interested until the city gets done.Moreover, most agree that some of the original recommendations have been rendered moot by the cleanup.For example, the EPA would probably forbid construction of a pier for boat use, because the pilings would disturb the sediment cap on the harbor bottom. And a potential deep-water moorage near Taylor Avenue has been pared away to make a new beach for marine habitat.Lowe suggested that the city might be best served by requiring a linear park running around the perimeter of the property, rather than a single public area covering the point. That would leave the balance of the property free for development.Sale priceThe price the Wyckoff property will eventually fetch will be determined by what uses the city council settles on.The property has a current assessed valuation of about $1.2 million, but that's under zoning that is no longer applicable. A rezone to some type of mixed use would certainly drive up the value.City officials said Friday that a private appraiser will visit the site next week, presumably hired by the trustee.Lowe and Marcy agree that the cleanup costs will far exceed whatever the property someday fetches on the market - with the federal government making up the difference. Just the final phase of the cleanup is expected to cost $41 million; Marcy this week could not say precisely how much has been spent so far.And Lowe says he will not get a cut of the eventual sale price, receiving instead a flat fee of $1,800 per month to manage the property. His interest, he said, is fulfilling his obligation as trustee.When all is said and done, Lowe said, I want to be able to say we did what we had to do and we got 'this much' money for the property.But that has some questioning the logic of the arrangement. Since there's no private imperative to see the property sell for a high price - again, the proceeds will go to the federal government, and won't begin to cover cleanup costs - what does it matter what it sells for, especially if the public buys it? Huge amounts of public money have already been spent to rehabilitate it, Shorett said. Make as much of it a park as possible - that should be our goal. "