"City turns to Congress for Wyckoff helpMurray, Cantwell and Inslee staff will tour the site this week."
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:48 PM
"The Environmental Protection Agency will finish cleaning up a portion of the Wyckoff Superfund site on the south shore of Eagle Harbor this summer, potentially freeing up 23 acres of prime waterfront and view property.If city and park district officials have their way, the property will go into public ownership, because the public paid for the cleanup.My dream would be a park with a variety of active and passive recreation uses, Mayor Dwight Sutton said this week.And now, the city is seeking help from the island's congressional delegation. Thursday, the city planning officials will meet with staff members from the offices of Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Rep. Jay Inslee to explain the issues and give them a tour of the site.We want to see what help they can give us, said assistant planner Libby Hudson, chair of the current Wyckoff site advisory task force.Maybe they can help us find state or federal funds, or can find a way to let EPA transfer the property directly to the city. But other areas have parks on Superfund sites, so there must be a way, Hudson said.Sutton doesn't rule out seeing some of the Wyckoff land in non-public ownership for residential use, which was called for in a 1996 master plan.But the EPA may not be able to accommodate the city as it works for public ownership of some of the property, the site of a Superfund cleanup after decades as a creosote wood-treating plant.The EPA is charged by law with recovering as much of the cleanup costs as it can from those responsible for the contamination.And because the property is the principal asset of the now-defunct Wyckoff/Pacific Sound Resources Company, a court decree requires the property to be sold at fair-market value, which could be more than the city or any other public agency can afford to pay.The city would have to buy it at fair-market value just like anyone else, said Al Lowe, court-appointed trustee of the property.Fair-market value would be determined by appraisal, Lowe said. But because value depends to a great extent on permissible use, the city can influence value by the way it zones the property.The city has absolute control over the use, Lowe said. But he added that if the city imposes unreasonable limitations, the trust might try to argue that the zoning is a taking of property, requiring compensation.Sutton believes that if the case for public use is compelling, the trustee may have some flexibility to sell for other than the highest dollar.Memorial planAt its regular meeting tonight, the city council will be asked to approve a resolution favoring putting the property into public ownership. The resolution does not specify an owning entity, referring to state, federal, city or county government ownership, or some combination. For the eastern portion of the property at the entrance to Eagle Harbor, including the point that extends into the harbor, the issue won't arise for a considerable time - maybe as much as a decade, while cleanup activity continues.But the western portion of the property - the part west of the Bill Point development and Old Creosote Road - will be cleaned up soon, perhaps by the end of the summer. That means the land could be sold to private interests if no transfer agreement is reached.That is why we need to act in a fairly rapid fashion, Sutton said.One immediate use for part of the property is to make it part of the proposed Japanese exclusion memorial site.The memorial, which is being proposed by the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community and by the Interfaith Council, would commemorate the forced evacuation of the island's Japanese-American residents during World War II.The internees were removed from the island by a ferry that left from the Eagledale dock, which was then located at the foot of Taylor Avenue. The city has indicated a willingness to set aside the Taylor Avenue road-end as a memorial site.But proponents favor consecrating the entire evacuation area, including Taylor Avenue itself south of Eagle Harbor Drive, as a memorial. Some of the area the committee wants to include is part of the Wyckoff property.Sutton believes that the memorial could be just the kind of compelling public use that could lead to a transfer for other than top dollar.If the only issue were location, the property would be some of the most valuable ground on the island, consisting as it does of beach frontage and a sloping but relatively stable hill backing away from the water.But the potential uses of the land is sharply limited by both the EPA and the city.The EPA has the right to veto any proposed sale, and can limit the use of the land to prevent interference with its cleanup efforts.The EPA is particularly protective of the underwater cap it has placed over contaminated bottom soil in the area just offshore from the western half of the property.Because the agency does not want the capped area disturbed by anchoring vessels, it has generally opposed any use that might attract boat traffic. That may rule out the water-dependent uses that the city had originally envisioned for the area.But the city's zoning authority gives local officials substantial clout. While it might have to yield to EPA with respect to any building that agency might want to do, it can impose zoning regulations on any private use of the site by anyone who might purchase it.If EPA wanted to build a high-rise EPA building, we probably couldn't stop them, City Administrator Lynn Nordby said. But if they sold it to developers who wanted to build high-rise condominiums, our zoning would take precedence. "