Wyckoff deadline looms

If Bainbridge Island wants federal dollars to help buy the Wyckoff Superfund property, it needs to get its application in line by mid-March.

And making that deadline is going to require some intensive work over the next two months, said city council member Christine Nasser, chair of the city’s committee to acquire the property.

“This is a unique request,” said Nasser. “There are no other Superfund sites owned by a trustee, and there are no other cases where a privately owned property has been transferred to public ownership at the end of the cleanup process.”

The question of how to fund this transfer, and what to do with the land once it has been acquired, was the subject of a public meeting on the Wyckoff parcel hosted on Wednesday by Rep. Jay Inslee.

The Environmental Protection Agency is in the process of cleaning up the 55-acre site on the south shore of Eagle Harbor. Years of creosoting operations left the site contaminated with residues of the petroleum-based wood preservative.

Under the federal Superfund law, costs of cleaning up contaminated sites are recovered from the former owners and operators of the property. In this instance, the Wyckoff company and its successors had no assets other than the property itself, so those were placed into a court-supervised trust. The trustee has been directed to sell the property for fair-market value, and use the proceeds to reimburse EPA.

But cleanup costs are expected to exceed $100 million, far more than the property could bring at a sale. That disparity has prompted calls to transfer all of the property into public ownership on the basis that if taxpayers foot the bill for cleanup, they should realize the benefits.

The first step, Nasser said, is to determine how much money is going to be necessary. An appraisal is under way – paid for jointly by the city and the trustee – which should provide that answer by the end of February, she said.

Trustee Dan Silver wants to sell the whole property at one time, Nasser said, even though the area of actual creosoting operation won’t be cleaned up for at least 10 years. That could be an advantage, Nasser said, because the cost of acquisition will be lower now, before the cleanup is completed, than it will be afterwards.

“We would have to take the risk of how clean the property would be,” she said, “and that may not be a risk we are willing to take.”

Congress will also demand at least a conceptual plan for the property, she said. Between now and March, though, she believes planning will have to be on a general level, showing only such things as view areas, possible dock areas, and possible memorials.

The Park District presented the rudiments of such a plan at Wednesday’s meeting.

Also speaking was Clarence Moriwaki, representing the island’s Japanese-American community and the local Interfaith Council, who have proposed a memorial to the World War II exclusion of the island’s Japanese-American citizens at the Taylor Avenue road end, where many of those affected were evacuated by ferry and taken to an internment camp in California. Plans for parking and an interpretive center would require the use of the westernmost portion of the Wyckoff property, which is clean enough right now for that use.

“The whole project could end up taking us 10 years,” Nasser said. “But the trustee has agreed to hold the property off the market this year to give the community a chance to come up with a plan.”

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