Ferries pull toxic pilings

Steve McNabb, a pile buck for General Construction Co., is framed by the remains of  creosote timber pilings at Winslow ferry terminal that supported a loading dock. - JULIE BUSCH photo
Steve McNabb, a pile buck for General Construction Co., is framed by the remains of creosote timber pilings at Winslow ferry terminal that supported a loading dock.
— image credit: JULIE BUSCH photo

New materials should make for a healthier harbor,

one neighbor says.

Lyon McCandless watches from his deck as old creosote-covered pilings are pulled from the ferry terminal loading dock by a floating crane.

He’s so grateful to see the pilings go, he has a personal message of gratitude for Washington State Ferries:

“Thanks for not killing us anymore.”

McCandless, a resident of Harborview Drive next to the terminal, believes the first stage of WSF’s $160 million of terminal upgrades, including trestle replacement and the revamp of Slip 2, will make for a healthier harbor.

“Four times a day, strong currents have been going back and forth through the nest of poisonous pilings,” said the long-time Eagle Harbor scuba diver. “Thirty years ago, the well-seasoned terminal pilings hosted thousands of sea anemones, sea stars, moon snails and a host of perch and other fish. Today it is almost a desert under the dock.”

Creosote was a common wood preservative manufactured through the high-temperature distillation of coal tar. More than 100 other components were typically added, including fungicide, insecticide, miticide and sporicide to help protect railroad ties, utility poles, pilings and other industrial wood products.

Creosote compounds have been regarded as known carcinogens since the late 1970s. High levels of creosote exposure, or extended exposure over time, can cause skin problems, kidney and liver problems, birth defects, convulsions, unconsciousness and even death, according to the U.S. Department of Health. People are most often exposed to creosote through contact with freshly treated wood or from contaminated drinking water.

“It’s a nasty chemical,” said city shorelines planner Peter Namdvedt Best. “Creosote is highly toxic, as we all know from the (Wyckoff) Superfund site, and it’s the most significant contaminant in Eagle Harbor. Now it’s standard practice not to use creosote-treated wood.”

It’s a standard WSF has made a system-wide policy.

“Washington State Ferries stopped building anything with creosote a half dozen years ago,” said John Callahan, the terminal improvement project’s lead engineer. “It’s better for the environment and our new steel and concrete construction lasts longer.”

The ferry system will remove the last wood pilings this week on the dock’s western edge and begin driving steel pipe replacements today. Workers will cap the pipes with concrete pads before adding concrete surface panels.

Stronger and more durable, Callahan said the revamped dock will require fewer pilings and will last many decades longer than the rot-prone wood variety.

Workers will begin the noisy, eight-day process of driving 34 pilings this week. Pile-driving will be limited to weekdays, between 6:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Eleven more piles will be driven in late January and February.

Other aspects of the $10.3 million first phase of terminal upgrades, which should be completed next April, includes replacing the Slip 2 transfer span and its towers.

Workers will dismantle the tower’s 29-year-old counter-weight system and replace it with a more earthquake-resistant hydraulic system. Slip 2 will be closed for 40 days but will not impact ferry schedules or service, ferry officials said. Later phases of the 12-year upgrade project include dock widening and replacing the terminal building.

By then, McCandless expects to see a plethora of marine life return to a much cleaner terminal area, rivaling the abundance he witnessed 30 years ago as a diver.

“When all the creosote pilings are gone, you will see a boom in the fish population,” he said. “The herons, eagles and other marine birds will return and eel grass will thrive. It was a nice harbor and will return to health if we let it.”

* * * * *

WSF seeks volunteers for an advisory group on terminal upgrades. Call (206) 515-3411 for more info.

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