Luciano Marano | Bainbridge Island Review - Environmental Protection Agency officials and representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers, the city of Bainbridge Island and the Bainbridge Island Metropolitan Park & Recreation Department gathered Wednesday to tour the Wyckoff Superfund site and Joel Pritchard Park in honor of the 20th anniversary of the Superfund Redevelopment Initiative, which provided the funding to begin its planning and design.

Luciano Marano | Bainbridge Island Review - Environmental Protection Agency officials and representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers, the city of Bainbridge Island and the Bainbridge Island Metropolitan Park & Recreation Department gathered Wednesday to tour the Wyckoff Superfund site and Joel Pritchard Park in honor of the 20th anniversary of the Superfund Redevelopment Initiative, which provided the funding to begin its planning and design.

Officials tour Wyckoff Superfund site cleanup

It’s hard to predict much about the year 2032 — especially given the mercurial nature of today’s headlines and the bitter battles currently being fought over potentially very far-reaching subjects and policies.

However, we at least know that it will be a leap year.

We know that nearly 20 countries have already announced their intentions to bid on the right to host that year’s Summer Olympics.

We know that, according to the Global Environment Outlook compiled for the United Nations, more than half the world will be short of water.

We also know that, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Wyckoff Superfund site will at last be completely cleaned up.

So it’s shaping up to be a bit of a mixed-bag.

But spirits were high Wednesday as EPA officials and representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers, the city of Bainbridge Island and the Bainbridge Island Metropolitan Park & Recreation Department gathered at the notoriously poisoned patch of land for a tour and a talk about how far things have come — and where they need to go yet.

The get-together was something of a commemoration, said EPA Remedial Project Manager Helen Bottcher, meant to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Superfund Redevelopment Initiative, which provided the funding to begin the planning and design of Joel Pritchard Park.

“That’s why we’re out here today, celebrating the 20th anniversary of that program,” she said. “I think it’s a terrific program and really important for this site.

“It was one of the earlier grants in the program so we thought, in marking the 20th anniversary, this would be a nice site to show Chris [Hladick].”

Hladick, the EPA Regional Administrator, said his office already considers the park a success story of note.

“This is one of the worst creosote sites in the Northwest so it’s kind of a big deal to get it done,” he said.

“These folks originally got one of the first grants from the Redevelopment Initiative to help with planning, and so you know it’s kind of a good thing to celebrate the progress and the fact that we’re going to initiate construction here shortly,” Hladick added. “The Record of Decision and the method of cleanup has been decided and we’re going to start by upgrading the access road in here.”

The EPA first listed Wyckoff/Eagle Harbor as a Superfund site in 1987, and began Superfund cleanup actions in 1991. Earlier this year the agency announced updated and revised cleanup plans for the site.

“The newly selected cleanup technology will permanently contain and immobilize creosote and other contaminants in soil and groundwater under the former Wyckoff wood treating facility. This work will protect the island’s drinking water aquifers and prevent contaminants from reaching Puget Sound,” officials announced.

The EPA’s May 2019 Record of Decision Amendment and fact sheet describes the cleanup actions, which include: installing an underground cutoff wall along the south side of the former wood treating area to divert clean groundwater away from contaminated soil and groundwater; treating at least 267,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil and groundwater by mixing in a cement slurry to permanently immobilize the contamination on site; and covering the soil treatment area with a clean soil cap and building a new stormwater drain.

There are significant benefits expected from the updated cleanup plan, officials said.

“Once construction of the final protective soil cap is complete and long-term monitoring is underway, the property will be safe for people to visit and play,” according to the official announcement.

Bainbridge parks officials plan to add the cleaned-up property to Pritchard Park proper, though the area is currently jointly owned by the park district and the city. By solidifying the soil and groundwater contamination in a concrete-like matrix, the cleanup will better protect the public beaches, Eagle Harbor and Puget Sound, EPA officials said.

“This work will lead to a decrease in contaminant levels and enable the state to stop active groundwater extraction and treatment operations. Ending groundwater treatment operation will save Washington state taxpayers at least $750,000 in annual operations costs.”

The site is located near the entrance to Eagle Harbor, on and around the former location of the Wyckoff Company. The creosote wood-treatment facility operated there for 85 years, according to the Department of Ecology, which resulted in the soil and groundwater beneath the former processing area (the Point) being contaminated with chemicals, primarily creosote-derived polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, pentachlorophenol, aromatic carrier oils, and dioxins/furans.

These contaminants do pose a risk to public health and the environment, officials said.

“It is in an area of significant wave action, exposed to a wide northeasterly fetch and vulnerable to constant ferry wake,” according to the department’s official summary of the site. “It is located adjacent to an ancestral and important current tribal fishing ground, with established eelgrass beds.”

In other ways, too, the site is important to residents and visitors alike.

“It’s really a gem for us because we have clear access and it’s a great large space and it’s got all these important views and it’s near town,” said Bainbridge Island City Manager Morgan Smith. “It’s really meaningful from a community-wide perspective.”

And it was that same community that made the park possible in the first place.

From Pritchardpark.org: “In 1995, after inquiries about the future of the Superfund site, the mayor of the city of Bainbridge Island called for a committee to investigate potential uses for the area. The committee recommended, among other things, that 11 acres of the total 50 acres be set aside for a park. These plans were put on hold as the EPA continued to clean up the site until the year 2000, when a new Wyckoff Advisory Committee was formed to advise the city on the future of the site.

“It proposed in 2001 that the entire property should be publicly owned, and a citizen committee was formed to raise money to purchase the entire 50-acre parcel. In 2003, the city of Bainbridge Island began the process of purchasing 49.5 acres of land for $8 million. In 2006, the sale was completed and Pritchard Park became a reality.”

The sandy, relatively driftwood-free beach, seemingly so out of place among Bainbridge’s decidedly more Northwest-style beaches, was constructed using sediment dredged from a river bottom.

“It’s a beautiful, clean, well-sorted material,” Bottcher said. “It’s rounded material. It behaves more naturally than a quarried sand, and we think that the organisms recolonize it faster and the beach recovers quicker than it would if we used quarry material, which is just sterile and more angular; it just doesn’t behave like beach sand.

“The [Army Corps of Engineers] designed and built this beach on behalf of EPA,” she explained. “I know the community looks at this and they’re like, ‘Oh, look at our beautiful beach!’ And I look at this and I’m like, ‘Oh, look at the cap that I have to maintain!’

“We do come out here and we monitor this beach,” she added.

“Every couple of years we’ll take samples. We sample the sand; we also sample clams that we collect from this beach. And the beach, in terms of the habitat, has just been great. We have sand lance and other fish that are spawning and using the sand. It’s just chock-full of clams, there are butter clams, geoducks, horse clams, jackknife clams, mussels, cockles — it’s amazing, when the tide is really low and out and you can go out and poke around in the sand, what is out here.”

The new updated cleanup plan modifies an earlier decision for the site, issued in 2000, that called for steam-enhanced extraction of contaminants from the soils and groundwater.

Pilot testing showed that steam-enhanced extraction could not meet project cleanup goals. As a contingent remedy, the EPA installed a steel sheet pile wall around three sides of the site and operated a continuous groundwater extraction and treatment system to contain the contamination.

While this containment system has prevented large-scale releases of contaminants to Eagle Harbor, it is expensive to operate, and has not entirely stopped contaminants moving into Eagle Harbor or the groundwater aquifer.

In 2016, the EPA proposed a cleanup plan for the nearshore, beach and upland areas to remove and contain the contamination and treat contaminated groundwater.

This work was later divided into two phases to expedite the priority cleanup of the beaches and replacement of the containment.

Phase one, described in the May 2018 Record of Decision Amendment, will improve the site access road, replace the aging steel sheet pile perimeter wall, and dredge and cap contaminated beach sediments.

The first phase is expected to cost an estimated $36 million, phase two is expected to cost an estimated $60 million, and construction of both phases is scheduled to be completed, hopefully, by 2032.

Maybe even before the Summer Olympics, wherever they’re held.

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