New Wyckoff appraisal lower?

As the Wyckoff acquisition group nears a mid-March deadline for submitting a purchase proposal, the fate of the cleanup itself is in question because of funding cuts.

As the Wyckoff acquisition group nears a mid-March deadline for submitting a purchase proposal, the fate of the cleanup itself is in question because of funding cuts.

Thursday, an appraiser hired by the city and the court-appointed property trustee will disclose his findings on the fair-market value of the contaminated 55-acre parcel on Bill Point.

Reports this week suggested that the appraisal could come in under $10 million, significantly lower than the previous valuations, task force chair Christine Nasser said.

“Nobody thought that the previous appraisals were reasonable,” Nasser said, with earlier estimates in the $30 million range.

Determining the value of the property is the first step in putting together a proposal for public purchase and use, which faces a March 15 deadline.

At a public meeting on the Wyckoff site hosted by Rep. Inslee in January, the park district presented a plan to turn the site into a recreational area. The western end near Taylor Avenue would be the site of a memorial to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

City officials will use the purchase-and-use proposal to seek assistance from the state’s congressional delegation, although where money would come from is uncertain.

One proposal calls for Congress to earmark money to the Wyckoff trust, which would effectively sell the land to the city and use the proceeds to fund cleanup.

“We are counting on what the congressional staff will be able to pull together,” Nasser said.

But the appraisal results come as the funding picture for Superfund projects like Wyckoff is clouded.

In its proposed 2003 federal budget, the Bush administration indicated that it will not renew a tax on chemical and petroleum companies that has funded treatment of hazardous waste sites through the Superfund trust.

Superfund monies have been used by the Environmental Protectional Agency to pay for the 30 percent of contaminated sites where cleanup efforts are not fully paid for by the polluters themselves.

The administration’s budget would shift to taxpayers the burden of maintaining the trust, which expired in 1995 and has been running on reserves and general appropriations.

According to published reports, the Superfund will disperse only $600 million of $1.3 billion needed for cleanup projects in 2003, and little money in 2004.

Finding the remaining $700 million is up to Congress, and the effect is likely to be a further squeeze on budgets for existing and proposed Superfund projects.

The health of the trust was a central concern for U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell during her visit to the Wyckoff site last November.

At that time, she pledged support for completion of the cleanup project and the public acquisition of the property.

Tuesday, Cantwell called the administration’s plan to abandon the Superfund petroleum tax “extremely troubling.”

“There is much critical work that needs to be done at the Wyckoff site,” Cantwell said. “The federal government has made a legal commitment to clean up Wyckoff. I will work hard in Congress to ensure that the government keeps its promise to the people of Bainbridge Island.”

For now, cleanup of the site will proceed. Construction continues in preparation for a new treatment procedure being tested on the site.

Slated to begin in this fall, the “thermal pilot study” will use steam injection to dislodge creosote, and dissolve and extract contaminants.

The EPA will evaluate the results of steam-injection in 2003 and determine whether to expand the treatment to the entire site. Funding for the pilot program has already been approved.

As Congress and the EPA determine which cleanup projects have priority in the struggle for funds, efforts at Wyckoff have the advantage of being well under way, said Mike Gearheard, director of the EPA’s Region 10 Environmental Cleanup Office.

“For a site like Wyckoff, for which cleanup is ongoing, funding usually comes off the top,” he said. “We don’t want to shut down ongoing projects.”

He added, though, that Wyckoff work will have to compete against “at least a couple dozen” large, ongoing cleanup projects for future funds.

“Wyckoff is in a pretty good position,” he said, “but there are no guarantees.”