Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Baykeeper Field Trip

Last week, the Baykeeper team went on a field trip to Little Squalicum Creek Park. The park is an undeveloped 21-acre area on the Bellingham waterfront. Along with us was staff from the City of Bellingham Parks Department. We requested this tour to view cleanup activities, and to get our questions answered about soil and groundwater contamination, and stormwater issues.

Little Squalicum Park is adjacent to the Oeser Company, which is part of a federally designated Superfund cleanup site. The park also shares borders with the Birchwood neighborhood and Bellingham Technical College. In the past, creosote, pentachlorophenol, and diesel fuels from wood treatment processes were discharged from the wood treatment processes at the Oeser Company, which resulted in the contamination. A complex cleanup has begun, and the cleanup is more complicated than expected. Why? Because contaminated soil was found at unexpected depths, solid waste from the old Eldridge landfill was discovered, and contaminated soil from a sand and gravel mining operation has been encountered in the area.

What single fact did each of us learn or find most noteworthy from the tour? Here are our answers:

Wendy Steffensen (Lead Scientist, Baykeeper Team, pictured above with the Park in view): “The site is immensely degraded, two new cleanup sites were discovered, and the responsible party (Oeser) is calling the shots.” Wendy, as the Lead Scientist for the Baykeeper Team, challenged the EPA last year to ensure that a televised public meeting was held as part of the cleanup process. She wanted to increase public participation in the cleanup, and she won – there was a televised meeting. Among Wendy’s other wins was making sure that the creek was put back into its historic channel once the contamination under it was removed.

Matt Krogh (North Sound Baykeeper): “I was disturbed by the failure to clean out known contamination below six feet, and that the EPA is not concerned about surface water/ground water connections in contaminated areas.”

Lee First (Field Investigator, Baykeeper Team): “There are no longer any natural headwaters of Little Squalicum Creek. The water in the creek is stormwater from Bellingham Technical College parking lots, and a combination of stormwater and process water from Oeser Company, plus a few small springs."

And last but not least; an opportunity: 7,700 native plants have been planted thus far at the site. The City is looking for help maintaining these plantings, and especially to weed and keep out invasive plants. Any volunteers out there?

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