Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Gundie’s Auto Recyclers – Stormwater Heroes!

Gundie’s is the largest auto recycler in Whatcom County, has two other facilities in Graham, and Portland, and has been in business since 1961. Ever since one of our local Department of Ecology stormwater inspectors told me that auto recyclers are one of the dirtiest industries he inspects, I’ve wanted to see one. I’ve stopped along the road a few times, wishing I could see what went on in auto wrecking yards, but these places are almost always surrounded by substantial fences. So a couple of months ago, I called Gundie’s, and asked if they’d consider showing their site to a small group of people interested in stormwater best management practices. Their manager, Don, said yes, and on June 1, he offered us a tour.

Gundie’s is located on the Mount Baker Highway, in Bellingham, Washington. Their twenty acre parcel houses 2,500 wrecked autos, 500 tires, several large buildings for dismantling, storage units, a crusher, an office, and an engine wash station. For over ten years, Gundie’s has operated under an industrial stormwater discharge permit from the Washington State Department of Ecology, and in accordance with their permit, they collect samples for turbidity, pH, visual oil & grease, copper, lead, and zinc on a regular basis.

How does Gundie’s manage stormwater, and what’s so good about it? It has a well designed stormwater conveyance system. A series of stormwater ditches, such as pictured above, collect surface water drainage from the property. I know what you’re thinking…this looks good? What’s great is what comes next…so keep reading.

At the terminus of each ditch is an oil/water separator and sediment trap, pictured above. Oily compounds are absorbed onto a filter, which is regularly checked and changed. Sediment and other solids settle out in a sediment trap, inside this concrete vault. This system is well designed and easy to service. When solids fill one of the chambers in the sediment trap, they are removed with a shovel, and stored for proper off-site disposal.

What I’ve described shows a complete transformation from what the place looked like ten years ago. In 2002, a Department of Ecology inspector visited Gundie’s on a rainy day to conduct a stormwater inspection. On that day, the water running over the land looked like a “shimmering oil slick.” What’s changed since then? All the auto dismantling is done under cover; all fluids (even window washing fluid!) are removed from the autos, and stored inside, in labeled containers, with secondary containment, and no exposure to water. Oily parts are stored inside, under over. Evidently these actions have put an end to the shimmering oil problem, because I didn’t see a drop of oil while I was there, and it had just rained.

What else? This shed houses a parts and engine wash station, and is surrounded by a concrete berm. This is good because there is no discharge of any dirty water from this process – if there was a discharge, it would be contained by the berm. The hooded tank houses a biological treatment unit, which uses bacteria to break down oil compounds.

Why are these best management practices important? The water that flows from Gundie’s ends up in Squalicum Creek, which is important fish habitat. According to our friends at Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association, coho and chum salmon, and cutthroat and steelhead trout all live in this creek. Steelhead is listed under the Endangered Species Act, and cutthroat and coho are candidates for listing.

We really appreciate the steps the staff and management at Gundie's are taking to protect our water – they are taking extra steps that cost time and money. They are rightfully proud of what they’re doing. Thanks Nate, David, Don, and all the folks at Gundie’s – you are stormwater heroes!

1 comment:

  1. Awesome! My cousin has been looking for good auto recyclers in Denver. He has needed to get rid of some cars! It is to bad he is not up in Portland. I'd have him to them to you.