Fidalgo Bay cleanup begins

A crane with a special hydraulic attachment that is used to lift old pilings out of the sediment, operates Wednesday morning at the old plywood mill site in Anacortes. Scott Terrell / Skagit Valley Herald

ANACORTES — Work crews began removing pilings Tuesday from the former Custom Plywood mill site on Fidalgo Bay in Anacortes.

The pilings were coated with creosote during construction to prevent the wood from deteriorating in the water. Now, the creosote poses an environmental threat as it leaches into the bay.

“The problem is that it’s a very toxic chemical and over time it slowly leaches into the environment. It gets into the sediments and causes damage to the life there,” state Department of Ecology spokesman Seth Preston said.

The state agency is overseeing the project. One component is removing roughly 1,100 pilings where a dock once stood.

About 8 acres of contaminated in-water sediment and 7,000 tons of other material also will be removed. Additional steps will be taken to improve the shoreline habitat.

Soil at the site contains elevated concentrations of heavy metals, petroleum hydrocarbons, dioxins and furans, and the groundwater has elevated levels of arsenic, copper and nickel.

The contaminants are from several industrial uses in the area, including a sawmill, wood box factory and plywood mill.

The old mill is one of several Anacortes-area sites being cleaned up under the Puget Sound Initiative.

“We’re looking at some key areas around the state where there has been historical industrial use that has taken a toll on the environment and the waters of Puget Sound,” Preston said of the initiative. “Fidalgo Bay is one of the high-priority bays we’ve identified for doing these projects.”

The initiative is an effort by local, tribal, state and federal governments; business, agricultural and environmental communities; scientists and the public to restore and protect the health of the Sound.

An Ecology team is working with the Port of Anacortes, the city of Anacortes, site owners and area tribes to clean the Fidalgo Bay sites. This project is expected to be complete in October.

Preston referenced the boat storage facility using the 6-acre upland area at the mill site as an example of how improving the environment may also provide economic opportunities.

“It gives us a chance to put land back into productive use that can benefit the economy,” he said.

In 2011, work crews removed pilings, other structures and mill debris from the upland area. They disposed of about 33,600 tons of contaminated soil, replacing it with about 39,000 tons of clean soil. They also created a wetland, which will be connected with the bay this year.

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