mill cleanup

This 2015 photo shows what the mill site look like after the first two phases of the cleanup.

ANACORTES — The state Department of Ecology is seeking public comment as it prepares for the final phase of an environmental cleanup at the former site of the Custom Plywood mill on Fidalgo Bay.

At a presentation Monday, members of the department’s Toxic Cleanups Program briefed the public on plans for reducing contaminants in the sediment in the bay while minimizing harm to aquatic habitats.

Hun Seak Park, site manager with Ecology, said the mill was once the largest plywood producer west of the Mississippi River, but it shut down after a fire in 1992.

The operation left behind wood waste and chemical contamination in nearby soil and sediment, as well as 1,000 pilings coated in a contaminant called creosote.

Park said this final cleanup phase is expected to begin in 2020.

The cleanup project began in 2008, he said. Ecology started its work upland, then worked toward the water to the sub-tidal area — the focus of phase three.

In this phase, Park said the department plans to lay down a thin layer of sediment over about 10.4 acres near the shore, which will reduce the concentration of contaminants without causing harm to eelgrass.

Eelgrass serves as a valuable habitat for shellfish and young fish and is protected at the state and federal levels, he said.

Crews will have to dredge and dispose of about half an acre of more highly contaminated sediment, and Ecology plans to mitigate the disruption to eelgrass by replanting elsewhere on the project site.

Arianne Fernandez, who oversees this and other shoreline cleanup projects in Fidalgo and Padilla bays, said the project is crucial to preserving a safe habitat for aquatic life.

“This is the nursery for most of Puget Sound,” Fernandez said of the bays.

She said many of the contaminants found at the site are carcinogenic and pose a danger not only to fish but to species farther up the food chain.

The state Legislature has authorized $3.5 million for this phase, and the Ecology provided $100,000, she said.

Fernandez estimated the project needs $1 million more, which Ecology is seeking to get from those potentially liable for the contamination.

Residents have until April 5 to submit comment on the draft cleanup plan. More information is available at fortress.wa.gov/ecy/gsp/Sitepage.aspx?csid=4533.

— Reporter Brandon Stone: bstone@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2112, Twitter: @Brandon_SVH

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