SEDRO-WOOLLEY — As the new owner of the former Northern State Hospital campus, the Port of Skagit has reached an agreement with the state Department of Ecology regarding steps toward cleaning up contamination on the property.
The state agency will accept public comment through April 16 on that agreement and on the plan for gathering public input throughout the cleanup process.
The contamination is from when the site was a state mental hospital. Materials such as lead paint and asbestos were used in the historic buildings.
The hospital operated from 1912 to 1973.
The port, along with Skagit County and the city of Sedro-Woolley, partnered in 2014 in the redevelopment of the property.
The three governments now refer to the 225-acre campus as the Sedro-Woolley Innovation for Tomorrow (SWIFT) Center and envision the site becoming home to local company Sedron Technologies — formerly Janicki Bioenergy — among other potential uses.
The site is in northeast Sedro-Woolley off of Fruitdale Road.
The port, county and city have been aware of contamination at the property since early in the redevelopment process, and accepted a $200,000 grant from Ecology’s Toxics Cleanup Program in 2014 to begin investigating environmental issues.
Testing of soil and groundwater at the campus has shown metals, petroleum products and other chemicals, including some that may cause cancer, are present in some areas.
That testing has highlighted seven areas of concern on the campus, according to an Ecology fact sheet, including metals in soil throughout the northern and eastern portions of the property as well as at specific areas such as around the former laundry building.
The contaminant levels in those areas are potentially harmful and must be addressed under the Model Toxics Control Act, according to Ecology. Cleanup is required to prevent the release of contamination at the site and exposure to people and the environment.
The agreement between Ecology and the port will require the port to analyze cleanup options and create a cleanup plan. The two must then reach another agreement requiring the port to complete the work outlined in the plan.
The agreement currently at hand and the related public participation plan are available online as well as at the Central Skagit Sedro-Woolley Library, 802 Ball St., and at locations in Bellingham and Bellevue.
Comments will be accepted online and by mail, as well as during a public meeting at 5 p.m. March 27 in Sedro-Woolley, at the City Council chambers, 325 Metcalf St.
Meanwhile, some cleanup activities are expected to begin this summer.
Those activities include removing an estimated 1,800 tons of arsenic-laden soil from the northeast area of the campus and taking steps to reduce the risk of exposure to contamination at the former laundry building, according to the fact sheet.
Ecology spokesman Ian Fawley said the work at the laundry building will coincide with renovations the U.S. Department of Labor has planned to turn the building into a classroom.
As cleanup efforts move forward, Fawley said additional testing will confirm the reach and likely source of contamination throughout the campus.
A LONG TIME COMING
The port began examining contamination at the campus using a grant it received from Ecology’s Brownfields program in 2014. The program is intended to help local governments clean up formerly abandoned properties where redevelopment is being planned, according to Ecology’s website.
The port has since received additional funding from Ecology to complete a Preliminary Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study in 2015.
It also received funding in 2017 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That money was used for additional soil and water sampling to better understand contamination at the site.
The next steps, which are included in the agreement, will build on that work, Fawley said. The agreement also makes the port eligible for reimbursement of up to 75 percent of cleanup expenses.
The port is also seeking additional funding from the EPA to help pay for cleanup.
Not only have local stakeholders been aware of contamination, but the state has known about the problems since at least the 1990s.
A study the state conducted in 1992 concluded that selling the former hospital campus was “very unlikely” in part because of the presence of hazardous materials.
Renovation of historic buildings was also projected to be costly and complicated because of the use of materials such as asbestos when the structures were built.
Also in 1992, three of five underground tanks for storage of heating oil, gasoline and diesel fuel were removed, according to Ecology’s Toxics Cleanup Program records. One was left because it was too close to a building, and the other could not be found.
After soil and water testing in 2014, the port found that chemicals from dry cleaning operations and lead from paint also left contamination in some areas.
While the port is eager to restore public access to the historic campus, lead paint and asbestos in particular are concerns at the remaining hospital buildings.
AREAS OF CONCERN
Former Laundry Building
What: Chlorinated volatile organic compounds
From: Historical use of chlorinated solvents known to be used for dry cleaning
Power House Building
What: Heavy oil-range organics and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
From: Historical fill material containing coal and asphalt debris
Shallow soil immediately adjacent to historical buildings
From: Historical lead paint applications
Demolished building site and athletic field
What: Arsenic in soil
From: Potential mix of naturally occurring arsenic, historical pesticide use, and wood-treatment chemicals used in building construction and buried with demolition debris
Soil at three areas in the north and east portions of the site
What: Metals including arsenic, barium, chromium, copper, lead, selenium and zinc
What: Benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes and gasoline-range organics in soil and groundwater
From: Likely from a former underground gasoline storage tank
Groundwater throughout the northeastern portion of campus
What: Lead and arsenic