The loading dock and breakwater at the former Rayonier pulp mill, shown Tuesday, are among the few structures still intact at the site east of downtown Port Angeles. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

The loading dock and breakwater at the former Rayonier pulp mill, shown Tuesday, are among the few structures still intact at the site east of downtown Port Angeles. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Clallam County opposes Rayonier site cleanup plan

Commissioners: Proposal limits possibilities for waterfront locale

PORT ANGELES — The Clallam County commissioners have weighed in on the proposed cleanup plan for the former Rayonier Mill, sending a letter to the state Department of Ecology that says the plan “makes little sense.”

The proposal covers the 75-acre industrial site on the waterfront on the east side of Port Angeles Harbor and harbor waters.

Under Volume 3 of the plan, more than 1 foot of 0.5 acres of mill site would be excavated, while 10 acres would be excavated to 1 foot on an industrial section that is mostly covered with cement. Another 10 acres of polluted area would be capped.

Clallam County commissioners approved the letter penned by Commissioner Randy Johnson on Tuesday, the day comments were due. Ecology had extended the comment period from Oct. 28.

“The more I looked at it, the more I thought, gosh, we as the county need to weigh on this,” Johnson said Monday. “It’s a site that could be used for a multitude of things, none of which would be possible with the standard they are proposing.”

The letter says that it has “been far too long since any positive action has taken place on the Rayonier site,” despite it being closed for more than 20 years.

Cleanup responsibilities for the site switched to Rayonier Advanced Materials Inc. (Rayonier AM) in 2014 when it split off from Rayonier Inc.

The cleanup of the site has been in progress for some 19 years. The mill, once Clallam County’s largest employer, closed Feb. 28, 1997 after 67 years of operation.

Ecology took the lead on cleanup in February 2000. Since then, state laws have expanded the extent of the cleanup area.

The soil included contaminant levels of arsenic, lead and dioxins; the groundwater, arsenic, copper and nickel; the sediment, arsenic, cadmium, copper and zinc.

“The proposed standard of “OCCASIONAL USE” makes little sense when thinking about the safety of the community,” the county’s letter says. “Cleanup to a higher standard is both desirable and necessary since this was previously an industrial site and at a minimum, should be cleaned up to this standard.

“The standard you propose makes this site largely unusable for either industrial uses or recreation in the future.”

Over the weekend Port Angeles City Manager Nathan West said city staff would submit comments by Tuesday’s deadline, objecting to Ecology’s preferred plan.

West said the plan “effectively creates a landfill on the highest and most usable portion of the Rayonier site and it create a landfill in perpetuity.”

The plan says that because the Port Angeles Shoreline Master Plan includes a 200-foot-wide “open-space” future land use buffer area along shoreline, human exposure would include “occasional visitors but not full-time residents.”

The plan says the cleanup cost is expected to be more than $24 million, not including costs for removal of the mill dock and jetty and restoration of the Ennis Creek Estuary.

During 2017 and 2018, the estimated liability increased by approximately $5 million due to re-evaluation and changes in the remediation cost estimates, according to the report.

The company removed 30,000 tons of contaminated soil from the site since Ecology took on cleanup duties at the site.

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].

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