PORT ANGELES — Workers at shuttered Midway Metals, a longtime environmental thorn in the side of Clallam County and state officials, have started trucking away tons of scrap and debris that prompted a cease and desist letter and drew the sheriff to its doorstep.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Sequim-area county Commissioner Mark Ozias said Friday, a day after he passed the 2-acre unpermitted refuse site at 25801 U.S. Highway 101 on his regular trip home from Port Angeles.
“It looked like there was a container they were filling, that a truck was pulling that looked pretty full from my quick glance,” Ozias said.
Midway Metals owner Katrina Haymaker of Port Orchard owns the rural parcel 10 miles east of Port Angeles that sits within a matter of feet from Highway 101. She did not return a call for comment Friday.
Poulsbo lawyer Dee Doughton, representing Haymaker, said Friday that two months is a realistic timetable for cleanup.
He said under Haymaker’s removal plan, junk unusable scrap is being transported to the Port Angeles Regional Transfer Station and marketable scrap to a processing site in Pierce County, leaving “basically bare ground” at the parcel by June.
“My understanding is that the goal is to continue selling scrap but to do it in a way that complies with all state and county regulations,” Doughton said.
Sheriff Bill Benedict said Friday the removal of scrap and reusable metal was being conducted under an unwritten agreement between Midway Metals and the county.
“We’ve reached at least a verbal agreement that they will clean up that property and will not go back into business until they get the proper permits, and all the solid waste has been removed, and all the scrap metal has been removed, and it’s kind of a fresh slate, but we don’t have that in writing yet,” Benedict said.
“It’s a necessary service we can use on the Peninsula. It”s my hope that we bring them into compliance with the law and certainly a big complaint we get is that the present facility is an eyesore.”
Benedict said he hopes there will be a written agreement to clean up the parcel but that a formal pact may not be necessary.
“This is a case where the county is working with a business owner to bring them into compliance so they can succeed so it doesn’t get complaints from the community about the mess there,” he said.
“As opposed to trying to arrest people and putting them in jail and taking away their livelihood, we are trying to make it a win-win for everybody.”
One thing that will change is that people won’t be able to drop off appliances at will, a practice Doughton said he heard about from local lawyers,
“You’re not going to see a large accumulation that has occurred over the course of years. You’re going to see a constant in and out, ebb and flow,” Doughton pledged.
“That’s what’s going to be radically different.”
Pressure built against Haymaker on Jan. 11, when county commissioners approved a cease-and-desist letter ordering Haymaker to stop violating the county code and state solid waste regulations. It was signed by Benedict and Port Angeles-area Commissioner Randy Johnson.
More than a year of negotiations up to that point between Haymaker and county officials could not resolve years of unceasing and numerous violations, including illegal dumping that, according to Community Development Director Mary Ellen Winborn, contributed to groundwater pollution.
Soil and groundwater were contaminated with mercury, lead, cadmium, hydrocarbons, arsenic, total chromium and other chemicals, county officials said.
“For over a year, substantial efforts have been undertaken by Clallam County Code Enforcement, Health and Human Services and the Sheriff’s Office to attempt to resolve the numerous civil code violations that have occurred and are currently occurring on your property,” the letter to Haymaker states.
“If you do not cease and desist from all illegal county code activities occurring on the property and correct the violations of Clallam County Code, then you may face civil code enforcement and [a] criminal citation by the Sheriff’s Office.”
It is a gross misdemeanor to litter more than 1 cubic yard of material. Tons of solid waste have been illegally dumped on the site, and solid waste continues to be illegally placed there, according to the lettter. The site is close to McDonald Creek.
Rebecca Lawson, southwest region manager for the state Department of Ecology, recalled Friday a meeting two years ago with county officials to discuss resolving what she said had seemed to become a nuisance to the community.
“It’s so visible,” she said of the scrapyard, unaware Friday that cleanup had begun.
Lawson said Midway Metals was on the agency’s “confirmed and suspected sites list” for pollution.
Ecology does not know the extent to which soil contamination exists on the parcel, something that can’t be determined until soil is tested — testing the agency does not currently have the staff to conduct, Lawson said.
“It’s their responsibility to do that work,” she said of Midway Metals.
“Some people don’t do anything until Ecology makes them.”
Lawson said some shallow-soil, petroleum-product contamination was discovered several years ago when the state Department of Transportation purchased a sliver of the property for widening Highway 101.
“They cleaned up that portion, but they did not find any groundwater contamination,” Lawson said.
A few years ago, in response to local concerns, Ecology sampled stormwater in the drainage ditch adjacent to the site and under the highway and did not find any contamination, Lawson said.
Midway Metals will stay on the confirmed-and-suspected-sites list until Ecology staff can initiate contact with the landowners to evaluate the soil and the groundwater.
Testing for contamination of the site “is going to happen in the normal course of business,” Doughton said.
“Midway Metals is going to have to be in compliance with DOE rules.”
While the company could apply for a county license as a junk yard, Haymaker wants Midway Metals o be licensed as a scrap metal processing center, which requires a state license, Doughton said.
The business has been run by Haymaker and her partner, Doughton said.
“There has been a lot of mistrust between the county and the Haymakers and the Haymakers and the county,” he said.
“Basically what’s going on right now is a collaborative, cooperative process that for the last few years has just not existed. That’s a pretty encouraging development in and of itself.”
Pressure for Haymaker to address the county’s concerns continued to build from Jan. 11 to March 23, when commissioners held an executive session that included Benedict.
“We had a conversation about what the next steps would be and the sheriff in his capacity as sheriff said he would take the lead,” Ozias said.
“The commissioners didn’t play a role with the agreement or the contents of it.
“That’s wholly within the sheriff and his scope of responsibility.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.