Ecology to post warning signs on trail through Rayonier site

PORT ANGELES — The state Department of Ecology plans to post four signs along the Waterfront Trail along the site of the former Rayonier pulp mill warning trail-users of PCBs and other toxins.

The signs could lead to closing the 7,000-foot trail section across the Rayonier property that opened Sept. 26, 2002, after years of negotiations over easement, route, fencing and safety issues.

An Ecology official said Monday that the signs have been ordered and will be posted soon.

The Rayonier pulp mill closed March 1, 1997.

The site still has low levels of dioxins, PCBs and other toxins generated over 68 years as a mill — now dismantled — that transformed wood to pulp.

The 75-acre property is in the fifth year of a toxic-waste cleanup project supervised by Ecology, Rayonier and the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe.

Rayonier wants to sell the cleansed site eventually.

In lettering a minimum of one-half inch high, each sign would read:

“Hazardous waste cleanup site — protect your health

“The Rayonier mill area and sediments were designated as a hazardous waste cleanup site in 1999. Current contaminants of concern found in soil and sediment samples include dioxins, furans, PCBs and heavy metals such as mercury and arsenic. Coming in contact with these substances could be harmful to your health.

“Cleanup of the site is being done by the Washington State Department of Ecology under the Model Toxics Control Act. During the cleanup process, this temporary east and west portion of the Olympic Discovery Trail remains open for public use but may not be free of toxins.

“To protect your health, please stay on the trail, do not go past the fenced area, and be sure to wash your hands should you come in contact with the soil.”

Laurie Davies, regional section manager for Ecology, said the warning sign effort has been “on and off for two or three years,” driven mostly by people associated with the trail or the private Olympic Environmental Council.

“There’s a concern that people using the trail don’t know that it is a cleanup site, and there’s a desire to let them know,” she said.

Meanwhile, public officials, tourism advocates and a Rayonier official questioned the signs’ necessity.

Mayor Karen Rogers said no one in public office would risk public health by building the trail across the property if anyone thought there was potential problem.

“What triggered Ecology to do this?” Rogers asked.

“I’m extremely concerned because this is such a tremendous asset for our community.

“How long has the trail been open now? What has changed between 2002 and 2006 to make [Ecology] do this?

“We just ran our fourth [North Olympic Discovery] marathon through there. Why was this never brought up before?”

Clallam County Commissioner Steve Tharinger, D-Dungeness, concurred, saying that public officials wouldn’t have allowed the trail along its present route if they thought there was problem.

He called the planned signs “somewhat alarmist.”

Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Russ Veenema said the issue will be discussed at the group’s Friday board meeting.

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