PORT ANGELES — Workers this week will start dismantling part of Rayonier Advanced Materials’ giant, decrepit dock to deter trespassers and address safety concerns, state and company officials said.
Deck panels being removed on the 4-acre pier cover large, open spaces, where a fire from a homeless encampment last year burned part of the structure.
“The safety concerns were brought about by trespassing on the site early last year,” company spokesman Ryan Houck said last week in an email.
Since Oct. 2, Port Angeles police have responded to 10 calls for service originating on the company’s property 2 miles east of downtown, covering reports of suspicious persons, trespassing and parking complaints, including a trespassing call Wednesday, Deputy Police Chief Jason Viada said Thursday.
The state Department of Ecology, in charge of cleanup, and the state Department of Natural Resources, which leases aquatic lands to Rayonier for the dock, are monitoring the work, agency officials said.
Preparations were being made last week to begin the project, Houck said.
A giant crane operated by contractor Quiggs Bros. Inc. of Aberdeen drew the attention of city residents last week as it lay prone near the shoreline. It was being prepared to hoist the giant slabs to the upland for stacking by an oversized forklift.
“The work is underway and is expected to be complete mid-December,” he said.
“As for the panel removal [from the site], there is no time frame at present, since we may be able to repurpose them for other productive uses on-site.”
The slabs cover an area that includes a portion of the giant dock that burned March 5, 2019, and which covered a 3,000-square-foot open space sided by wood, concrete and steel.
Within the enclosure, firefighters found a campsite, propane bottles, clothing, and sleeping and reading materials.
The concrete dock panels are being removed so Rayonier AM “could mitigate use of the property as a homeless shelter,” said Rebecca Lawson, state Department of Ecology regional manager.
“This has been in the works for a long time.”
The work is a prelude to removal of the entire dock and an adjacent rock jetty as part of an overall site cleanup plan that remains unpredictable for completion more than two decades after cleanup began, Lawson said Thursday.
A joint aquatic resources permit will be required for dock and jetty removal. That application could be submitted next year, Lawson said.
But the dock work that begins this week does not need state or city approvals, officials said.
Lawson said Ecology will release responses in the next few weeks to widely critical comments — including from the city of Port Angeles — toward a proposed cleanup option that includes capping 10 acres of the 75-acre parcel’s polluted uplands area and covering polluted harbor sediment with sand.
Most of the 170 respondents want all the contaminated material removed.
Ecology’s Volumes 1 and 2 of the Rayonier-funded cleanup plan describe contamination in the uplands and dock-area sediment.
Volume 3 evaluates cleanup options for the uplands, sediment and groundwater.
Volume 4 will contain a proposed cleanup strategy for the site.
The responsiveness summary addresses concerns regarding Volume 3.
“We are anticipating that Rayonier will need to make some adjustments to Volume 3, and then they will get started on Volume 4,” Lawson said.
The dock and jetty will be removed under the DNR lease agreement. Polluted sediment will be addressed in a process separate from and before uplands cleanup, Lawson added.
Dock and jetty removal are not part of the overall cleanup.
But reshaping the shoreline, and construction to remove the dock and jetty, will disturb nearby contaminated sediment, requiring a sediment remediation plan subject to public comment under an agreement with Ecology.
“Rayonier is developing an engineering design, but this has not been submitted to Ecology,” Marian Abbett, acting section manager for Ecology’s Toxics Cleanup Program, said in an email Tuesday to Sequim environmental activist Darlene Schanfald.
The pulp mill ceased operation in March 1997. Cleanup has been Ecology’s responsibility since February 2000, when local and state officials convinced the federal government to not make it a Superfund site.
Lawson said she could not predict when site cleanup would be completed after 21 years of studies and removal of contaminated soil, along with the razing of the mill.
The lack of clarity is based in part on not knowing how long the dock, jetty and sediment will take to be remediated, Lawson said.
“When we start the permitting process next year and get into the design of that, then we’ll have a better sense of a time line.”
Removing the dock and jetty and addressing the sediment could take more that one construction season, she said.
“It could take two years, it might take a little more, to get that work done.”
The bulk of the upland soil cleanup will likely be treated in a separate cleanup phase, Lawson added.
Complete removal of contaminated soil from those uplands, overwhelmingly supported by area residents, may be difficult to accomplish, she suggested.
The company’s proposal that would not remove all contaminated soil would cost Rayonier AM $7.4 million and allow occasional use by the public compared with $37 million for removing all the sullied upland soil, allowing unrestricted use.
“What I will say, succinctly, is that [the Model Toxics Control Act] does not require removal of all contaminants,” Lawson said.
“What MTCA requires is elimination of exposure pathways.”
Schanfald, Rayonier hazardous waste cleanup project coordinator for the Olympic Environmental Council said it is “terrific” that portions of the concrete deck will be removed this week to keep people away from the polluted property.
She said the site remains easily accessible to the public and wildlife despite a fence.
“It’s very sad,” Schanfald said last week.
She remained opposed to the overall cleanup proposal.
Houck expressed confidence in Ecology’s coordination of the cleanup.
“As far as the broader cleanup is concerned, we continue to trust in the protocols and process laid out by Ecology, and we continue to follow their lead,” he said.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].