Port Angeles agrees to sand cap in harbor; pilot project aims to restore marine habitat

PORT ANGELES — The city will chip in $15,400 for a pilot project to restore a patch of marine habitat along Ediz Hook by capping woody debris pollution with a 6-inch layer of sand.

The goal: Make it fertile ground for marine life in a deep-water harbor that’s been home to logging industry and municipal detritus for decades.

Council members unanimously agreed last Tuesday to spend $15,400 on the $77,000 pilot project.

Councilman Dan Gase, who recently began working as an aeronautical business development specialist for the Port of Port Angeles, which is participating in the project, recused himself because of a potential conflict of interest.

The effort is being conducted by the city of Port Angeles, the port, Georgia-Pacific LLC, Merrill & Ring and Nippon Paper Industries USA Co. Ltd. The group is a conglomeration known as the Western Port Angeles Harbor Group of parties deemed by the state Department of Ecology as potentially liable and responsible for cleaning up and restoring polluted areas on the harbor seafloor.

“It has the option to give us a small-scale restoration project with larger implications in the harbor,” Matt Beirne, natural resources environmental coordinator for the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe, said Saturday. “There are a wide range of options.”

Owens Corning also is paying for a share of the project, City Attorney Bill Bloor said Friday. He said all the members of the working group have agreed to move forward with the effort.

Nippon has retained its harbor-restoration responsibility and remains a legal entity although Nippon’s parent company, Japanese-based Nippon Paper Industries Co., sold the Ediz Hook plant March 31 to Mexican owned, U.S.-based McKinley Paper Co., McKinley spokeswoman Cathy Price said Thursday.

The allocation the City Council approved Tuesday will cover the city’s share of expenditures to Seattle-based Anchor QEA LLC, which specializes in shoreline and water resource projects.

The cap will cover a 4,500-square-foot section of log-clogged sea-floor with 80 cubic yards of fine- to medium-grain sand, Jesse Waknitz, the port’s environmental specialist, said Thursday.

About 11 to 18 dump-truck loads will cover a one-tenth-acre portion of the seafloor that contains woody debris which must be addressed — dredging also is an option — in a marine-habitat restoration effort focused on Port Angeles Harbor, a signature feature of the city.

Waknitz said the medium- to fine-grain sand will be deposited this spring and monitored until spring 2018.

Bloor told council members that sand capping of marine pollution is common throughout the Pacific Northwest.

The issue, he said, is “will this work in our particular harbor, with our particular tidal conditions?”

Beirne said Thursday that capping is common but that it usually involves layers thicker than 6 inches and is more often employed for cleanup instead of restoration based on using wood waste.

During brief discussion at the council meeting, Councilman Brad Collins said the effort was worth a try.

“It’s a relatively inexpensive project,” he said, adding that it keeps the city “moving in a positive direction.”

The work order was the third city officials have approved under an environmental services agreement with Anchor QEA.

The company is providing technical analysis to address federal Natural Resource Damages (NRD) pollution issues in the harbor intended to restore the marine habitat.

Those issues are being managed under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, also known as Superfund, Waknitz said.

The National Resources Damages area encompasses 2,000 acres of the harbor, he said.

The other two work orders totalled $90,416 and included developing an NRD work plan and NRD restoration options, according to Bloor.

The funding approved Tuesday is part of $1.2 million that accounts for the city’s share for the remedial investigation-feasibility study project to address decades of pulp and paper mill, and city, pollution of western Port Angeles Harbor.

The amount paid by the city will be covered by insurance and the city’s existing harbor surcharge fund balance generated by a monthly utility bill charge that ended Oct. 1, 2014, Bloor said.

The restoration project is being overseen by a trustees council composed of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Lower Elwha Klallam, Jamestown S’Klallam and Port Gamble S’Klallam tribes, and Ecology.

Ecology also is coordinating a cleanup effort with the western Port Angeles Harbor group under the state Model Toxics Control Act that is separate from NRD restoration.

Rebecca Lawson, Ecology’s southwest region manager for the toxics cleanup program, said Thursday she did not know how much of the 2,000 acres of harbor would be capped with sand if the restoration pilot project proved successful.

In a separate project, eelgrass will be replanted in a section of the one-tenth-acre pilot project in Port Angeles Harbor, Beirne said Thursday.

Beirne said eelgrass plays a vital role in the marine ecosystem as habitat and food for fish, waterfowl and benthic organisms such as crabs and other invertebrates.

There are multiple feet of wood-waste mats in some areas of the harbor, Beirne said.

“They create dead areas,” Beirne said.

Eelgrass will be removed in an area where a Navy Dock will be built at the Coast Guard base at Ediz Hook.

Pending permit approval, divers will harvest 30,000 to 40,000 turions, or eelgrass shoots, from the pier area this summer as part of an agreement between the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and the Navy, Beirne said.

About half of the turions will be sent to Battelle Marine Sciences Laboratory in Sequim.

There they will be stored in outdoor tanks storage for two years, then replanted in sand caps at the former Icicle Seafoods storage area near the city boat ramp off Ediz Hook and where a jetty that will be removed for the pier, Beirne said.

Permits for the pilot project must be approved by the Army Corps of Engineers, state Department of Ecology, city of Port Angeles, state Department of Natural Resources and state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Beirne said he expects the permits to be approved in time to cap the area in May.

Anchor QEA personnel also have talked to the permitting agencies and “have a good idea the [permits] will be granted,” Bloor said Friday.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

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