PORT ANGELES — The Rayonier pulp mill property, zoned for multiple uses, will be cleaned of pollutants to an unrestricted-use standard with contaminants capped but remaining on the property, according to the Department of Ecology.
However, cleanup of the 75-acre parcel east of downtown, owned by Rayonier Advanced Materials, could take an estimated seven to 10 years, 50 participants learned Tuesday evening during a two-hour Ecology virtual public meeting.
And that timeline won’t likely start until 2023, an Ecology department head said Thursday.
“Based on our current estimate, that is a correct estimate,” Rebecca Lawson, interim program manager of the state Toxics Cleanup Program, said Thursday.
That aims the outside date for completion at 2033, more than three decades after remediation fell under the state agency’s authority in 2000, with Rayonier footing the bill. The mill shut down in March 1997.
Under plans announced Tuesday, Rayonier will pay $26.6 million to clean up the uplands, eliminate polluted groundwater by air sparging, and dredge a log pond and under a 4-acre dock that will have its concrete-panel deck removed beginning this year.
Lawson said that will leave about 4,000 contaminated dock piles left to be plucked. It will take up to three years to remove all of the dock and a warehouse.
Engineering and permitting for cleanup will occur in 2022, Lawson estimated.
Fish-window restrictions to protect salmon allows work at the site from July-February.
“It is more like on a glacial timeline, on a geological timeline almost,” Lawson said. “There has been progress, and it’s been very slow.”
Ecology sponsored the meeting Tuesday to discuss its response to widely criticized, less-restricted cleanup plans the agency presented in September 2019, available at ecology.wa.gov.
The agency’s plan was slammed by most of the 161 respondents, the largest majority of whom called for removal of all polluted soil rather than the capping of polluted soil.
Ecology is sticking with that plan, a less expensive alternative that still meets state cleanup guidelines. Full removal of soil is not required under state law.
The soil includes contaminant levels of arsenic, lead and dioxins; the groundwater, arsenic, copper and nickel; the sediment, arsenic, cadmium, copper and zinc.
Critics included Clallam County commissioners and the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, whose Klallam village of Y’innis was at the Rayonier site, where cultural resources remain. Tribal Chairwoman Frances Charles had urged that capping not take place in environmentally sensitive areas, including Ennis Creek and marine-area shorelines.
“Removal of contaminated soil near the creek is a priority for cleanup,” according to the summary, which said restoration of the creek is likely.
Toxins at the former mill site include dioxins, furans and PCBs.
“Rayonier cleaned up the hot spots of contamination located in the Upland Study Area by removing over 30,000 tons of contaminated soil,” according to the responsiveness summary.
“Sampling indicated these actions were successful in removing a substantial volume of contaminated soil from the areas of heaviest contamination.”
Under the new plan, 21 acres will be excavated instead of 3 acres proposed at the September 2019 meeting.
It will be capped with clean soil on 10 acres — about 13 percent of the site — up to 2 feet above ground level, Lawson said Thursday.
It will cost Rayonier $10 million rather than the less comprehensive $7.5 million “open space option” that was proposed in 2019, Lawson said.
Under that proposal, it was considered environmentally unsafe to spend more than two days a week at the site before potentially suffering health problems, drawing the ire of respondents.
It will be up to Rayonier to decide if the cap will be fenced, she said.
The city of Port Angeles, within whose borders the waterfront site is located 2 miles east of downtown, also criticized the original proposal.
“We really appreciate that Ecology stepped up and modified the alternative for cleanup in that they moved it to an unrestricted cleanup level,” City Manager Nathan West said Thursday.
“The concern remains that we still have a 10-acre site of toxic material that is going to be remaining on prime city waterfront property,” West said.
The cap itself may require a permit, and the permitting process as cleanup moves forward will require community input, he added.
As the property owner, Rayonier will determine use of the property according to zoning, Marian Abbett, Ecology site manager for the project, said at the meeting Tuesday.
Harbor waters next to Rayonier also must be addressed.
“The Marine Study Area is about 1,300 acres of marine environment adjacent to the mill property on the southern shore of Port Angeles Harbor,” according to the responsiveness summary.
Cleanup of the western Port Angeles Harbor area that borders the McKinley Paper Company site is separate from the Rayonier cleanup.
The National Resource Damage Assessment process that western harbor cleanup is following involves five potentially liable parties and a $34 million cost. Cleanup will include capping 43 acres of the harbor floor and a lagoon, according to Tuesday’s presentation.
Clallam County Commissioner Randy Johnson said Thursday he was pleased with the move toward unrestricted use.
“The devil is in the details,” he added.
Darlene Schanfald, Rayonier project coordinator for the Olympic Environmental Council, was wistful at the meeting, wondering after 25 years of being a cleanup advocate if she would still be around when that goal is accomplished.
“I’m glad they made some changes,” she said after the meeting.
“They listened to some of us. However, it’s not enough. We really need to get our shoreline back, our whole shoreline.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at email@example.com.