State Department of Ecology project manager Connie Groven describes the agency’s cleanup activities at an open house Tuesday to Port of Port Angeles Commissioners Steve Burke and Connie Beauvais. (Paul Gottlieb/Peninsula Daily News)

Slow cleanup nets much frustration at Rayonier mill

PORT ANGELES — Residents are irritated by the ongoing, two-decades-old environmental cleanup at the former 75.6 acre Rayonier pulp mill site and the adjacent waters of Port Angeles Harbor, they told state Department of Ecology officials.

The officials hosted an open-house presentation Tuesday at the Elwha Klallam Heritage Center on environmental cleanup-restoration sites in Port Angeles.

“There is a lot of frustration when everyone in the community sees that property sitting there and nothing happening,” said an unidentified woman from among the approximately 50 attending.

Rebecca Lawson, a southwest region manager for Ecology, predicted Wednesday that cleanup of Rayonier property and that section of Port Angeles Harbor that Rayonier polluted and is responsible for cleaning up will be completed by 2026 — a year short of 30 years after the mill closed.

A representative of Jacksonville, Fla.-based Rayonier Advanced Materials Inc. (Rayonier AM), which owns the property, was not at the meeting.

“We’d like this resolved as soon as possible and believe Ecology is working toward the same goal,” company spokesman Ryan Houck said Wednesday in an email.

“We will continue to defer to them in this process; Ecology sets the timetable and we follow their lead.”

The waterfront parcel east of downtown, valued at $4.45 million and long stripped of buildings, has lain dormant since the pulp mill closed March 1, 1997.

Houck said the company is not actively marketing the property and would not comment on cleanup costs, for which the company is responsible.

Rayonier AM, a cellulose-specialty-products company, is a successor to Rayonier Properties LLC, which was preceded by Rayonier Inc.

Rayonier Inc. owned and operated the pulp mill — which was considered among the state’s worst polluters, according to the Environmental Protection Agency — from 1930 to 1997.

Rayonier AM has submitted draft cleanup alternatives for the harbor area and uplands, Lawson said.

Ecology will comment on those alternatives to Rayonier AM by the end of May, Lawson said.

The company will submit a final report to Ecology by December, she said.

Cleanup alternatives for the marine area, including the sediment, and uplands will go out for public comment in early 2018, she said.

A final cleanup plan would go out to public comment in 2019, Lawson predicted.

A sign-up sheet was not provided at the open house, and speakers did not identify themselves.

“DOE lacks the muscle to get Rayonier to move,” one unidentified speaker said.“That’s a long time for a company to tie up a small town like this.

“It’s almost like you are being an apologist of Rayonier.”

Rayonier Inc. officials said more than a decade ago that 90 percent of soil contaminated with PCBs, dioxins and other pollutants had been removed.

Marian Abbett, an Ecology environmental engineer, estimated Rayonier had transported 30,000 tons of sullied soil to landfills in Port Angeles and Tacoma.

Lawson said she did not know Wednesday how much more soil needed to be carted off the site, but said the most high-concentration polluted areas had been removed.

Ecology officials attributed cleanup delays to sediment cleanup, stringent environmental standards, the conducting of cleanup and restoration activities in tandem, the complexity of the cleanup site and the multiple parties that are taking part.

Rayonier is “interested in finality,” Lawson said. “They are interested in settling their liability.”

Rayonier is responsible for cleaning up the eastern portion of the harbor, while the city of Port of Port Angeles, Port of Port Angeles, Merrill &Ring, Georgia-Pacific LLC, and Nippon Paper Industries USA Co. Ltd. bear cleanup responsibilities for the western harbor adjacent to Rayonier’s cleanup area.

They are known as the Western Harbor Group.

Public review of a draft study defining the extent of contamination and evaluating cleanup alternatives for the western harbor is targeted for spring 2018, with public comment taken in summer 2018.

The new sediment standards for the harbor take account of human health, not just marine creatures, said Connie Groven, an Ecology project manager.

The sediment includes dioxins, furans and mercury.

“Before, it was just the critters we were protecting,” she said.

Ecology officials at the open house also reviewed cleanup activities at the Peninsula Plywood site known as the KPly site, cleanup on which was completed by the port in 2016; and cleanup plans for the port’s marine trades area, for which a draft cleanup plan was submitted in 2015.

Ecology’s open-house presentation is available at http://tinyurl.com/PDN-Cleanup.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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