$1M cleanup of former scrap metal yard nearly done

Taxpayer-funded effort clears way for rail improvements

By Erik Robinson, Columbian staff writer

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A former metal scrapping yard in west Vancouver, its soil tainted by a half-century of industrial pollution, is about to get a clean bill of health — courtesy of taxpayers.

Contractors have nearly finished a $1 million taxpayer-funded cleanup of the former Cliff Koppe Metals site at 1701 W. Fourth Plain Blvd., according to the Washington Department of Transportation.

The cleanup clears the way for a broader $150 million rail improvement project, part of a state-directed effort to improve freight and passenger mobility.

The 2-acre property, previously owned by Koppe, had been used for metal scrapping since 1946. The soil was tainted with metals, petroleum and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs.

It’s located on the west side of the railroad’s main line. Koppe’s former property will accommodate a new set of auxiliary tracks, allowing freight and passenger trains to speed through BNSF Railway’s Vancouver yard on track currently used as a siding.

Contractors working for BNSF began excavating the property late last year, after the state provided BNSF with $500,000 to buy the property from Koppe.

The state also agreed to pay the cost of the cleanup.

“We’re right at that million-dollar mark,” said Kevin Jeffers, project manager for the DOT.

Most of the land had to be excavated anyway, to bring it level with the adjoining railroad yard. However, the DOT paid a premium to dispose of soil polluted to 5- to 8-feet deep.

Some 26,000 cubic yards of petroleum-contaminated soil was loaded into 20-foot shipping containers and hauled away on rail cars. That’s enough to cover a football field in more than 12 feet of dirt.

Another 200 cubic yards was polluted with PCBs and heavy metals such as lead, mercury and chromium.

The Department of Transportation reported that it took more than 1,850 shipping containers to ship the contaminated soil to hazardous waste landfills in Washington and South Dakota. The more heavily contaminated soil required special handling and was shipped to a certified landfill near Arlington, Ore.