Vancouver strikes a deal over contamination

WWII-era shipyard debris will be left where it is; city will be reimbursed for expenses

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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The federal government and Kaiser have agreed to pay Vancouver $383,000 to reimburse the city for costs related to contaminated World War II debris buried near the Marine Park boat landing.

Despite being contaminated at a level that would require cleanup under state environmental law, the former shipyard trash — comprising old timbers, buckets and steel — has rested underneath the ground for 60 years without contaminating groundwater.

So after geotechnical study, the city and the state Department of Ecology agreed the best thing to do is to just leave it there.

Groundwater monitoring wells have been placed all around the site, which includes the city-owned property at the boat landing, and some privately owned land to the north.

The city has paid $246,636.36 to date, mostly for a Seattle-based geotechnical consultant, and is expected to incur up to $162,000 for future monitoring. The settlement money is anticipated to cover that cost, although Assistant City Attorney Linda Marousek noted Monday that Vancouver also put in “signficant staff time” for which it will not be reimbursed.

Still, she said the settlement was a good one.

“It’s a great deal; monitoring shows the stuff hasn’t moved in 50 years, and the city’s getting its money back,” she said. “Barring another Missoula flood (that happened at the end of the last ice age), I think it’s a really good solution.”

While Kaiser is no longer in business, Marousek said she believes the former company’s insurers will pay its portion of the settlement.

The debris was first discovered in June 2008. A parking lot built in the 1980s over the trash has the unintended benefit of putting an impermeable cap over the contaminated items.

The city council also placed a restrictive covenant on the property, meaning that the area will not be disturbed in the future.

In the 1940s, the site was a busy shipyard, where thousands of Kaiser workers toiled around the clock building warships, freighters and tankers for the war effort.

Leaving potentially toxic materials in the ground, rather than requiring an expensive cleanup, is not a new tactic: State environmental regulators in October proposed allowing Alcoa to monitor pollution leaching from an old landfill on the site of its former Vancouver aluminum smelter.

The Vancouver Downtown Redevelopment Authority has a similar restrictive covenant with the Department of Ecology for WWII shipyard debris that’s underneath the Hilton Vancouver Washington.

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542 or andrea.damewood@columbian.com or http://facebook.com/reporterdamewood or http://twitter.com/col_cityhall.