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Oct. 26, 2020

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Spills cause slippery situation for Vancouver businesses

Oil and paint left in an Uptown Village alley create mess, vexation

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
3 Photos
Shull said the two spills in December interrupted his business and were problematic to clean up. He has asked the city of Vancouver to put a concrete barrier along the back of his business, Trap Door Brewing.
Shull said the two spills in December interrupted his business and were problematic to clean up. He has asked the city of Vancouver to put a concrete barrier along the back of his business, Trap Door Brewing. (Photos by AMANDA COWAN/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Back-to-back spills of liquid substances in an alleyway in Uptown Village recently left some neighborhood businesses fuming.

Bryan Shull, owner of Trap Door Brewing, called it a “nightmare” when, in November, a sheen of oil coursed across the floor of his newly built grilled cheese sandwich food cart connected to his brewery at 2315 Main St.

A jug of oil, believed to be cooking oil, was run over by a passing vehicle near 25th Street, according to an incident report from the City of Vancouver Water Resources Protection Program, a division of the Public Works Department.

The oil in the alleyway, which runs from 22nd to 25th streets behind a block of businesses that includes Bleu Door Bakery and Arnada Naturals, reportedly started spreading on the wet road conditions that day.

Shull said it was smeared further by unwitting passing cars and tracked into businesses on the shoes of people.

“It was all over back here,” Shull said in the alley. “Cars were pulling up, driving and taking it down all down Broadway and all up Fourth Plain, and it just spread.”

Shull, a former engineer for a renewably energy company, and some other employees in the area started to try and clean it up themselves, but weren’t much help, he said. A crew from the city arrived to clean it up as best as they could, but the damage was done, Shull said.

“It’s a slip hazard, for starters. It was more slippery than snot,” Shull said. “Then I have to steam clean my floors — it’s expensive. A little bit of oil goes a long way. It was just unending, it took hours.”

Less than two weeks later, on Dec. 13, another substance started wending through the alleyway. The milky liquid turned out to be at least a half gallon of white paint that had been dumped out and sprayed with water, according to another incident report.

Like the cooking oil earlier, the paint spilled down the alleyway and past businesses. The path once again carried under the food carts and through the patio of Trap Door Brewing. Randy Larson, owner of Salmon Creek Outfitters nearby, said a neighbor had been hosing the paint with water, which carried it.

Larson said his store, which embroiders and etches logos for corporate clients, wasn’t particularly affected by the spill, but he knew his neighbors were frustrated.

“It was literally stopping business,” he said.

City response

Nikki Guillot, an engineering specialist with the city’s Water Resources Protection Program, said the city used absorbent material to soak up the chemicals and made passes with street sweepers and a sanitation truck.

Loretta Callahan, a spokesperson for the city of Vancouver, said the city gets complaints about spills and discharges “a few times a month,” but they are often small incidents with household products.

“However, a spill of any size that enters a stormwater drain may cause harm to water, so we respond to all calls, and we do so as quickly as possible,” she said in an email.

Nobody was fined or charged for the paint or cooking oil spills. Callahan said both instances seemed to be accidental.

“In most cases, the problem is a lack of knowledge about what needs to be done,” she said. “However, in cases where there is an identified party that fails or refuses to comply, or it involves a significant issue or larger impact, the city can and has issued fines.”

The night after the paint spill, Shull emailed city officials asking for a concrete berm to divide the thoroughfare of the alleyway from the Trap Door Brewing and the food cart pod. But he expects to put down sandbags in the future.

He added that he would be surprised if another spate of spills like that happened again.

“The frequency could probably never happen again, but I wanted to be prepared,” he said.

“It’s just annoying because it interrupted my business day, everyone’s business day,” he said. “But it is what it is. It happened.”

To report a hazardous spill:

By law, spills of oils and hazardous materials are reported to the Washington Department of Ecology.

People who spot something potentially dangerous or toxic on the ground, near a storm drain or near a body of water can call the department’s spill line at 360-407-6300.

A toll-free line for oil spills is 1-800-OILS-911.

The city of Vancouver’s Water Resources Protection is at 360-487-7130. The city also has a free app, RecycleRight, that answers such questions.

In the future, Callahan said people should follow the rule: only rain down the drain. Water from stormwater drains does not go treatment centers, and chemicals can seep into rivers, creeks, streams and groundwater.

“Never dump or wash anything down a stormwater drain that isn’t stormwater,” she said.

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