Camas-area residents eager to see environmental cleanup work being done at the Georgia-Pacific paper mill site will likely need to settle for “later rather than sooner.”
Alan Hughes, a principal geologist with the Vancouver-based Maul Foster & Alongi consulting group, told a community advisory group that while the timing of cleanups can vary greatly, “I think we all need to get into the mindset that it’s going to take a lot of time for this to happen.”
David Ripp, the executive director of the Port of Camas-Washougal, and one of three elected officials taking part in the newly formed community advisory group, asked Hughes if the consultants had a general time line of the cleanup process at the historic mill site.
“It could be done in two years, if not much contamination is present, or they can last decades,” Hughes said. “It’s hard to say. Also, because GP is still operating, and there are areas that won’t be investigated, this is sort of an interim step.”
In early 2021, Ecology sent notice of its plan to work with the company to investigate and mitigate potential environmental contaminants on shuttered portions of the century-old mill site.
Camas residents and officials urged Ecology staff to push for more restrictive environmental cleanup standards at the site, so future Camas leaders might be able to rezone the prime downtown waterfront land and convert the site from heavy industrial to something such as mixed-use residential and commercial properties that would better suit the town’s thriving downtown commercial center.
Following a 2021 public hearing before Ecology, the state awarded the Downtown Camas Association a $158,000 grant to hire consultants and form the citizen advisory group to review technical materials, supervise the consultant group’s work and encourage public participation in the mill cleanup process.
Hughes said Ecology is reviewing the company’s remedial action plan. Once that plan is finalized, Hughes said, the state will require Georgia-Pacific to move into the fieldwork part of the plan to test various spots for contamination that could be hazardous to the health of humans, wildlife or the environment.
The state and Georgia-Pacific have already revealed several instances involving the leakage or release of toxic materials that have occurred at the Camas mill since 2011, including:
- Holes and cracks discovered in the bottom of a 350,000-gallon, above-ground filtrate tank containing “weak black liquor” — a pulping waste product that can cause burns to the skin, eyes and respiratory tract — with “black liquor observed in the underlying fill material beneath the tank” in August 2011.
- A release of weak black liquor in the old Kraft Mill basement in June 2014.
- The discovery of hazardous hydrocarbons in the soil near the mill’s wood yard in September 2015.
- A release of diesel into the Camas Slough in February 2017.
- The discovery of fuel oil in soil near a decommissioned fuel oil tank in March 2018.
- The spilling of approximately 154,000 gallons of black liquor on the mill property in April 2018.
- The discoveries of petroleum contaminated soil in two different locations in August 2020 and in October 2020.
Members of the advisory group will review the list of sites Ecology may require Georgia-Pacific to investigate for contaminants and will reach out to the community to see if residents – perhaps those who worked at the mill or who knew of potential toxic material releases at the mill — have any feedback before Ecology OKs the scope of the environmental investigation.
The advisory group members plan to meet every month and develop a public participation plan that will not only update residents on the work being done by Georgia Pacific and Ecology, but also to listen to the public’s concerns and comments about the environmental cleanup plan.
For more information about the community advisory group and its work guiding public participation during the state’s environmental cleanup at the GP paper mill in downtown Camas, visit downtowncamas.com/camaswamillinfo.