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News / Business / Clark County Business

Camas paper mill cleanup group hopes for second grant from state

Money would help stretch education, outreach for two more years

By Kelly Moyer, Camas-Washougal Post-Record
Published: April 9, 2023, 6:15am
2 Photos
The Georgia Pacific paper mill as seen from Northeast Fifth Avenue in Camas.
The Georgia Pacific paper mill as seen from Northeast Fifth Avenue in Camas. (The Columbian files) Photo Gallery

Members of a citizen advisory group that acts as a conduit between the public and environmental cleanup work at the Georgia-Pacific paper mill in downtown Camas say they hope to receive a second public participation grant from the Washington State Department of Ecology.

If approved, the grant would help the group continue its mill-cleanup education and outreach efforts for an additional two years.

“There are a lot of questions that come up,” said Caroline Mercury, a retired mill employee and Downtown Camas Association board member who has helped lead the 11-member citizen advisory group since its inception in December 2021. “People want to know what’s going on at the site, when the cleanup is actually happening, what are these (contaminants) deep in the water and soil.”

The history of the citizen advisory group started in early 2021, when Ecology notified Georgia-Pacific that it wanted to investigate and mitigate potential environmental contaminants on shuttered portions of the century-old mill site.

Soon, Camas residents and officials were urging Ecology staff to push for more restrictive environmental cleanup standards at the mill site. The hope was that, with more intensive cleanup standards, the heavy industrial site that occupies more than 600 acres in downtown Camas and on nearby Lady Island might someday — if Georgia Pacific decides to close its Camas operations and sell its property — be able to accommodate commercial or even mixed-used residential developments.

In 2021, the state awarded the Downtown Camas Association a $158,000 grant to hire consultants and form the citizen advisory group.

The association put out a call for advisory group applicants in November 2021. One month later, it named eight community members – from a pool of 65 applicants – to sit on the 11-person advisory group.

While Ecology and Georgia Pacific nail down the specifics and scope of the environmental cleanup, the advisory group is charged with reviewing technical materials, supervising the consultant group’s work and encouraging public participation in the mill cleanup.

Advisory group members have held regular meetings open to the public via Zoom, established an informational website about the cleanup process and set up informational booths during in-person events such as the Camas Farmer’s Market and the association’s annual plant and garden fair.

The results from that initial survey showed people were interested in being kept up on the mill cleanup, knowing more about the health and safety factor of chemicals and contaminants found at the mill site and having a better understanding of what might happen to the mill site, which is still owned by GP and still operating one paper products line.

‘A slow process’

Mercury and other members of the advisory group have warned the cleanup process is not something that will happen overnight.

“It is a slow process,” Mercury said. “And we don’t necessarily know what the timeline will be.”

Georgia Pacific submitted its draft remedial work investigation plan to Ecology in 2022. The community as well as other stakeholders, including the Yakama Nation, also weighed in on the draft plan. Ecology then asked Georgia Pacific to work on aspects of the cleanup plan and resubmit it to the state.

Ecology and Georgia Pacific are expected to develop a cleanup action plan in 2023 and possibly begin the actual site cleanup work in 2024, but Mercury said there is no “hard date” for Georgia Pacific to turn in its final remedial work investigation plan for Ecology’s approval.

The mill cleanup also may involve chemicals and contaminants that haven’t been used in the papermaking process for decades. 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.

Advisory group members said this month that they would like to dig even deeper into what chemicals are used in the creation of paper — both today and in the past — and those chemicals’ possible health and environmental impacts.

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“It would be nice to describe what’s happening now and to share that a lot of what we’re concerned about happened in the past,” Downtown Camas Association Director Carrie Schustad said. “I love the idea of having this be the education phase.”

Advisory group members will host informational booths during two upcoming events in downtown Camas, including the May 5 First Friday and the Camas Car Show on June 24.

For more information, visit downtowncamas.com/camaswamillinfo.