City, Seaport awarded $390,000 to test waterfront sites

The City of Aberdeen and the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority have been awarded a joint grant for $390,000 from the state Department of Ecology.

The Integrated Planning Grant funds testing of the Chehalis riverfront property in South Aberdeen from the Authority’s Seaport Landing west to the old Pakonen Boatyard through the city’s property under the bridge. Seaport Landing is the site of a former Weyerhaeuser sawmill.

Finding out what contamination is there and what has to be done with it is key to further redevelopment of the area. The grant will also fund the beginning of the master plan by the lead firm for the project, Harbor Architects.

The city and the authority want to develop the land, a total of 60 acres, into a mixed use area aimed at reconnecting the city to the waterfront. Plans include housing, museums, a small boat launch, ship repair facilities and the home port for the tall ships Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain. The Pakonen family wants to sell the boatyard property, which has been on the market for more than a year. The city may want to purchase that property.

“What this means is that we’ve got the money to pull the trigger and really get moving with characterizing the area and really beginning the master planning process,” Capt. Les Bolton, executive director of the authority, said last week. “We want to be smart about how we are using our money.”

“This grant will in no way obligate the (city) for any future cleanup of the property, but will help provide us with tools for future redevelopment of the area if desired,” city documents say.

“Both the former sawmill and boatyard are on the state’s Confirmed and Suspected Contaminated Sites List,” the request submitted to the Department of Ecology says. “This project will move both of these sites toward remediation and achieving (state) performance metrics for brownfield redevelopment.”

Testing will ascertain what substances are still present in the wake of past industrial use. Sampling will also comply with the deadline on leasehold stipulations on 14.4 acres of riverfront land which belongs to the state Department of Natural Resources and is currently leased to Weyerhaeuser. The Historical Seaport plans to take over the lease in 2015.

If contaminants are found, it may warrant a further Remediation Investigation Feasibility Study (RIFE), Bolton said. Between the former mill and boatyard, “we could be fairly certain to apply for brownfield funding” to clean it up, he added.Harbor Architects assigned veteran environmental firm Maul, Foster, Alongi to prepare the grant application, which was paid for with $6,890 out of the city’s brownfield fund, authorized by the Aberdeen City Council in October. The city and authority decided to increase the power of Ecology grants by jointly applying for the $390,000. The grant was approved recently and testing has begun.

“Whatever the environmental issues, getting them identified and addressed is priority one,” Bolton said.

Past Contamination

The application notes the history of contamination between the boatyard and the mill.Pakonen boatyard is on Ecology’s list for “metal impact in sediments,” the application said. Records of any past cleanup have not been found. “The site has been listed for sale for over a year, and no serious buyers have come forward, due in large part to concerns associated with potential contamination,” the application continues.

Weyerhaeuser had to clean up PCPs off the property from 1989-99. Ecology ruled no further action was needed on that issue on Feb. 8, 1999.

Weyerhaeuser was also convicted under the Clean Water Act for “unpermitted discharge of paint” from Jan. 18 to June 13, 1989, into Shannon Slough. Weyerhaeuser established a trust to fund watershed assessment and restoration projects, the application notes.

A 2011 sediment quality investigation by Ecology detected butyl-benzyl-phthalate in a concentration slightly above accepted sediment quality.

Dioxins and mercury were also detected in excess of the sediment quality standard but below the cleanup standard, mainly in subsurface areas. Two higher surface readings for mercury were averaged with others and then fell below the cleanup level, the report notes.

There are several ways to deal with possible contamination, Bolton said Thursday. Remove the material, remove a little material and cap the surface with concrete, or cap the entire area, he said. It depends on the level of contamination, pathways of contamination and how much has been dissipated in the water, he added.

Future Prospects

“This brings us one step closer in our goal of reconnecting to the waterfront. We are looking forward to working with the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport and engaging the public in this conversation as we move forward to redeveloping this area.” Community Development Director Lisa Scott said last week.

The only other public areas in the city with waterfront access are Zelasko and Morrison Parks. The Pakonen family raised no objections to the project, according to Bolton and Alan Gozart of Harbor Architects. The city has plans to buy the property if all goes well, Scott said. The main building may also be historically significant. The purchase would make the riverfront access seamless in the area.

The authority bought 38 acres from Weyerhaeuser for less than $50,000 just over a year ago. Most of that time has been spent in basic cleanup and in taking measure of the area, which has 14 buildings. An auction held last July sold off much of the equipment for close to $500,000.

Frozen and cracked pipes also had to be replaced and the Grays Harbor PUD had to switch the power from 4,160 volts needed to run 400 horsepower motors to the 480 volts needed now, Bolton said.

After they move forward with the investigative side, Harbor Architects can move into the design part of things.

On Thursday, Gozart was set to begin preliminary drawings to be shown at the Seaport Landing presentation at the Grays Harbor Vision 2020 meeting on Tuesday evening March 11 at Aberdeen High School.

Erin Hart, 360-537-3932, Twitter: @DW_Erin


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