Soon, the Harbor Paper mill site near the mouth of the Hoquiam River will sit empty.
This will be the first time since the 1920s that the lot has been vacant, and the property’s lengthy industrial history could add complications to the mill’s cleanup procedure, according to the state Department of Ecology.
The department has been monitoring the site for several months — since the PUD shut off the mill’s power in late September. Stephanie Ogle, a facility engineer for Ecology, visited Harbor Paper as the crew prepared for the shutoff, making sure that hazardous materials wouldn’t spill as a result.
A Vancouver B.C., auction company currently owns all of the mill’s assets and plans to tear down the mill after selling its machines and other assets at an auction Feb. 19.
Ecology’s Industrial Section Manager Garin Schrieve said the department will continue to monitor the site during demolition to make sure stormwater drains properly and that hazardous materials, such as lead paint, are dealt with properly. The Olympic Region Clean Air Agency will monitor asbestos abatement and fugitive dust.
Once the site is clear, Ecology will check it for contamination. Schrieve said there were likely be some hazardous materials left over, as is common for older industrial sites. The Harbor Paper lot has been used for industrial purposes since 1899, when there were fewer environmental regulations.
“Most facilities that have been used in this industrial manner have some sort of contamination,” Schrieve said. “It could be from diesel or some other chemicals that have spilled over the years. But we won’t know until we take a look.”
Costs of cleaning up the contamination would fall to “potentially liable parties” — Rayonier as the property owner, and any company that could have contributed to the contamination over the years, Schrieve said.
Once the site is cleaned up, Rayonier will be free to sell or lease their land, or build a new facility. Russell Schweiss, a company spokesman, said Rayonier is currently evaluating various options, but would like to see the site help the Grays Harbor economy.
“It’s ideally positioned for a lot of different uses, so we’ll have to wait and see,” Schweiss said.
The Grays Harbor PUD will also be responsible for some of the mill site’s cleanup, including dismantling parts of a wastewater treatment facility and removing large sludge and ash piles. The utility’s responsibility to the site dates back to an agreement with property owner Rayonier and Harbor Paper’s predecessor, Grays Harbor Paper.
In 2006, the state Legislature provided the PUD with $7.5 million in grants and loans for construction of a biomass turbine system, which was owned by the utility and leased to Grays Harbor Paper.
The turbine sat on land owned by Rayonier, but leased to the PUD. As a result, the PUD became responsible for a portion of the mill clean up.
The PUD later sold the turbine to Harbor Paper for $540,000 — about half of the amount owed on a loan the PUD took out for the turbine.
In December of 2013, the utility hired former millworker John Pellegrini to oversee the site cleanup. PUD Manager Dave Ward said he and other officials are still in the process of analyzing the scope of the cleanup, calculating costs and considering various options.
“Our goal is to have this cost as little as possible,” Ward said. “Our responsibility is to the public and the ratepayers.”