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Dear Olympia: East Bay proposal should be rejected


Construction should not be permitted for 86 residential units proposed for 510 State Avenue NE. East Bay is a Federally Impaired Water Body. It is impaired by chemical contaminants, materials such as PCBs, PAHs and dioxin and it’s degraded by high levels of nitrates and low levels of dissolved oxygen. Where we would expect to see plankton, we see bacteria. Where we used to see thousands of grebes, scoters and murres, we now see none.

The Puget Sound Partnership Action Agenda calls for developing a “science-informed” master plan for Puget Sound recovery. The plan requires contributions and cooperation among federal, tribal, state, and local governments. Due to provisions in the Growth Management Act and other factors, effort must largely originate at the local level. Local jurisdictions will be pivotal in success or failure.

Just how science informed is our local effort? Certainly the most applicable discipline would be oceanography. Oceanography is the study of physical, chemical and biological parameters. The progression is generally in that order; physical parameters like shape, structure and mixing patterns dictate chemical parameters such as dissolved oxygen and biological parameters such as primary and secondary production. Estuaries are the all important mixing zone where nutrient laden fresh water enters salt water and the marine environment. Fresh water being lighter than salt water flows out on the surface while salt water is drawn in underneath. This happens best in the presence of abundant sunlight and atmospheric oxygen. When we dredge and fill an estuary we impede these processes.

Further upstream a stream likewise benefits from sunlight. According to a study published by 11 EPA scientists, nitrates travel 18 times farther in a stream running through a pipe than in a stream that sees the light of day. In the presence of sunlight plankton incorporate nitrates into the food web while generating dissolved oxygen. In the absence of sunlight phytoplankton die and bacteria flourish. If the tide covers the opening and pushes water back up the pipe, the proliferation of bacteria is enhanced. Parcels 2 and 3 were once historic tide flats. Moxlie Creek currently flows through a half-mile-long pipe into a dredged and armored bay. The opening of the pipe is blocked twice daily by the tide. This is oceanographically a worst-case scenario that has yet to be even considered.

Moxlie Creek outfall pipe is submerged as the tide comes in.

The Port of Olympia claims that the stream currently doesn’t run underneath the proposed development site so it doesn’t count. The current location of the stream is irrelevant. Parcels 2 and 3 were once located at or near the center of the estuary. These four acres represent the only location of historic tide flats that is available. The location can’t be remediated elsewhere. This is the only place it can be.

A complete restoration would be an ideal candidate for cleanup and restoration funding. Generally these grants are competitive. They’re looking for things like opportunity and local support. If in considering the restoration of Moxlie Creek they see no room to extend the intertidal area, and learn that this opportunity was given up as late as 2017, funding sources are going to look elsewhere.

Regarding chemical contamination, local jurisdictions recently completed a sediment characterization, an analysis of the nature and extent of dioxin contamination in the bay. The next step is supposed to be an effort to identify sources. This has not been done. We’ve inverted the logic, instead investigating each site as it’s developed. If this is going to be the procedure, why did we bother with the sediment characterization?

The two predominant hot spots in Budd Inlet are off the mouth of Schneider Creek near Hardel Plywood and the mouth of Moxlie Creek at the southernmost end of East Bay. The Sediment Characterization Final Data Report states on page 54 that:

“Additional evaluation is needed at the Hardel Mutual Plywood site and the Moxlie Creek discharge to determine whether these sites are significant sources of dioxin/furan contamination through the use of PCP as a wood preservative, or if Cascade Pole was the source of accumulation to these areas based on water circulation patterns in inner Budd Inlet.”

If the source of dioxin in East Bay is the Moxlie Creek pipe, the only plausible source would be through seeps from contaminated fill on parcels 2 and 3. Allowing construction in nearshore areas adjoining the hot spots prior to source identification is hardly science informed. The hot spot at the southern end of East Bay has subsurface levels of dioxin of 1000 ppt and a corresponding surface level of 150 ppt. The adjoining nearshore, 540 ppt. At these levels the area should be fenced.

Imagine a restored Moxlie Creek estuary right here instead of yet another monument to Asphaltia, God of Urban Sprawl.

Many river estuaries have an accompanying stream, Hylebos Creek for the Puyallup River, Medicine Creek for the Nisqually River and so on. As clearly shown in historic maps and drawings, Moxlie Creek is the Deschutes River’s companion stream. Its estuary occupied one third of the area and a greater proportion of salt marsh and tide flats than what currently lies behind the dam which was partly constrained by high ground on both sides. The city/port/developer cabal are settling the debate over restoration of the Deschutes River Estuary. It will not be restored.

We claim to be concerned about the loss of orcas, salmon and other species. There are things locally, within our jurisdictional purview, that we could do to improve the lot of diminished species. There are also things that we should not do that would further diminish their chances. This development falls under the latter category All we need to do is say no. It costs us nothing. This unstoppable juggernaut will make a true cleanup and restoration impossible, all for some flats and townhouses.


Harry Branch is a long-time environmental activist. This letter was sent to the City of Olympia on August 4 in response to an Updated Notice of Land Use Application.


2 Comments on Dear Olympia: East Bay proposal should be rejected

  1. There’s an Updated Land Use Application for this development at the City. The first public comment period runs through August 15, 2017. The process will end with a Design Review Board Meeting on Sep 14, 2017 at 6:30 p.m. Comments will be accepted throughout the land use review process. They should be directed to Catherine McCoy, Lead Planner, of the Olympia Community Planning & Development Department. Her email is:;

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