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Dept. of Ecology not doing its job on Moxlie Creek


The Department of Ecology faces the possibility of losing more than $3.5 million per year in federal support after a judge on September 12 declined to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Northwest Environmental Advocates. The federal government is supposed to cut certain funding for states that don’t have an approved plan for protecting coastal waterways — a punishment dictated by Congress and designed to pressure states to control pollution.

According to the lawsuit, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration haven’t approved a plan from Washington but they keep giving the state money anyway. The result is that our orcas, salmon and other species remain in peril.

Go here for Harry Branch’s open letter to the Department of Ecology and here for details on Olympia’s role in the controversy.

Southern Resident Orcas are probably heading toward extinction for two reasons: lack of food and the presence of lipophilic persistent bioaccumulative toxins like PCBs and dioxin. (Go here for the scientific background.)

Statewide, benthic levels of Polychlorinated biphenyl and dioxin in urban, contaminated areas have not gone down. According to a recent study:

“PCBs in Puget Sound’s benthic indicator species appear to be increasing in several urbanized areas, and not decreasing in any sampled location. Particular challenges identified by these studies may be to develop methods for reducing new PCB sources to the pelagic food web and to understand the causes for PCB increases in benthic species from urbanized locations. Puget Sound’s pelagic prey base continues to be a hot-spot of PCBs in the northeastern Pacific Ocean region, resulting in long-term contamination of apex predators and other species important to healthy ecosystem function and to human use. Recovery of at least two species listed for protection and recovery by the U.S. Endangered Species Act and Canadian Species at Risk Act, southern resident killer whales (Krahn et al. 2002) and Chinook salmon (Myers et al. 1998) may be significantly hindered by their exposure to PCBs from their prey base in Puget Sound (Hickie et al. 2007; O’Neill and West 2009; Mongillo et al. 2016).”

It would seem that what Ecology is doing isn’t working.

In addition to high levels of nitrates we are struggling with low levels of dissolved oxygen and sediments contaminated with dioxin and PCBs.

According to the comprehensive Sediment Characterization Study of 2008 (page 54): “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….” The way to do this is to sample using in-line sediment traps and similar techniques. Claiming that the source is an old phone pole or woody debris does not rule out the culvert.

If the Moxlie Creek discharge is the source of dioxin entering the bay, the most plausible source of dioxin entering the pipe would be contaminated fill around the pipe entering through fissures. There has been no attempt to determine whether Moxlie Creek is the source, the preference being to piecemeal the cleanup and development concurrently. The Department of Ecology claims they “will be evaluating sources of contamination to Budd Inlet as part of the Budd Inlet Sediments work.” They don’t indicate when they might get to it.

Ecology claims that they “collected and analyzed soil samples from borings to define the vertical extent of soil contamination (and) drilled as deep as we needed to, to define the vertical extent of soil contamination.” They claim that “if DNAPLs (dense non aqueous phase liquids like dioxin containing creosote) were present, we would see related contamination somewhere in the soil, vapor, and/or groundwater.”

According the the EPA: “Although analysis of ground water provides useful information on the distribution of the soluble components of the DNAPL, the presence of other phases of the DNAPL may go unrecognized. The investigation must, therefore, be more detailed to obtain information concerning the phase distribution of the DNAPL at a site. Site characterization may require analyses on all four phases (aqueous, gaseous, solid, immiscible) to yield the appropriate information. In brief, data collected on the various phases must be compiled, evaluated and used to help identify: where the contaminant is presently located; where it has been” and so on.

The nature and extent of contamination on the port peninsula is not known. DNAPLs are heavier than water and will tend to sink to an impervious layer and migrate horizontally. We should sample to this impervious layer which on this property is about 25 feet deep.

Here’s what the port has done. Pages 69 and 71 show cross sections and sampling depths on those cross sections. Pages 159 to 180 list sample depths expressed as range or depth to bottom of the screen. None of the samples that would have targeted DNAPLs reached 25 feet, the depth of the first impervious layer. Most are within the top few feet.

The Port of Olympia claims fill on parcels 2 and 3 is clean gravel brought in from off site. 1.1 million cubic yards of contaminated dredge spoils were used as fill during the same time period. The USACE can’t specify exactly where this was placed. Port claims seem to be based on work orders and internally generated diagrams. The fill brought in from off site wasn’t sampled. DNAPLs could also have migrated from the nearby city hall site which was contaminated with coal tar down to the first impervious layer and out to the property’s edge in the direction of Parcels 2 and 3. The port claims the hot spot is an old piling or some woody debris. There are old pilings all over the bay. They generally don’t give off these concentrations of dioxin.

The State Department of Ecology’s efforts don’t appear to meet the agency’s statutory obligation.


1 Comment on Dept. of Ecology not doing its job on Moxlie Creek

  1. The Port and City could partner to apply for a National Estuary Program grant, to better study the Moxlie Creek area. Let’s tap these federal funds while they are still available, to understand the challenges and potential around Moxlie Creek, and to plan options.

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