Alcoa Site Cleanup Process Moves Aheadby Erik Robinson
The Columbian, June 6, 2008
Alcoa would dig up old underground storage tanks, take new samples from a contaminated area of Columbia River shoreline and regrade the area above the riverbank under an order proposed by state regulators on Thursday.
The proposal represents a small step toward cleaning up a PCB-tainted stretch of Columbia River shoreline near Alcoa's defunct Vancouver aluminum smelter.
The state has been aware since 1997 that the shoreline was polluted with polychlorinated biphenyls but has yet to force a cleanup of the suspected carcinogen. After researchers last year revealed alarmingly high levels of PCBs in the tissue of clams collected in the area, Gov. Chris Gregoire ordered the state Department of Ecology to accelerate the process.
The public will get a chance to review the order during an informational meeting at 7 p.m. June 17 at Foster Auditorium on the Clark College campus. It is also available at the Fort Vancouver Regional library, 1007 E. Mill Plain Blvd., or on Ecology's Web site at www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/swfa/industrial/alum_alcoavan.htm.
A 30-day comment period began Thursday.
Alcoa is still negotiating a final consent decree with the state Department of Ecology, but the proposed order issued Thursday would allow site preparation work to move forward in the meantime.
"We wouldn't have needed this if we were finished with our consent decree," said Carol Kraege, industrial section manager for the Department of Ecology. "River cleanup will occur in 2008."
Alcoa spokesman Gary Biviano said the company worked with state regulators to prepare Thursday's order in advance of the final consent decree and the dredging operation expected to begin in November.
At least one aspect of Thursday's order spells out an action Alcoa had already agreed to: removing an ore-handling facility next to the river. The Port of Vancouver, which is negotiating to buy the site, intends to redevelop the long-dormant property into an active waterfront. While the ship dock will remain, the alumina storage bins and associated conveyer belts are not part of the port's vision for the site.
"Those were going to come down as part of the demolition of the property anyway," port spokesman Nelson Holmberg said Thursday.
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