SEATTLE — A century’s worth of contamination to the city’s only river is about to get a $305 million cleanup.
Before finalizing a decision on the proposed plan, the Environmental Protection Agency is asking the public to weigh in.
Some of the first Seattle residents to speak out on the plan were at the Concord International Elementary School gymnasium in South Park last Thursday. This is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Seattle and that diversity was reflected at the meeting. Spanish, Vietnamese and Somali could be heard at tables set up around the room as south Seattle residents gathered to learn more and to submit comments to the EPA.
Peter Quenyen is a community organizer with the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition and a long time resident of the South Park neighborhood. It’s one of many communities along the Duwamish River.
Quenyen explained the different aspects of the cleanup plan to a table of Vietnamese-Americans from nearby neighborhoods. Thai Phan ws one of the people sitting at Quenyen’s table. She’s retired and lives in Burien.
“We joined in the community activity because this is useful for everyone in this area,” she said.
Lori Cohen is the EPA’s associate director of the Superfund program in Seattle. So far, she said, the agency has gathered a little over 100 comments.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013 (en Español)
South Park Community Center. This meeting will be held entirely in Spanish. English interpretation will be available.
8319 8th Avenue S, Seattle 98108
5:30 p.m. Presentation
6:30 p.m. Oral comments taken
Wednesday, May 29 (two sessions)
Town Hall. Spanish interpretation available.
1119 Eighth Avenue, Seattle 98101
2 p.m. Open house
2:30 p.m. Presentation, Q&A
3:30 p.m. Oral comments
6 p.m. Open house
6:30 p.m. Repeat presentation, Q&A
7:30 p.m. Oral comments
“We hope to have a lot more,” she said. “We know people care about it and we really want to hear their comments.”
The $305 million dollar plan includes a combination of capping off contaminated sediment and scooping out 800,000 cubic yards of polluted muck from the bottom of the river (enough to fill Safeco Field halfway). There will also be ongoing monitoring of the recovery.
“We believe we have a cleanup plan that will reduce risk to those people that are fishing,” Cohen said. “But what we cannot say with certainty is that they will be able to fish an unlimited amount in the river.”
The Duwamish is a working industrial waterway. But it is also a food source for three tribes and for Seattle residents. And there are those who worry that the river won’t get clean enough to protect the river’s most frequent users.
“People eat fish for a variety of reasons and they’re going to keep doing it and you can’t just tell them don’t eat fish because that already doesn’t work,” said Bill Daniell, a professor of public health at the University of Washington and the co-author of a new study that assesses the health impacts of the proposed clean up plan.
The study raises concerns about the possiblity that once the clean up is complete shellfish in the Duwamish still may not be safe to consume and arsenic levels at river beaches could still be high.
The EPA’s plan includes what are called “institutional controls” — bureaucratic jargon for ways to keep people from interacting with contaminated soil or eating contaminated fish from the river.
Daniell said that is a really important, and underdeveloped, part of the plan because as the river gets cleaner people will want to use it more and they’ll need to be warned against that for some time to come.
“This is really the last opportunity for the public to make comments on the plan that will basically commit the near and distant future for the cleanup of the river,” he said.
The proposed plan also includes the creation of jobs for people in the nearby communities to be trained and employed on the cleanup.
The public has until June 13 to comment on the proposed plan. Click here for more information.