Islanders raise questions, concerns, over proposed Maury cleanup plan

Officials with the state Department of Ecology presented their proposed cleanup plan for the Maury Island Natural Area to mixed reactions on Vashon last week.

Comments for the plan, which includes capping park roads and trails, decommissioning some trails, and capping the skeet range area and creating a parking lot there, will be accepted until May 24.

Those leading the meeting stressed the importance of islanders expressing their opinions before the deadline after many people raised concerns, particularly about the capping and closing of trails.

“This plan is not final; it is not cast in stone,” Cris Matthews, the site manager from Ecology, told those gathered. “We think up to this point it is the best alternative we have seen, but that is the reason we are doing this tonight — to listen to your ideas and to see if we can make it better.”

King County purchased the Maury Island Natural Area — which the state calls the Maury Island Open Space Cleanup Site — in 2010, after a long fight with Glacier Northwest, which had intended to expand its gravel mining operation there.

Now the land is preserved as park space, and islanders use it for a variety of recreational activities, including hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.

With more than a mile of undeveloped shoreline, the park supports endangered species, including chinook salmon and orcas, and is home to madrone forests.

However, the site is contaminated from previous skeet shooting there and from being downwind from Tacoma’s ASARCO smelter. An agreed order for the site makes cleanup there mandatory.

Prior to drafting the cleanup plan, the Department of Ecology examined the site and found contaminants far in excess of determined cleanup levels. The contaminants are lead, which is linked to learning and behavior problems in children; cadmium, which increases the risk of respiratory, cardiovascular and renal problems, and arsenic and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, both of which increase cancer risk.

The contaminated areas are those in the upland and bluff areas and in the former skeet range, the Ecology report states.

Officials working on this considered five alternatives for cleanup, ranging in cost from $1.8 million to $9.5 million. The methods included excavating the soil and disposing of it offsite, excavating the soil and containing in onsite, capping and containing soil in place and installing educational signs and washing stations.

The proposed plan includes some of those options:

• Revegetate several areas;

• Cap maintenance roads and majority of trails with gravel and soil;

• Decommission some trails and trail spurs considered little used or “redundant”;

• Install “hygiene stations” at trail heads ;

• Clear and cap the skeet range and create a 20 to 25-car gravel parking lot there.

The cost of this plan is $5.5 million; Ecology representatives say they have $2 million for the project, which the state’s capital budget provided this year. King County will oversee the cleanup.

More than 50 people attended the meeting, and several raised concerns about the trails slated for closure, including islander Kathy Flynn, who said that several people live close to the park and have the same exposure to toxins on their property as they do in the park. Some of the trails are old roads from when mining occurred there. If they are not used, they will become overgrown, she noted.

“If (people) do use them, they are not going to get more toxic stuff than walking on their property next door,” she said. “There is value to these trails. It seems a shame to get rid of them. It seems like erasing history.”

A man who frequently uses the trails stated he is an advocate of keeping them all as well, including one he considers among the most scenic but which had been marked for closure.

“It befuddles me as to how someone would think it was an underused trail,” he said.

Another woman raised questions about the proposed 20- to 25-car parking lot, which would be created in the heavily contaminated former skeet shooting area.

“Couldn’t you think of something better to do than create a parking lot?” she asked.

One man asked if leaving the property alone — not cleaning it up — might be an option, with murmurs of agreement from some of those gathered.

“That is what a lot of us might have in mind is no action,” Flynn added from across the room. “We like it the way it is. I am not up on all the science, but we like it the way it is, without parking lots and fixed-up trails.”

A show of hands indicated about one-third of those present preferred that no action be taken at the park.

Among those who do want to see cleanup at the site is Lu-Ann Branch, who identified herself as having had cancer for a year and a half. She said she has used nearby trails and has seen children use the trails in the natural area.

“Trust me, you do not want cancer. To do nothing. Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?” she said. “That scares me a bit. I have been exposed … lots of people have been exposed to it and will continue to be.”

Joe Yarkin addressed other concerns, saying that all the materials for the project and the transport involved have a carbon footprint. He said he wondered how that figured into the state’s environmental analysis.

“What I worry about (for children) is not so much the arsenic and lead in the soil, but the diesel they have to breathe while they are young and the carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere,” he said.

Ecology’s Lindsey Miller said the department’s work had determined the project would produce 110 metric tons of carbon, equivalent to 24 passenger vehicles operated for one year.

Next steps in the project include the remainder of the comment period followed by the final cleanup action plan and consent decree, then design and permitting, and finally, construction and monitoring.

For more information about the project and to comment, see tinyurl.com/y996a7rv.

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