Weeks after the summer’s paving of the island’s main highway ended, King County has opened seven code enforcement cases regarding the stockpiling and use of asphalt millings, may open others and is pursuing possible criminal charges against the project’s subcontractor, Vashon’s D & R Excavating.
The millings — ground up asphalt that was removed from the road before the new layer of asphalt was put on — should not have been stockpiled on Vashon, county officials say. Nor should the millings have been used for personal or business projects without permits, which likely would not have been issued, according to Jim Chan, assistant director at the county’s Department of Permitting and Environmental Review (DPER). Although the material, sometimes referred to as RAP — recycled asphalt pavement — is widely used, Chan said extra care needs to be taken with it on Vashon due to the island’s designation as a critical aquifer recharge area.
“Because of that, this material, if you use it, has to be treated carefully. You have to account for leaching, you have to account for impacts to groundwater, and you have to account for how storm water runoff is handled,” he said in a recent phone conversation.
Chan said his office has received several calls from islanders, some complaining about the stockpiling and use of the millings around the island, and others hoping to use the material for their own projects.
Stockpiling of the material is subject to grading and storm water codes as well as zoning restrictions, Chan said. On Vashon, there are just two locations that millings may be stored, and both sites have limits on the amount of material acceptable and the length of time the material can remain.
During the course of the paving project, however, officials say subcontractor Doug Hoffmann of D & R Excavating took the millings to additional places, including properties where the owners are contending with code violations regarding their storage or use: the lot next to the Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie, Misty Isle Farm, Vashon Island Books (former VFW Hall) and the Eagles, among others.
Chan said DPER officials told Hoffmann before the project started that aside from the two possible sites, keeping the millings on the island was not likely going to be allowed — and Hoffmann never obtained the necessary permits for his work.
“When the answer was no, no and really difficult to do, I guess they decided they were going to do it anyway,” Chan said.
As for the people calling, hoping to use the millings for their own projects, “We are basically informing them it is a bad idea,” he said.
Chan listed three hurdles property owners would face in using the millings: permits would be needed; King County would likely not approve the permits, and the project requirements, such as water quality and storm water flow control measures, could easily be cost prohibitive.
The paving contractor for the project, ICON Materials, described on its website as the “Northwest’s leading contractor for infrastructure and transportation” declined to comment for this story.
Hoffmann declined to speak at length on the record, but provided a written statement.
“ICON is working hard to get all the players to the table to resolve the issue at hand. King County code, Title 16, is very complex,” he said. “I have tried many, many times to get in contact with Jim Chan and other decision makers from the county after the town hall meeting on June 7th, without success.”
Those who attended the town hall meeting with King County officials might remember the exchange about the millings. The paving project was set to begin on June 18. Near the end of the meeting, Hoffmann raised the issue, saying that he hoped the county would agree to keeping the millings on the island for re-use. He said that several people had contacted him about using them, including representatives from one of the Maury Island parks. Some 1,250 dump truck loads were expected on the ferries over six weeks for the paving work, and if the millings could remain on the island, that would mean 1,250 fewer truck loads heading back off with the ground up materials.
“I hope that we can store them here and use them on Vashon because we are a recycling island. Let’s do what we need to do,” he said to applause from some of those in attendance.
Chan responded, noting his department needed to protect the environment and that time was tight, but he indicated he would look for a solution.
“I am going to be working with Doug, and I will be working with ICON, the contractor, and Roads … to figure out a solution that will keep the materials here. No promises right now. There are locations on the island that we can take the materials, but the ones placed in front of us have some challenges. But we will work out the details,” he said.
Chan said he did not hear from Hoffmann after that evening — and no solutions were arrived at to keep the millings on the island.
King County Roads ran the paving project, and spokesman Brent Champaco said that ICON provided Roads with the permit for their asphalt plant in Auburn as their approved dump site if millings were to be hauled off the island. He added that Roads was aware of the interest in keeping them on the island and verbally informed ICON that any grindings disposed of on-island could trigger a permitting issue with DPER.
Champaco also said that King County Roads crews were on the island every day and when they learned about the millings being kept on the island, DPER issued multiple stop-work orders to Hoffmann, and Roads wrote a letter to ICON, directing that work to stop. Now, Champaco said, Roads is withholding a portion of payment to ICON until the millings issue is resolved.
King County codes and environmental concerns are at the heart of this matter, and DPER’s Chan noted that the code allows for stricter penalties for people who knowingly act in a way that is harmful to the public and the environment. Thus, DPER officials are considering additional enforcement action beyond the department’s typical enforcement measures and have been in contact with the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and the King County Sheriff’s Office.
Last week, Jim Simmonds, King County’s Water Quality Unit Supervisor, provided some scientific context about the effects the millings may have, if any, on the island’s groundwater.
Simmonds noted that he is a water quality expert, not an asphalt millings expert, and that research about millings is limited. However, there are a few published studies in which researchers obtained roadway millings, percolated water through them and then tested the water. Asphalt is largely a petroleum product, Simmonds said, and the concern is about pollutants, such as long-chain petroleum compounds (carbons linked together), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (rings of carbon compounds) and metals.
“They found those things in the leachate, but they found them in levels that were surprisingly low relative to standards. … So is it concern-free? Not necessarily. There is not much data. You could do more studies, and (determine) what it is like in the real world. But to date the data does not say this is a big problem.”
He said that the study results matched his expectations, as there are thousands of miles of roads in the United States, many with potholes and cracks that allow water to leach through.
He drew a distinction between leachate and contamination on roadways from vehicles, a well-known pollutant.
“There is a lot of research and findings about how bad that is — storm water from the road surface, but researchers have never identified leaching through the road itself as a major source of pollution, even though we have lots of cracks and potholes all over the country,” he said.
He added that the chemicals that could leach are large compounds and because of their size, do not typically move readily through the soil.
“You would expect that even if some did leach out, they would not move readily to your aquifers,” he said.
However, at DPER, Interim Deputy Director Randy Sandin said his department is looking at the millings stockpiling and use purely from the perspective of the county’s storm water manual.
“The county’s storm water regulations are more protective of groundwater impacts where asphalt is used in a critical aquifer recharge area,” he said, echoing Chan.
Now, the county is working with some of those in violation of the code regarding their millings use. But there are other islanders who have used the millings and may be wondering what to do. Sandin’s advice is that they call DPER, which can be done anonymously, he said, and explain what they have done and what actions DPER would require. If the project is limited enough, an over-the counter-permit might resolve the issue, he said. He suggested that dealing with the issue now would be better than waiting — as DPER may find out about the millings from a complaint, such as from a concerned neighbor. But DPER will not be out looking for asphalt millings from the summer’s paving project now on an unknown number of island driveways and parking areas.
“Our code enforcement program is all complaint-driven,” he said.