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September 12, 2007

Port of Seattle Backtracks on Dumping PCBs

This is one of the quickest turnarounds I can recall, but the unified outcry against the Port's plans to contaminate our waters was obviously too strong for them to beat back. The Port is now in negotiations on how to dispose of PCB-laden toxic mud in a more environmentally responsible manner.

Port of Seattle commissioners unanimously directed their staff Tuesday to work with King County on a proposal to send the material from a dredging project in the Harbor Island Superfund site to a landfill.

The project had cleared the environmental hurdles set for it by federal and state agencies, but environmentalists -- with support from the state's newly formed Puget Sound Partnership, King County Executive Ron Sims and various scientists within the state's Department of Ecology and Department of Fish and Wildlife -- said the current momentum toward a cleaner Puget Sound calls for higher standards.

"We need to leave the waterways better than we found them," said commission President John Creighton, who as chairman of the five-member elected board set environmental stewardship as one of its top priorities.

The fact that this toxic mud will end up in a landfill is not necessarily something to dance about. But it's a hell of a lot better than the original plan of dumping it into the Puget Sound's ecosystem, especially at a time when Washington State is putting so much heft behind its commitment to save the Sound. Kudos are in order for all those who organized on behalf of this change, and King County Executive Ron Sims and the Puget Sound Partnership responded appropriately. This is an excellent example of how good governance can result from the public making noise about a terrible policy that, if put into practice, would have negatively affected the health of the Sound, its salmon and Orcas, and Washington's citizens -- in particular, its children -- for years to come.  Hats off to everyone who resisted the plan.

Posted by shoephone on September 12, 2007 at 12:50 AM in Environment, Policy, Washington Culture | Permalink


Well, those who have been in and around the port or who have watched the public meetings on the web or public access TV (admittedly not always that scintillating of prime time TV) could tell you that Commission President Creighton has been pushing this forward, publicly questioning Port staff over the last several months about the logistics and cost of upland disposal and whether the Port could work jointly with the County, which is also doing a dredging project at Myrtle Edwards. Commissioner Alec Fisken has also been supportive of upland disposal.

So, the Port Commission's decision just didn't come out of the blue. Creighton and Fisken are on record pushing for it at prior public meetings. Creighton has also been working with County Councilmember Larry Phillips on cruise ship issues, so Phillips' support of upland disposal is also very heartening.

Creighton is not the type to just sit back and wait for staff to get their act together. As a lawyer, he is comfortable drafting his own Commission motions on port business. Instead of bitching and moaning and waiting for Port staff to act, Creighton in the last year has drafted motions that, among other things:

(1) set in motion an independent investigation of the Port Police Department and citizens advisory panel to look at police department reforms last January,

(2) directed staff to pursue a six-part environmental initiative in February, and

(3) strengthened the ethics codes for port commissioners and port employees after the severance pay scandal broke in April.

In addition, Creighton is the one who presented the motion on upland disposal last Tuesday. So, as Fred Felleman has noted, we have a new majority on the Commission led by Creighton and Fisken and Hara with a strong environmental ethic. They still want to develop the waterfront to keep good-paying maritime industrial union jobs here in the county, but they are also keenly aware of the Port's impact on the environment and are willing to take the steps necessary to address that impact.

Posted by: South County Port Watcher | Sep 16, 2007 4:12:32 PM

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