State awards $13 million for Thea Foss dredging

The state Department of Ecology (Ecology) has given Tacoma a $13.3 million grant, which the city will match, to finish dredging more than 500,000 cubic yards of toxic sediments from the bottom of the Thea Foss Waterway.

The funding marks the beginning of the end of sediment cleanup in the waterway, another important step in the city’s major redevelopment of its downtown waterfront. The overall project, from design through final environmental monitoring, is expected to cost $94 million and is scheduled for completion by the end of March.

The project is part of the federal Superfund cleanup of Commencement Bay.

“This is the single largest grant right now that the state is providing for a cleanup site,” said Diane Singer, manager of Ecology’s remedial action grant program. “The Thea Foss Waterway cleanup is a priority for us now although we’ve spent many more millions of dollars in and around Commencement Bay over the years.”

The project coincides with the start of Gov. Chris Gregoire’s Puget Sound Initiative and is an example of ongoing work to wipe away the Sound’s legacy of industrial pollution. The grant funding is separate from the budget recently proposed for the initiative to restore Puget Sound.

“Cleaning and protecting Puget Sound must be at the top of our state agenda and this grant to Tacoma is part of that effort,” said Gov.Gregoire. “I have proposed funding this year to speed the cleanup of toxic waste and have appointed a coalition to develop recommendations and enlist the public to achieve recovery of the Sound by 2020.”

Karen Larkin, an assistant public works director for Tacoma, said ”Tacoma has invested millions of dollars and thousands of hours to create a downtown waterfront that invites people to experience the wonder of our landscape. Partners, including the Department of Ecology and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have been instrumental in helping us realize our vision of an urban waterfront that invites visitors and residents alike to appreciate our close relationship with the water.”

“We appreciate the city’s commitment to launch this redevelopment long before the project’s sediment removal stage began,” said Piper Peterson Lee of the EPA, project manager of the Commencement Bay Superfund site.

The dredging and removal of contaminated sediments are required under an agreement with EPA. The sediments are contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, phthalates, mercury, PCBs and pesticides.

The dredged sediments will go into a nearby confined disposal site at the head of the St. Paul Waterway that will be sealed. The sealed site will create additional land that will be developed by the nearby Simpson Tacoma Kraft facility. In addition, areas next to the containment site will be restored to create habitat to benefit salmon that gather at the mouth of the Puyallup River and nearby waterways before they move out into Puget Sound.

The state’s remedial action grants come from a tax on the first possession in Washington of certain hazardous substances and funds are placed in the “local toxics account.” During the 2003-05 biennium, Ecology awarded $25 million from the fund to local jurisdictions to clean up contaminated sites.

Ecology issued four previous grants to Tacoma for cleanup in the Thea Foss Waterway dating back to 1994, totaling more than $13 million.