Published September 13, 2012
Ecology orders final cleanup at City Hall site in central OlympiaJOHN DODGE
The City of Olympia spent nearly $8 million cleaning up pollution problems at its new City Hall site on Fourth Avenue. But the city’s not done yet. The state Department of Ecology has issued a draft cleanup order that spells out the final steps the city must take to get a clean environmental bill of health on the 1.23-acre site. While most of the heavy lifting occurred in 2008-09, including removal of nearly 40,000 tons of contaminated soil to a depth of 15 feet, the final cleanup plan calls on the city to drill a new groundwater well and monitor it for benzene. Benzene has been detected at the site at levels that exceed standard cleanup standards. It is a liquid found in petroleum fuels and certain manufacturing activities. Exposure in drinking water can cause harmful effects to bone marrow and the immune system, according to an Ecology fact sheet. “Benzene is now present near one monitoring well,” Ecology officials went on to say. “It currently poses no risk of exposure since it is not in drinking water.” It’s assumed benzene levels in the groundwater will decrease over time, Ecology project manager Guy Barrett said. If concentrations still exceed cleanup standards after one year of monitoring, the city will have to develop a backup plan for dealing with the pollutant, which would probably just be more monitoring, Barrett said. The cleanup order also bans any land-use activity at the south end of the property from disturbing a liner installed to keep off-site contamination from leaching onto the City Hall property. The $35.6 million City Hall at 601 Fourth Ave. E opened for business in March 2011. The total bill for the project is nearly $50 million, including $7.9 million in cleanup costs. State Ecology grants have covered about 50 percent of the cleanup cost. “The City Council decided to build the new City Hall in downtown Olympia as part of city’s effort to revitalize the downtown,” City Manager Steve Hall said in announcing the final cleanup plan. “The cleanup of this site is an important step in that process.” When the city purchased the property in 2008, city officials knew that had cleanup work to do, including removal of the remains of several underground fuel tanks. But the more they looked, the more they found pollutants at levels above cleanup standards, including petroleum hydrocarbons, benzene, naphthalene, carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, the solvent trichloroethylene, 1,2-dibromoethane and lead. “The city has been doing a good job of stepping up and doing the work needed to eliminate contamination at this site,” said Rebecca Lawson, manager of Ecology’s regional toxics cleanup program. The City Hall site was part of the 22 blocks of downtown Olympia created by dredge spoils from lower Budd Inlet in the early 1900s. Over the past century, the site was home to an automobile manufacturing and painting business, a gas station, automobile repair shops, a restaurant and, most recently, a Safeway store.