With the era of Harbor Paper officially over, the Grays Harbor PUD could spend up to two years and a large sum of money cleaning up part of the mill’s wastewater treatment plant and a large pile of ash on the property.
Assets from the long-running Hoquiam paper mill appeared on biditup.com, a Los Angeles-based auction website, in December, confirming what many in the community had feared: Harbor Paper will not reopen. PUD officials are operating under the assumption that the mill will be torn down.
But in order for the land to become usable, the PUD must facilitate a large-scale cleanup, the result of an arrangement between the PUD and Grays Harbor Paper, the mill’s previous owner.
In 2006, the state Legislature provided the PUD with $7.5 million in grants and loans for construction of a biomass turbine system, which was owned by the utility and leased to Grays Harbor Paper. The turbine sat on land owned by Rayonier but leased to the PUD. As a result, the PUD became responsible for a portion of the mill cleanup.
The PUD sold the turbine to Harbor Paper for $540,000 — about half of the amount owed on a loan the PUD took out for the turbine.
“The paper mill is what it is,” said PUD Commissioner Russ Skolrood. “Things were done in the past, and now we have to look out for the future.”
“We just want to try to lessen the pain when it comes to cleaning it up over there,” said Commissioner Arie Callaghan,
PUD Manager Dave Ward said it’s too early to tell how much the cleanup will cost, and that the utility recently hired long-time mill employee John Pelligrini to oversee the project.
Pelligrini led Ward and the commissioners on a recent tour of Harbor Paper, showing them which areas the PUD is responsible for.
At the east end of the site, the mill used to operate a wastewater treatment facility to clean water used in the paper-making process. The PUD will be responsible for tearing down parts of the facility and draining the remaining liquids.
Pelligrini said the PUD will need to dismantle sandstone berms, which could yield 170,000 cubic feet of rock and dirt. The utility would need to find a place to send the liquid. The aeration basin alone holds about 25 million gallons of contaminated water.
“Maybe we can reach a deal with the city of Hoquiam to send it to their wastewater treatment plant,” Pelligrini said. “Or maybe, if it reaches the Department of Ecology’s standards, we can send it straight into the river.”
The utility wouldn’t be responsible for wastewater treatment machinery, Pelligrini said.
A large pile of ash is also on the PUD’s list of responsibilities. Pelligrini explained that there are two kinds of ash, both of which could be sold. The soft, light “top ash” can be sold as fertilizer. The grittier “bottom ash” can also be sold — but it will take some work to get it to that point.
Bottom ash is largely composed of gravel and can eventually be sold as gravel, Pelligrini said. However, the mill would often burn whole wooden pallets for fuel, leaving nails in the mixture. Bottom ash also contains large chunks of wood, which would also need to be removed. But Pelligrini said the PUD might be able to find a crew to remove wood and nails through a sifting process.
“If we can sell this stuff, that would be great,” Pelligrini said. “Otherwise, we’ll have to send it to a landfill.”
Even without the cleanup costs, the PUD has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to Harbor Paper. The company owes the utility about $480,000 in past-due bills. During a December meeting, commissioners decided to take action against the company to retrieve the money.
Previous attempts to recover past-due bills from the mill have been unsuccessful. The utility also lost about $876,000 in unpaid electrical bills and other outstanding debts when the previous company, Grays Harbor Paper, went out of business in 2011.