Residents of Tacoma's Stadium District awoke Friday to a reminder – some say a rude one – they live near a working waterfront.
A layer of oily soot coated their landscaping, decks and cars. It turned to a greasy smudge at the lightest touch.
Neighbors suspect the pollution spewed from the two 685-foot-long ships moored in Commencement Bay just downhill from their homes.
Crews have been working on the Cape Island and the Cape Intrepid – part of the U.S. Maritime Administration’s Ready Reserve – for most of the week. The ships are moored along Ruston Way near Old Town.
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Residents said the ships’ huge engines began rumbling early in the week.
They emitted only noise until late Thursday or early Friday, said Carl Teitge, who lives in the 800 block of North Stadium Way. Some time overnight the soot fell, said Teitge, a former city planning commissioner.
“This stuff is nasty,” he said as he pointed out the residue on his white sedan and red pickup. “I want these guys to explain to me how to clean this stuff up. I don’t know what’s in it.”
Frank Linehan, a supervisor with the Maritime Administration, said his agency is investigating to see whether the soot came from one or both of the ships. If so, the Maritime Administration – a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation – will do what it can to make amends, Linehan said.
“We want to be good neighbors,” he said.
Crews have been working on the ships’ engines as part of a biannual maintenance and inspection program that ensures they are “mission ready,” Linehan said.
The City of Tacoma dispatched two of its environmental experts to the area Friday to analyze the residue.
“We want to know what’s going into our (sewer) system,” said Shawn Madison of the city’s Environmental Services office.
Linda Heaton, who lives in the 900 block of Stadium Way, said she called the mayor’s office and state Department of Ecology officials, among others, to complain about the noise and soot.
“I get frustrated when there doesn’t seem to be any oversight on these ships in my neighborhood,” Heaton said. “I’m going to have to spend hours cleaning this stuff.”
Stadium District residents have complained about the ships before and opposed plans to expand the number of ships moored near their homes. The Maritime Administration has kept ships moored in the same location for decades.
Heaton said she and her neighbors have worked with Maritime Administration officials in the past to address problems, including reducing the number of lights used to illuminate the ships at night.
Teitge said he is not against industrial uses but wonders whether the Ruston Way waterfront is the proper place for them as the city tries to beautify the area.
“Tacoma is changing,” he said.