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State takes over after Tumwater brewery oil spill cleanup becomes too costly for owner

State steps in to fund, continue oil spill cleanup at Tumwater brewery

After Tumwater brewery oil spill cleanup costs run into the millions, state steps in while brewery owner steps aside.
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After Tumwater brewery oil spill cleanup costs run into the millions, state steps in while brewery owner steps aside.

An effort to clean up an oil spill that originated in a damaged transformer at the former Tumwater brewery nearly two months ago has become too expensive for Tumwater Development LLC, the owner of the property.

The state Department of Ecology announced late last week that the state would take over the clean up effort. It has cost the brewery owner an unspecified amount, although both a communications representative for the owner and ecology officials said the cost was in the millions of dollars.

Ecology spokeswoman Sandy Howard said Monday the owner “has run out of funds at the moment.” However, she said the owner “showed good faith” and “accomplished a lot” before the state took over last week.

Tumwater Development LLC, through a communications company called Insight Strategic Partners, issued a statement on Monday:

“As we continue to seek additional revenue to ensure the necessary resources are available, we believe the solution announced last week will help ensure that critical work continues without any delay. That remains our top priority.”

In addition to the millions of dollars spent by the brewery owner, the state has spent about $200,000 through May 8, said Ecology’s Dave Byers, spills program response manager. That money was spent on staff to supervise the cleanup.

But it’s going to cost a lot more, he said.

Byers estimated the cost to clean up Tumwater Falls Park will be about $850,000, and for the total cleanup, which still doesn’t have a completion date, it will cost between $5 million and $6 million. Ecology plans to draw from an oil spill response account to cover the remaining clean up costs, but ultimately will seek to recover those costs from the owner.

Toward the end of February, a transformer on brewery property near Boston Street Southwest was damaged by vandals. The transformer had the capacity for 677 gallons of mineral oil; 602 gallons spilled.

The old transformer was thought to have contained a residual amount of PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, a man-made chemical that was banned in the 1970s. PCBs were found in a fluid used in transformers. PCBs have very stable molecules — they do not decompose or catch fire — which works well in a high-energy environment.

But in the natural environment they are considered toxic, carcinogenic, and they can cause reproductive interferences in humans and animals and accumulate in tissue, Byers said.

The cleanup is expensive simply because of the nature of the work, Byers said. They have to check seven miles of shoreline, much of the cleanup is water-based, which is time consuming, and they also removed the vandalized building on Boston Street, he said.

Ecology is working toward two goals: for the mineral oil, they want to clean until they reach 4,000 parts per million of oil. For the PCBs, it’s more complex, but the state wants to reach a “toxicity endpoint that is protective of human health and the environment.”

“Our commitment is to clean until we have met or exceeded the clean-up standard for both oil and PCBs,” Byers said.

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