Brewery oil spill cleanup is moving to Heritage Park. What does that mean for Lakefair?

Oil spill cleanup efforts at Capitol Lake are shifting from Marathon Park to Heritage Park, just ahead of the annual Capital Lakefair festival that begins July 17.

The state’s Department of Ecology is overseeing the cleanup, which was prompted by a transformer oil spill at the former Olympia Brewing Co. back in February.

Expected impacts of the cleanup at Heritage Park, according to the state’s Department of Enterprise Services, which manages Capitol Lake, include fencing off of some greenspace, occasional closures of the paved pedestrian walkway, traffic impacts as equipment is moved, and noise, first from equipment delivery, then maybe from sediment removal.

Heritage Park is also the home base for Lakefair, which organizers says attracts more than 200,000 people. The five-day celebration kicks off July 17 and runs through July 21.

Cleanup equipment will be cleared out of Marathon Park before a car show takes place there Friday evening.

David Byers, spill response supervisor for the ecology department, told The Olympian the move follows “the natural progression of the cleanup.” If it hadn’t, Byers said another location for the show would’ve been chosen.

Byers said equipment, which includes settling tanks and filtration units that he likened to “giant Brita filters,” will be set up in a corner of the park that hasn’t historically been used by Lakefair, on the east side of Capitol Lake and south of Seventh Avenue Southwest.

Byers said divers will be vacuuming contaminated sediment off the lake bottom, and a pump will push the sediment to a treatment system across the walking path by Capitol Lake. He said they’re building a gradual ramp over the pipe that crosses the walking path so the cleanup doesn’t interfere with the Lakefair races or other events.

Since this will be is an around-the-clock effort, Byers said the only impacts he anticipates are that people will see the equipment and there will be a little bit of extra noise.

“The bottom line is we will have a presence, but we will not impact any activities at Lakefair,” Byers said.

Bob Barnes, who’s been involved with organizing Lakefair since 1978, said the clean-up hasn’t prompted organizers to move any events. He said the Department of Ecology has been very cooperative and will put up barriers and signs explaining the project to Lakefair-goers.

“It’s going to be a little inconvenient, here and there,” Barnes said. “But, overall, the project has to be done. And Lakefair is going to go on.”

The spill prompting this clean-up was originally reported on February 25.

Ann Cook, Communications Manager for the City of Tumwater, told the Olympian that the current “working theory” is that someone entered the property with the intention to remove a transformer oil tank.

Based on equipment and tools found at the site, it appears “It was in that attempt to remove that oil tank that they released the oil,” Cook said. Now, she said, the property owner of the old brewery has secured the site and has 24-hour security, complying with the city’s request to properly secure the site.

Ty Keltner, communications manager for spills prevention, preparedness and response at the state Department of Ecology, said about 600 gallons spilled. Ecology’s website says the spill “is believed to have entered the Deschutes River through a series of storm drains.” From there, it flowed into Capitol Lake.

The oil that spilled, according to Ecology’s website, contains a low concentration of PCBs. While a state Department of Health toxicologist has said the man-made chemicals aren’t present at a level that’s an immediate threat to public health, they chemicals can accumulate and impact the health of people and marine life.

Cleaning up after the spill has been a team effort. Beyond the state Department of Ecology and Department of Enterprise Services, Keltner and Byers with Ecology named several other agencies and entities that are involved in the clean-up, including: the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, the State Department of Health, the cities of Olympia and Tumwater, the Olympia Tumwater Foundation, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Department of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

As of July 10, Keltner said approximately 3.5 miles of oiled vegetation along the shoreline had been removed. No measurable amounts of oil had been discovered at Budd Inlet, and Ecology hadn’t received any reports of oil-affected wildlife.

Lt. Jen Kolb with the Tumwater Police Department told The Olympian that the incident that caused the spill is no longer an active investigation, and that no charges have been filed in the case.

“If we receive new, credible leads, we’d be willing to take a look at them and consider reopening the case,” Kolb said.

As of this week, the Department of Ecology’s website says it has cleaned up seven of the 10 areas of Capitol Lake it has identified as contaminated.

There’s no predicted end date for the cleanup.

“We want to make sure that the area is cleaned up to state standards,” Keltner said. “And so, there isn’t a special day where that happens. It just happens when we get the area cleaned up to reach that point. We’re not really sure when that will be, but we’re going to make sure that we keep going until that’s done.”

Sara Gentzler joined The Olympian in June 2019. She primarily covers Thurston County government and its courts, as well as breaking news. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Creighton University.