OLYMPIA – Community activists claimed Monday that the Port of Olympia has violated the federal Clean Water Act by starting work on the East Bay Redevelopment Project without a permit to treat and discharge stormwater runoff and groundwater from the 13.3-acre site.
A public hearing on the stormwater permit took place Monday night. Meanwhile, preliminary work on the initial East Bay work to install utilities and roads began last week.
The East Bay Redevelopment Project is one of the largest urban renewal projects in Olympia history. Once completed, it will include a new home for the Hands On Children’s Museum, a public plaza and some combination of retail shops, housing, office space, hotels and other commercial development.
Port officials defended starting the work, saying the contractor is simply breaking up the concrete floor from an old warehouse, not digging in the dirt where contamination could be found.
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“There aren’t any environmental laws being broken,” said Steve Teel, state Department of Ecology project manager for the East Bay project. “There’s no invasive work going on until they get their stormwater permit.”
Olympians for Public Accountability, a port watchdog group, said the work shouldn’t begin until all the permits are in place. The equipment late last week was stirring up potentially contaminated dust with no control measures in place, OPA president Stanley Stahl said.
“They’re not testing the dust, and they don’t seem to be taking any of this seriously,” Stahl said.
The dust was stirred up from trucks traveling over the slab – not from the ground surface where contaminants may be present, port environmental program manager Joanne Snarski said. She said a water truck to keep dust down on the project site was in place by Monday.
The goal is to have the utility lines installed and roads built by late summer, before the rainy season begins, she said.
The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit needed for the project will probably deal more with treating and discharging groundwater from the utility trenches, Teel said.
“Why is there no limit on dioxin in the permit?” asked Greg Wingard, a consultant hired by Olympians for Public Accountability.
Ecology permit manager Mohsen Kourehdar said any dioxin encountered in the work will most likely be bound to sediments, not suspended in the water. It will be captured in the stormwater filtering system designed to remove sediment particles, and in a carbon filter system all the stormwater and groundwater will be run through prior to discharge to Budd Inlet, he said.
“This is a very protective permit,” Kourehdar said.
Stahl said he has no confidence that the port can manage stormwater and groundwater on the East Bay site, based on the fact the port was recently fined $2,000 by Ecology for violations of a stormwater permit that covers operations at its marine terminal-cargo yard complex.
At a Port of Olympia Commission meeting earlier Monday night, Port executive director Ed Galligan said the lapse in record keeping and stormwater management at the marine terminal was inexcusable and has led to an audit by an outside consultant to improve the port’s program.
And, he said, the East Bay stormwater monitoring and treatment program will get additional scrutiny by project consultants, not just port personnel.