Major construction at port will address stormwater

Construction of a new stormwater treatment system is underway at the Port of Olympia, employing more than 80 for one of the biggest projects at the port since the marine terminal warehouse and Swantown Marina were built in the early 1980s.

The $11.5 million system, which will occupy about three acres on the east side of the port’s log yard, is set to be in the ground and operational around Sept. 30, said Alex Smith, environmental programs director for the port.

That’s the deadline set by the state Department of Ecology after the agency changed stormwater permit requirements that took effect in 2010. The port also was prodded in doing more about its stormwater after the Olympians for Public Accountability, a citizen watchdog group, sued the port; the port agreed to an out-of-court settlement in 2011.

The port had time to adjust to the new Ecology requirements, including time spent identifying the right technology that would treat stormwater and make it acceptable for release into Budd Inlet.

Construction finally began in late May and early June, said port engineering director Bill Helbig.

The general contractor and more than a dozen subcontractors have been working days, nights and weekends to complete a project by the end of September that would otherwise have taken nine months to a year to complete, he said.

Olympia’s wet climate produces plenty of rain which falls on the port’s log yard and becomes stormwater filled with a key residue: bark dust. That bark dust, if not treated, will produce high levels of COD — chemical oxygen demand — which competes for oxygen with aquatic organisms in an already oxygen-depleted Budd Inlet.

The port studied other treatment systems that did not lower COD levels to a benchmark 120 milligrams per liter, or lower, until it chose a chemical oxidation treatment system — the one currently under construction — that adds oxygen to the stormwater.

Stormwater will be collected in five basins at the port, which will then be delivered to a pump station deep underground and then pumped through a series of stages, including sand filtration, before it is released to Budd Inlet.

The initial stormwater might be bark-dust brown, but it will be clear by the time it is released.

Before construction of the new system, the port, using a mechanical sweeper and vacuum, regularly cleaned the log yard, catch basins and filters weekly, Smith said. But testing of COD levels showed they were well above 120 milligrams per liter, she said.

The port, in an effort to better address its own stormwater, also has had discussions with the city of Olympia about re-routing a city stormwater pipe, Smith said.

The pipe originates at the north end of the city, but then travels under the port’s log yard and empties into Budd Inlet north of the marine terminal, said Andy Haub, water resources director for Olympia’s public works department.

The city would prefer to re-route it too, he said, but the city needs to make a decision about where to best construct the new pipe and to determine a new discharge point. Work could begin next year or in 2016, he said. The city and port also might share in the costs of construction.

A recent bond issue helped pay for the stormwater treatment construction, and the port plans to charge its log yard customers, such as Weyerhaeuser, a fee to cover costs associated with the treatment system, port Finance Director Jeff Smith said.