Our View: Much hinges on Budd Inlet results

Finally, scientists are doing a comprehensive analysis of toxins in Budd Inlet. The findings will greatly influence the future development and use of the southernmost tip of Puget Sound.

We cannot overstate the importance of this field work and its impact on South Sound life. It will go a long way toward determining whether Budd Inlet can, and should be, cleaned up and whether contaminated sediments can be dredged from the inlet. That dredging decision, of course, will determine whether the Port of Olympia can continue to operate as a shipping terminal.

So there's an awful lot riding on the outcome of the sampling and analysis that began last week.

This latest action was partially triggered by results of a simple sediment sampling project last year. Those sediment samples were taken in preparation for dredging project for the marine shipping channel maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers, and for shipping berths at the Port of Olympia.

The findings caught a lot of people off guard. More than half of the 458,000 cubic yards of sediment slated for removal were too contaminated with dioxin to dispose of in Puget Sound. The concentrations of dioxin near the port shipping berths were especially high.

The findings put the dredging project on hold for the time being.

Department of Ecology officials wisely ordered more sediment sampling and from a broader area.

Sixty sample locations were identified. They stretch from the middle basin of Capitol Lake all the way to the northernmost end of Budd Inlet. According to Rebecca Lawson, manager of Ecology's southwest region toxics cleanup program, it is the most comprehensive search for toxins ever attempted in the inlet.

Most South Sound residents are generally aware that Budd Inlet, with its low flushing action, is not in pristine condition. Mills once lined the shore. A pole yard at the Port of Olympia, leached contaminates into the inlet for decades. We pipe treated effluent into the bay, which is lined with private homes on septic systems - another source of contamination.

While most laypersons have suspicions about the level of contamination, we're simply guessing. The Department of Ecology study will provide concrete evidence.

The scientific analysis that follows the sampling will provide this community and this state with the foundation upon which to build a cleanup plan. It's a huge first step and the Department of Ecology deserves credit for insisting on closer examination of contamination in Budd Inlet.