Winning awards, creating jobs, and ensuring a clean and safe environment for generations to come
BY BRYAN CORLISS
Local government agencies in Snohomish County are emerging as leaders in the effort to show that good environmental stewardship can be good for the local economy as well.
In the past 18 months, both the Port of Everett and Snohomish County have been honored by industry groups and environmental activists for projects that have created jobs — and good environmental outcomes.
“We can have it both ways,” says County Executive Dave Somers, as he announced his Dream Greener program in 2017.
A dynamic Paine Field generating jobs for our region, and a clean environment.
The Port of Everett’s long-running effort to clean up and redevelop the old Weyerhaeuser mill on the banks of the Snohomish River has been honored by the Washington Public Ports Association as an “extraordinary achievement.”
In January, the Port Association named Everett’s port the winner of its 2020 Job Creator of the Year Award.
Creating jobs for community prosperity is at the heart of public ports’ missions, and the Port of Everett provided exemplary planning, strategy, and leadership to create long-term job growth for Everett, the association said as it announced the award.
It is one of three awards that the port district received in 2020 for projects that tie environmental clean-up to job creation. Along with the award from the state Ports Association:
- In October, the International Economic Development Council honored the port with its Excellence in Economic Development Award for redeveloping and reusing the old mill site.
- In September, the American Association of Port Authorities honored the port with an Award of Distinction for funding a scientific study on whether contaminants found offshore near the port’s marina were building up in the tissues of clams and worms found in the seabed.
Environmental protection and ensuring Everett residents have access to the city’s waterfront are key components of the port district’s strategic plan, CEO Lisa Lefeber says.
A lot of our property, over half, is dedicated to public access and environmental protection, she says.
“We integrate environmental stewardship and public access into everything we build.”
DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE
Over the past two decades, the port has invested more than $33 million in projects to clean up 215 acres of port-owned property, and it plans to double its environmental cleanup efforts over the next few years.
It isn’t always easy. According to the Washington Public Ports Association, “environmental stewardship is important” to all port districts, but “because of their industrial legacies, many ports face significant challenges in ensuring their properties and industries are clean and safe for future generations.”
The Riverside Business Park is a prime example. For nearly 70 years, contaminants had piled up at the site, both from Weyerhaeuser’s operations and from a former ASARCO smelter that had closed in 1912 after spreading dangerous levels of arsenic and lead that remained a century later.
To clean it up required removing contaminated soil and replacing it with thousands of cubic yards of clean material and planting native vegetation along the river’s shore. The port made the additional effort to raise the site by 3 to 5 feet, which took it out of the river’s floodplain and took into account future sea level rise.
The project created homes for businesses that employ more than 600 people, including aerospace supplier Safran, shipping companies Motor Trucks International, FedEx Freight and Amazon, Canteen and Republic Services. More companies are being recruited, and the port projects more than 800 people will work at Riverside when it’s fully built-out.
DREDGING UP FACTS
The American Association of Port Authorities award honored the effort the Port of Everett made to determine whether it could safely dredge away the silt accumulating around its central waterfront marina.
The issue was this: In 2010, the area around the Everett Marina was overdue for dredging and beginning to silt up. At the same time, the state of Washington put new restrictions on how materials dredged up from a seabed can be disposed of if there are toxins in it.
And testing around the marina did in fact find a toxin: dioxin — a common pollutant stemming from chlorine bleaching of paper, which used to occur at mills along the Everett waterfront.
Now, dioxin in the environment is a serious problem, because dioxins that enter the food chain through fish and shellfish can cause cancer in humans, and have been linked to reproductive, developmental, and immune system disorders as well.
But the state’s restriction on disposing of dredging spoils also was a problem for the port. The state requires contaminated dredging spoils to be disposed of on dry land, which costs more than the port district could afford.
And without dredging, the marina was going to silt in, making it unusable. This, in turn, would sink plans for the $500 million Waterfront Place development on the Everett waterfront.
The port’s solution was to spend $260,000 on a first-of-its-kind environmental study, which ultimately proved that the level of the dioxin in the silt around the marina is so low that it poses no risk to human health or the environment. That convinced state authorities to issue the port a permit to dredge 160,000 cubic yards of silt and dispose of it nearby in Port Gardner Bay.
This saved the port approximately $35 million over a 10-year period, and arguably kept the Port of Everett in the recreational boating business, port officials say.
And, crucially, keeping the marina going allowed the Waterfront Place development to continue, port officials add. “The economic development and recreational opportunities created by the Marina and Waterfront Place … would not be possible without an economical method of maintenance dredging and dredge material disposal.”
SALMON SAFE AIRSPACE
Paine Field is one of only three airports in North America to be certified Salmon Safe by the Oregon-based Salmon-Safe Partner Network.
The terminal at Paine Field was designed from the start to include an emphasis on sustainability the building was constructed in part with beetle-killed wood from Northwest forests that otherwise would have been destroyed.
But the salmon-safe designation applies more to the 1,250 acres that surround the airport. An independent panel of experts judged that Snohomish County — which owns the air field and surrounding land — is doing its part to preserve and enhance water quality on the site.
The creation of the Narbeck Wetland Sanctuary – Washington’s first wetland mitigation bank – was a major factor in the certification. The county created the sanctuary in the 1990s, which created nearly 43 acres of natural space in the midst of one of the heavily industrialized areas in Washington state.
However, the experts also cited the county’s extensive storm water management system, which includes 800 catch basins, along with ponds, wetlands, bioswales, and stormwater detention vaults — plus 14 oil/water separators and a similar number of flow-control weirs.
The airport also has been working for years to reduce oil drips in parking lots around the site, and has been successful in reducing 99 percent of the zinc leaching off hangar roofs into storm water runoff. All runoff is treated before it heads into the Puget Sound.
We’re ensuring that all that water is treated and clean and salmon-safe, County Executive Dave Somers says.
“So that’s a huge accomplishment, to have our major economic engine and wonderful facility also be environmentally sustainable and safe for the salmon.”
Clean water is essential to restoring salmon runs and to improving living conditions for the Puget Sound’s resident orca population, according to Ellen Southard, who is Salmon-Safe’s manager for the Puget Sound.
“Healthy fisheries are not only critical to orca survival, but also the region’s economic health,” she said in a statement. Commercial fishing supports about 200,000 Washington state jobs, Southard added. “So when Paine Field invited us to get involved, it really made a lot of sense.” ✦
Feature photo: Hotel Indigo