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Fire District property contaminated

The Washington State Department of Ecology announced a small area near the headquarters of South Kitsap Fire and Rescue was added to its list of contaminated sites last week, maintaining that while several fuel storage tanks were removed from the property, hazardous waste was left behind.

A recent inspection by the Kitsap County Health District — which led to the property at 1974 Fircrest Drive being confirmed by the DOE as a contaminated site — revealed some of the soil had unacceptable levels of contaminants, in some cases nearly 50-times the state standard.

Grant Holdcroft, a county environmental specialist, said inspectors give each contaminated site a score that is compiled after evaluating five categories — potential impacts on air or surface and groundwater that may adversely affect human health, and impacts on air and surface water that may affect environmental health.

And although the property only received a negative score in one category — human health impacts from groundwater — Holdcroft said it was a high enough amount for the site to be ranked at the second-to-worst level, a 2 out of 5, with the worst being 1.

Holdcroft said while the site was added to the state DOE’s list of “suspected” contaminated sites several years ago in 1998, when a second pair of abandoned fuel tanks was discovered and dug up, it was not inspected by the health district and moved to the “confirmed” list until earlier this year.

Holdcroft said the reason the inspection took seven years is that his department can only complete inspections on about four or five sites every six months, and the SK site had early on been considered a “low priority.”

“It was at the bottom of the list, because it was not considered really egregious,” he said.

First of all, Holdcroft said the tanks removed contained a petroleum product, which he said “is not too bad, especially if it’s diesel,” he said. “No one’s going to die from ingesting it.”

Also, Holdcroft said the location of the site was not close to any bodies of water, such as oceans, lakes or streams, and not near any public wellhead.

And although the site is within a mile or two of at least three schools — Madrona Heights Elementary School, Orchard Heights Elementary School and Marcus Whitman Junior High School — he said access to the site was controlled.

Another reason the site was not a high priority, Holdcroft said, was that there had been removal and cleanup already performed on the area.

“We knew some action had been taken already, and if they had found something really bad, we would have been informed about it,” he said, explaining that what happened is that apparently the crews removing the tanks and the surrounding contaminated dirt “did not remove enough.

“There was still work to be done,” he said. “The fire district will need to look into getting it cleaned up.”

Holdcroft said if a contamination is of very small scale, such as a few gallons, the health district will typically clean it up. But “normally, the person who owned the property at the time the contamination occurred, is responsible,” he said.

In this case, Holdcroft said Karcher Creek Sewer District — which SKF&R purchased the property from — will likely be the responsible party.

Dick Fitzwater, general manager of the sewer district, said he had not been contacted by either the county or state recently regarding the contamination, but he knew of at least five underground tanks that have been removed from the property since his agency purchased it from a construction company in the early 1980s.

SKF&R Chief Wayne Senter said he also had not been contacted by either environmental agency regarding the latest determination, but he knew of two cleanups on the property, once during construction of a maintenance building in 1998, and the latest in 2001 before work began on the new Central Communications tower.

Senter said he was managing the 1998 construction project and remembers that when the ground was excavated, “We ran into smelly dirt.

“As soon as we were aware of it,” he recalled, “we hired a consultant, and that consultant worked with (the DOE), and we followed all of their rules and recommendations.”

In 2001, Senter said the site of the new CenCom tower was being prepared for construction and another tank was found and removed, but all the tests revealed there was no sign that anything had leaked from that tank.

“We hired a contractor licensed to remove underground storage tanks, then tested the area to ensure nothing came out of the tank, and all of those samples came out clean,” he said.

On both occasions, Senter said the fire district “played by the numbers” and removed everything it was aware of from the ground, and that any additional cost will be borne by the former owners.

Holdcroft said he knew of no enforcement for the cleaning up on sites once they make the “confirmed” contaminated list.

“Property owners are usually anxious to get a site off of the list,” he said. “It’s a huge stigma, so most people go through the clean-up process on their own.”

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