Chief says soil cleanup Karcher’s problem

South Kitsap Fire and Rescue Chief Wayne Senter says he is not sure yet how a contaminated section of dirt near the fire district’s headquarters will be cleaned up, but he knows who will pay for it — Karcher Creek Sewer District.

Senter said there is no question the sewer district owned the property on Fircrest Drive when fuel storage tanks were removed several years ago, and therefore Karcher Creek is responsible for cleaning the hazardous waste the Kitsap County Health District now claims was left behind.

An inspection earlier this year by the health district — which led to the property at 1974 Fircrest Drive being confirmed by the Department of Ecology 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 although the property only received a negative score in one of five categories — potential impact on human health from affected groundwater — Holdcroft said it was a high enough amount for the site to be ranked at the second-to-worst level, a two out of five.

Holdcroft said while the site was added to the state DOE’s list of “suspected” contaminated sites 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 early this year.

Senter said as soon as he learned the fire district’s property was listed as contaminated, he hired a consultant to review the cleanup reports.

“It appears that the (DOE) is not accepting the work that was done by that contractor,” he said, explaining that although the district will not be paying for the cleanup, he then had two estimates prepared, and he presented both to Karcher Creek General Manager Dick Fitzwater.

“I asked how much it would cost to do testing to verify if the soil was still contaminated or not, because that is in question, and how much it would cost to just dig it up, haul it out, pave it over and be done with it,” Senter said.

The fire district was given an estimate of $6,000 for testing costs, while the price for removing the dirt in question was double that at $12,000.

Senter said he presented both estimates to Fitzwater, who will make the ultimate decision.

“There is no dispute that they are going to pay, but it will take them a while to sort out what to do,” Senter said. “In my mind, if the cost to do the testing alone is $6,000, it would be better to spend a little bit more money and resolve it, but my understanding is they are considering the testing option.”

Fitzwater could not be reached for comment.

Holdcroft said the site was only recently added to the DOE list of “confirmed” contaminated sites because it was at the bottom of a list of sites needing inspection due to it not being considered “really egregious.”

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.

Senter said he had not been contacted by either the state or county regarding the site’s latest listing, 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 said, “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.

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