Kent city officials voice concerns about state's cleanup plan for Landsburg Mine hazardous waste site

Kent city officials continue to be concerned about how the state Department of Ecology (DOE) plans to handle hazardous waste in a trench above an old coal mine.

The trench, which is about three-fourths of a mile long and 20 to 60 feet deep, sits near the Clark Springs watershed that provides drinking water to the majority of Kent residents.

City staff updated the City Council's Public Works Committee on April 7 about the state's cleanup plans for the Landsburg Mine near Ravensdale, east of Kent.

The trench above the former underground coal mine became a dumping ground in the 1960s and 1970s for industrial waste. The site includes nearly 4,500 drums (55 gallons each) of paint, solvents, heavy metals and other wastes dumped there, according to city staff.

"Just knowing that it's our major water source and considering the proximity of where the Clark Springs are in relationship to the mine, it's a little concerning," City Councilwoman Brenda Fincher said at the meeting.

Fincher said it reminds her of the problems with the high-level radioactive waste at Hanford that the federal government is trying to keep from leaking into the Columbia River in Eastern Washington.

"It brings to mind for me the Hanford situation and the water at the Columbia (River)," Fincher said. "These are different contaminants but still need to be cleaned up."

The state DOE had an open house in October in Ravensdale for public comment about its draft cleanup action plan. The city of Kent submitted a large binder of material to the state. City officials have met with the DOE since the 1990s about the hazardous waste site.

"We have very strong concerns about the frequency of monitoring and how long they would have to monitor it as well as what they monitor for," said Kelly Peterson, city public works special projects manager.

Fincher asked Peterson once a state plan is in place how long before cleanup begins.

Peterson answered that's one of the issues the city has with the state because it doesn't have a plan to clean up the waste but to fill in the waste site with a clay barrier and then continue to monitor it.

State DOE officials said monitoring of wells near the mine hasn't shown any contaminants since the waste disposal was discovered more than 30 years ago.

Jerome Cruz, a hydrogeologist and DOE's site manager for the Landsburg Mine, said in an email that the state remains confident in its plan.

"Each component of the proposed cleanup - infilling, capping, groundwater monitoring, institutional controls, contingency plan and its infrastructure – protects groundwater and drinking water wells in the area," Cruz said. "The plan also would secure the site to protect people from direct exposure to hazardous substances in the trench. Ecology is working hard to get these safeguards in place without further delays while following the state’s regulatory process and requirements."

Tim LaPorte, city Public Works Director, and other city staff met with DOE officials in December and plan to continue talks because of concerns about whether the state's plan does enough. The council approved a $12,690 contract Tuesday with Aspect Consulting to help the city argue the technical aspects of the cleanup plan with the state.

"Ecology has taken a black box approach," LaPorte said about how the state is dealing with the hazardous waste. "They feel it's in a box and hasn't come out yet so leave it alone which we take exception to for a number of reasons. There is a lot of pervious ground around that. There really haven't been that many soils identified plus we know there are geological faults in the area so we could have a minor earthquake or even a major earthquake that hypothetically could cause a rupturing and the material in the black box to release."

Cruz said the plan makes sense.

"Often there is no feasible way to remove all contamination, but it can be safely contained so that it does not threaten public health or the environment," Cruz said. "This commonly involves sites where the contamination is capped under a building or parking lot. Any site where contamination is not taken down to state cleanup standards must undergo a periodic review, usually every five years. This would apply to the Landburg Mine site, in addition to the long-term elements of the cleanup plan."

Larry Altose, DOE spokesman, said seven monitoring wells were installed in 1994 and later four more wells were added. Part of the cleanup plan would add four more wells.

"The monitoring wells are situated to intercept groundwater that could contain contamination," Altose said in an email. "The proposed plan calls for four more early warning wells for a total of 15 at depths ranging from 13 to 700 feet."

A timeline of when additional steps will be taken by the DOE remains undetermined. Altose said DOE is responding to comments from the public hearing and might have to hold another hearing if changes are made to the cleanup plan.

It will cost an estimated $3.7 million for the state's cleanup plan. The costs would be covered through a legal agreement called a Consent Decree by the companies that were found to have dumped wastes. Those companies include Browning-Ferris Industries of Illinois; BNSF Railway; PACCAR Inc.; Plum Creek Timberlands; TOC Holdings Co.; and Palmer Coking Coal Co.

For more information, go to the state DOE website:

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