Tainted soil at retail site raises concerns

March 23, 2009

By Warren Kagarise

City and state Department of Ecology inspectors intervened in early March after workers unearthed old tires and a leaky metal drum at a retail center construction site. Workers also took steps to prevent groundwater contamination.

City Public Works Engineering Director Bob Brock said city and ecology department officials took precautions because the debris was uncovered near a well that serves the Overdale neighborhood. Brock said no issues had arisen in relation to groundwater contamination. As a standard procedure, ecology department investigators will work to determine whether the contamination affected groundwater.

“You want to take extra steps to preclude anything from happening,” Brock said.

Because the project is located within the city’s Critical Aquifer Recharge Area, the site is subject to city rules meant to safeguard groundwater. Officials want soil contamination issues to be addressed before the retail center is completed and the site is paved, city Surface Water Engineer Valerie Monsey wrote in an e-mail.

Inspectors were called to address soil contamination at the Overlake Center construction site twice in early March. The site, once owned by Puget Sound Energy, encompasses about 13 acres at 22405 S.E. 56th St., near the intersection of East Lake Sammamish Parkway and Southeast Black Nugget Road.

A contractor laying a sewer line at the site March 2 discovered an area with buried debris and tires. A city inspector said the debris was accompanied by a strong petroleum odor, according to a Department of Ecology report. The contaminated soil was isolated from the construction site and covered with plastic sheeting.

The developer hired a consultant to take samples after the contamination was discovered.

A city inspector was called to the site March 11 after a worker operating a piece of construction equipment punctured a metal drum while excavating a trench, according to a Department of Ecology report. A Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District inspector at the site said water in the trench turned white when the contents of the drum leaked. The inspector said he briefly smelled a strong, unknown odor, which he said could be a cleaning product, the report said.

Workers removed the drum from the trench and covered it with soil, according to a Department of Ecology report. When city inspectors arrived, they noticed a sheen on water in the trench, but did not smell anything unusual, according to the report.

Initial tests near the excavated drum showed high levels of solvents and other hazardous chemicals, Monsey wrote. Follow-up tests in the trench where the drum was found showed much lower levels of hazardous chemicals. Additional material was removed from the trench and more tests were conducted. No solvents or other hazardous chemicals were detected during those tests, Monsey wrote. Instead, the tests discovered a very low level of diesel fuel.

“This small amount is well below the level that would be a concern,” Monsey wrote. “The contaminated soil that has been excavated has been contained and will be properly disposed of.”

When PSE owned the land, the electricity provider registered the site as a hazardous waste facility. Several industrial businesses have occupied the site as well.

Overlake Medical Center spokeswoman Karen Johnson said hospital officials were not aware of the site’s history or the recent contamination.

The developer, OB Frank Properties, is working with city and Department of Ecology officials to remove debris and clean up the contaminated soil. Dale Frank Jr., listed in city documents as the property owner, could not be reached for comment.

“We have inspected the site and reviewed the steps taken so far,” Department of Ecology spokesman Larry Altose wrote in an e-mail. “The contaminated material is properly isolated and secure.”

Within 90 days, the agency’s Toxics Cleanup Program will conduct an investigation of the contaminated site. The findings could lead to the ecology department placing the site on a list of hazardous sites, a list of confirmed and suspected contaminated sites or both lists.

In the meantime, however, the property owner may proceed with an independent cleanup without waiting for the state investigation. The property owner may submit a request, backed by data, for the ecology department to determine whether the site requires further cleanup.

The owner or consultant provided the ecology department with data from soil samples taken at the site, Altose wrote.

Plans for Overlake Center call for seven buildings and about 115,000 square feet for tenants. Overlake Medical Center Issaquah will be the main tenant of the completed project. Other tenants will include Bartell Drugs and 24 Hour Fitness.

“So far, it doesn’t affect any of our timelines,” Johnson said.

Cleanup could slow construction, Brock said. In November, the medical center announced it would move into the new development by summer.

“Any delay now is going to cost them time on the other end,” Brock said.

Reach Reporter Warren Kagarise at 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

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