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Friday, April 30, 2010

Around the Sound: Enforcing the Rayonier Mill cleanup agreement

By Rebecca Lawson, Toxics Cleanup Program Section Manager

On March 25th, I signed a new cleanup agreement with Rayonier after working with my team to review and respond to public comments. In addition to the three-year timeline, one of the largest public concerns is Ecology’s ability to enforce the agreement.

After 10 years of investigations, partial cleanups, and waiting, the Port Angeles community wants to know whether Ecology can keep things moving forward now. They want to know what happens if Rayonier misses deadlines in the agreement, how extensions will be granted, and how disputes will be resolved. These issues are covered in our Responsiveness Summary, but I wanted to explain why I believe this agreement will work.

Clear expectations: This new agreement sets clear expectations and a timeline for the work Rayonier must do. Ecology is specific about what data gaps must be filled in the upland portion of the Study Area. This is critical because the new data will give us a more complete picture of where (and what type of) cleanup needs to happen.

Open communication: Ecology and Rayonier have established a good working relationship with frequent contact. Staff members from both are working collaboratively to avoid surprises when Rayonier submits a draft document, or when Ecology returns comments. We plan to meet with Rayonier about each deliverable and have open dialogue about next steps.

Clear processes: To address public concerns, yes, Rayonier must request schedule extensions in a timely manner. This means letting Ecology know at least 21 days in advance. Also, the dispute resolution process may not be used to delay work unless Ecology agrees to an extension. With the good relationship between the project coordinators, I expect issues to be resolved at that level. If not, dispute resolution goes straight to me, and includes consultation with the Attorney General’s Office.

Enforcement tools: So what teeth does this agreement have? Ecology has a number of enforcement tools, but ultimately we can take over the work and recover costs from Rayonier if the process stalls. This would allow us to keep this high priority cleanup moving forward.

It’s important to know that Ecology and Rayonier have committed to working cooperatively. I hope to never have to invoke Ecology’s enforcement tools, but I want the community to know that cleanup is our priority and we will do what’s needed to see this agreement through.



Monday, April 19, 2010

Earth Day and Ecology Turn 40!



As Earth Day prepares to celebrate its 40th birthday this year it is important to note that “green” is the new black. It has never been so easy to be “green”. Whether you are an individual, business, school, or government we can connect you with resources you need to become a green leader in Washington.

Here at Ecology we have been striving to integrate environmentally friendly practices in our everyday work. Thanks to our Sustainability Team you can find our eco-actions such as composting, environmentally preferred purchasing, green building and more here.

These eco-actions are no small task, but for this year’s 40th Earth Day Ecology has decided to step it up a notch. You see, Ecology is also turning 40. Now that we are entering our 40’s we have decided that a lower-carbon diet is the best way to healthier Washington. Our agency will be setting the example for a carbon-neutral government.

Rest assured we haven’t been slacking all these years. Ecology is already in the forefront of reducing the state’s carbon footprint.
· We’ve long made it a priority to operate energy-efficient buildings.
· We’ve been early users of hybrid vehicles and reduced our fuel consumption.
· We’ve linked our field offices and headquarters buildings with video conferencing that reduces travel costs and road time.
· We’re one of two agencies (Department of Transportation is the other) that report our carbon emissions to the Climate Registry.

Now, we’re taking the next steps, finding new opportunities to reduce costs and our carbon footprint. We will learn more about what works, and what doesn’t. We’ll take a hard look at how we care for our facilities, our energy use, and how we move around. What we learn, we will share with other public agencies, businesses, and homeowners so they, too, can be part of the solution.

Join us in lowering your carbon diet and celebrating 40 years of environmental awareness and action.

Tell us what you are doing to commemorate 40 years of Earth Day. Is your community, family, or workplace hosting a celebration?
See what's happening around Washington on our Earth Day 2010 Events Page.
Watch our Director's message on our EcologyWA YouTube Channel.
Follow us on Twitter @Ecologywa for some great #EarthDay tips!


Monday, April 12, 2010

Jefferson County’s shoreline update in state review

Jefferson County approved its new comprehensive Shoreline Master Program update and now it is up to us at Ecology to determine if it meets state law. Our shoreline experts are reviewing the county’s program, and we are asking you — the public — to provide your comments April 12 through May 11, 2010.

We’re also coming to Port Townsend April 20 to answer questions in an open house format. We’ll be at the Fort Worden Commons from 5 to 7 p.m. Immediately afterwards, we’ll transition to a public hearing where you can formally provide your comments on the county’s shoreline program.

Why update the shoreline program?

The Jefferson County shoreline program hasn’t had significant changes since 1989. But Jefferson County’s shorelines have changed since that time — in the form of development and restoration. One reason to update the county’s program is to incorporate these changes and plan for appropriate future restoration, public access and development. The new program is intended to do just that — assessing what the shoreline is like today and looking forward to the future.

In 1995, the state Legislature recognized that in the face of significant population growth, existing shoreline policies and regulations were inadequate to prevent piecemeal and uncoordinated shoreline use and development, save endangered salmon and restore Puget Sound. They directed Ecology to develop new guidelines for the shoreline update process. However, this was easier directed than done.

It took until 2003 — after years of intense stakeholder work and a lawsuit — for Ecology to adopt new guidelines. What we have today — which is what guided the county through its update — is the direct result of a negotiated settlement between building and business interests, agriculture representatives, associations of counties and cities and environmental advocates. That same year, the Legislature directed Ecology to work with cities and counties to update their shoreline programs by Dec. 2014.

What we’re hearing from the public

You may have questions about what Jefferson County’s shoreline program is or will do. I want to share with you a few of the questions we’ve heard and offer some responses.

Question: Do the new regulations make many shoreline homes non-conforming to current regulations?
Response: Any changes to the shoreline program only apply to new development. If your house was legally built, you will not be affected by new regulations. Your house is considered “grandfathered.” If you submit a county application to redevelop or further develop your property, then those changes would be reviewed in light of the new regulations.

Question: If my house burns down, can I rebuild it in the same location?
Response: A “grandfathered” house that burns down can be re-built in the same footprint and, with certain provisions, can even be expanded. There are certain exceptions that may apply to a house that was originally built in an unsafe or dangerous location.

Question: Do the new regulations block a property owner from protecting their property from shoreline erosion?
Response: The County’s updated shoreline program is designed to prevent the need for new armoring. But if a property owner clearly shows a need, they can use an approach that protects their property as long as it doesn’t endanger other properties or the values of healthy shoreline for others. You can protect your property.

As residents of Washington, all of us have a vested interest in managing and protecting our shorelines, statewide and in our local communities. We may have diverse opinions about the best ways to protect them, but we can appreciate what our shorelines provide: recreation, water access, amazing views, business and economic opportunities to name a few.

I invite you to weigh in during this public comment period and take some time to learn about the citizen role in shaping shoreline master programs. Looking forward to seeing you April 20th at the Fort Worden Commons.

Friday, April 9, 2010

What’s the Spokane TMDL dispute resolution process all about?

Many have heard or read that a “dispute resolution process” is under way on several different issues involving the Department of Ecology’s (Ecology) water quality improvement plan for the Spokane River. The Spokane River/Lake Spokane Dissolved Oxygen Water Quality Improvement Plan, often called the total maximum daily load (TMDL) report, will guide work toward bringing the Spokane River into compliance with water quality standards for dissolved oxygen.

Dispute resolution is an internal process that Ecology’s Water Quality Program uses to review issues that were not resolved during the TMDL development process. The dispute resolution process is initiated after all other attempts to resolve the issue have failed. It is not a formal judicial process like an appeal.

Dispute resolution panel members evaluate information presented by the disputing parties and the responding Ecology representatives, along with written comments by other affected parties. Panel members weigh the evidence presented to them and make a recommendation to the Ecology director, who has the final decision making authority.

Ecology worked for nearly 12 years on the river’s water quality improvement plan with local governments, community leaders, public works professionals, tribes, environmental organizations and more. On Feb. 12, Ecology submitted the plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for approval.

The standard practice for developing TMDLs involves partnership between a local community and Ecology staff members. A TMDL study uses peer-reviewed science to determine how best to clean up water pollution problems, and many times the answers are complex and could have multiple alternatives. This can sometimes lead to disagreements.

But as Ecology’s Water Quality Program Manager Kelly Susewind said, “This plan is not perfect. The river has a big pollution problem. Striving for perfection only creates more delays to cleaning up the river. We think our plan is a monumental step toward cleaning up the river.”

On February 26, 2010 Ecology received three letters from Spokane River Dissolved Oxygen TMDL stakeholders asking Ecology to initiate dispute resolution. Ecology’s Water Quality Program has a policy that spells out how the process works. Ecology set up a meeting on April 5, 2010, where the disputing parties presented their evidence and Ecology staff responded.

Stakeholders expressed concerns about the computer model that helped set discharge limits. They expressed concerns about discharge limitations in Idaho and the equity between Idaho and Washington. They also worried about financial impacts of the limitations.

Kelly Susewind pointed out that, “This is not a Washington vs. Idaho thing. There are dischargers across the country that are meeting these kinds of limits.”

These are the overall issues that the panel is looking at during dispute resolution. “This is an honest review by experts in the field who were not involved in the decisions made in the water quality improvement plan,” said Susewind. “They are people who can look at these disputes with fresh eyes and independent minds.”

The panel members were named by the Ecology director. By policy, the panel may consist of (actual names are included):
· Water Quality Program section manager from a different Ecology regional office. (Kevin Fitzpatrick, Northwest Regional Office)
· An Ecology Environmental Assessment Program section manager. (Will Kendra)
· External representative familiar with TMDLs but not involved in the dispute. (Megan White, P.E., Department of Transportation)
· Ecology director’s designee. (Deputy Director Polly Zehm)
· Ecology expert in the subject area of the dispute, but not involved in the specific issue. (Andrew Kolosseus, Water Quality Program, HQ)

Ecology has made every effort to be transparent throughout this dispute process and has posted the dispute resolution correspondence and related information
on the website.

The deadline for the Ecology director’s decision on the dispute outcomes is May 5. We plan to notify all dispute participants of the outcomes and we plan to post decision on this website. TVW will make the the oral presentation videos available on their website and a link will be posted on the dispute resolution website as soon as it is available.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Around the Sound: Rayonier completes first two tasks ahead of schedule

The first of two tasks under a new cleanup agreement have come in ahead of schedule. Last Friday, Rayonier submitted its draft Work Plan, 37 days early. On March 17, 2010, Ecology received a draft table of contents for the Marine Data Summary report – also early.

The work plan is for collecting data on the upland portion (mill property) of the Study Area. The sampling will help Rayonier and Ecology understand the extent of contamination in that area, and begin planning for cleanup.

The ball is now in our court to get comments on both documents back to Rayonier.


Monday, April 5, 2010

UPDATE: Tug, barge safely reach Port Angeles

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager

The tug Corpus Christi and barge Petrochem Supplier are safely moored at Port Angeles after a few days of uncertainty off the coasts of Washington and Oregon.

They arrived at about 3 a.m. today (Monday, April 5).

The Hunter, the state-funded emergency response tug, accompanied the tug and barge from near the Columbia River to Neah Bay. That’s where another tug took over for the remainder of the voyage to Port Angeles.

For the latest news and background on this incident, see the web page that Ecology established.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

UPDATE: State's emergency response tug escorting tug and barge to Port Angeles

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager

The state-funded emergency response tug Hunter is escorting a tug and fully loaded petroleum barge today (Sunday, April 4) to Port Angeles for inspection and possible repairs.

The Hunter met up with the tug Corpus Christi at about 10:30 p.m. Saturday about 40 miles southwest of the Columbia River entrance. The Hunter stood by through the night in case the articulated tug and barge (ATB) needed assistance. This morning, because of continued rough bar conditions on the Columbia River and a forecast for conditions to worsen, tug and barge owner U.S. Shipping Corp. decided to move the vessels north to Port Angeles for repairs.

The Coast Guard and Ecology have agreed with the change in plans. The Hunter is under contract to U.S. Shipping Corp. for the voyage.

On Friday afternoon, Ecology was notified that the connection between the tug Corpus Christi and barge Petrochem Supplier began overheating. The ATB had experienced problems after heading south from Puget Sound with a full load of oil bound for California. The ATB turned back north, intending to enter the Columbia River for repairs.

Heavy seas and periodic high winds prevented the ATB from safely entering the river. As a precautionary measure, the Coast Guard ordered the ATB to remain offshore of the Columbia River bar to wait out the weather. However, weather conditions are not expected to improve enough to allow the ATB to safely cross the bar for several days.

The barge is loaded with about 150,000 barrels of oil (6.3 million gallons) of heavy vacuum gas oil. Vacuum gas oil is a heavy residual oil from the petroleum refining process. It behaves like a heavy persistent fuel oil if spilled.

The ATB is proceeding to Port Angeles for inspection and repairs at normal sea speed for weather conditions. Appropriate industry technical experts, along with Coast Guard and Ecology vessel inspectors, will participate in the inspection. Final plans will be developed by the company and approved by the Coast Guard.

The Corpus Christi is a modern (delivered 2009) twin screw-twin rudder tug operating in an articulated tug barge arrangement. The powerful tug powers and steers the barge from the stern. The tug’s crew has reported no injuries or pollution. The company and Coast Guard are taking all necessary precautions for a safe resolution to the situation.

The vessels are expected to arrive in Port Angeles early Monday. The Hunter will switch roles with another Crowley Maritime tug, the Valor, as the Corpus Christi passes Neah Bay this evening.

Ecology maritime experts and responders will continue to work closely with the Coast Guard, the company and other partners to closely monitor the situation. They will ensure proper precautions are taken with the goal of protecting the crew and the state’s natural and economic resources.

For updates, check the web page that Ecology established for this incident.

The tug Hunter is stationed at Neah Bay year-round to respond to shipping incidents that pose a pollution threat to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Washington’s outer coast. Crowley Maritime holds the emergency response tug contract with Ecology through June 30, 2010. Funding responsibility for the Neah Bay tug will shift from the state to the maritime industry beginning July 1, 2010.

Since 1999, this is the 45th time a publicly funded Neah Bay response tug has stood by or assisted vessels. During 11 of the responses, the tug attached a towline to a disabled vessel and brought it under tow as a safety precaution.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Ecology dispatches emergency response tug

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager

Ecology dispatched the state-funded emergency response tug Hunter stationed at Neah Bay at 10 a.m. today (Saturday, April 3). The Hunter was sent to stand by and possibly assist a tug and fully loaded petroleum barge experiencing difficulties roughly 30 miles off the mouth of the Columbia River.

The Hunter is expected to arrive on scene at about 9 tonight. Ecology responders do not believe there is an imminent threat, but they will continue to work closely with the Coast Guard, the company, the state of Oregon, and other partners to closely monitor the situation. They will ensure proper precautions are taken with the goal of protecting the state’s natural and economic resources from the risk of a large oil spill.

On Friday afternoon, Ecology was notified that the connection between the tug Corpus Christi and barge Petrochem Supplier began overheating when wave-caused flooding knocked out the tug’s emergency generator and affected an important lubricating system for the vessels’ connecting system. The ATB had experienced problems after heading south from Puget Sound with a full load of oil bound for California. The ATB turned back north, intending to enter the Columbia River for repairs. However, the Columbia River Pilots determined that the storm was too severe to cross the river bar.

Shortly before noon today, the U.S. Coast Guard issued a Captain of the Port order that, among other things, directed the tug and barge operator to obtain towing assistance prior to attempting to crossing the river entrance. By mid-afternoon, the owner of the articulated tug and oil barge (ATB) had assumed responsibility for the cost of the Hunter’s deployment.

U.S. Shipping Corp. owns the barge and tug. The barge is loaded with about 150,000 barrels of oil (6.3 million gallons) of heavy vacuum gas oil. Vacuum gas oil is typically a heavy residue from the refining process. It tends to be dark colored, and behaves like a heavy persistent fuel oil if spilled.

The damaged ATB is operating in heavy seas and experiencing periodic high winds as a result of the large coastal storm. As a precautionary measure, the Coast Guard has ordered the ATB to remain at least 40 miles offshore of the Columbia River bar to wait out the weather. Once the weather improves, it is anticipated the ATB will cross the bar and transit to Astoria, Ore. However, the weather may not permit such transit for a few more days.

The vessel crew is continuing to use water to cool the overheating attachment system between the barge and tug.

For updates, check the web page that Ecology established for this incident.

Sometime this evening, Crowley Maritime will move another tug to Neah Bay to ensure the state maintains this emergency safety net while the Hunter is engaged.

The tug Hunter is stationed at Neah Bay year-round to respond to shipping incidents that pose a pollution threat to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Washington’s outer coast. Crowley Maritime holds the emergency response tug contract with Ecology through June 30, 2010. Funding responsibility for the Neah Bay tug will shift from the state to the maritime industry beginning July 1, 2010.

Since 1999, a publicly funded Neah Bay response tug has stood by or assisted 44 vessels, either completely disabled or with reduced maneuvering ability. During 11 of the responses, the tug attached a towline to the disabled vessel and brought it under tow as a safety precaution.