Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Earth ... pass it on: Cleaning Up

Cleaning Up — It's about 'environment, economy, community'

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

We’ve learned a lot about the power of cleanup since the first Earth Day in 1970 and since our Toxics Cleanup Program was born in 1989. Helping to clean up roughly 6,000 contaminated sites all over the state provides plenty of lessons.

The old Scott Paper mill, shown in this 1947 photo, dominated a large part of the Anacortes shoreline for decades.

Today, after several cleanup actions, it’s a thriving mix of public space, education-focused centers and commercial activity.
Cleanup does more than improve and protect the environment. It protects people from health risks. It creates short-term jobs and long-term opportunities. And all of that together improves the quality of life in our communities.

Let’s call this the “environment, economy, community” relationship.

From toxic … to terrific

Toxic substances from historical industrial activities, accidental spills or poor past practices contaminate sites in many Washington communities. Often, the damage happened decades ago, and the sites sat unused and unchanged.

Ecology doesn’t have the blanket authority or resources to simply decide to clean up a site without the owner’s cooperation and, often, financial participation. After all, the bottom-line principal of our cleanup work is “the polluter pays.”

Many times, a change in a site’s ownership or favorable economic conditions have spurred the cleanup and redevelopment of these properties. And that’s when the “environment, economy, community” relationship kicks into high gear.

Here are just a few examples of how the health of our environment, our economy and our communities thrive together:

A place on the water

In Anacortes, the old Scott Paper mill dominated the shore of Fidalgo Bay. Eventually, the operations closed, and the site was used for other industrial purposes. Those, too, stopped later.

Over the years, sections of the site were cleaned up and revived. Now it’s home to a scenic waterfront park and a mix of commercial and education-focused operations. Those include the local Educational Service District and the Northwest Center of Excellence for Marine Manufacturing and Technology.

New life for old land

In two Central Washington communities, local port districts are working with us to revitalize old industrial sites so they can create new economic opportunities.

The Port of Chelan County is working to clean up the old Cashmere Mill site. And the Port of Sunnyside is focusing on the former home of a Carnation milk-processing plant.

A building boom in Seattle

In Seattle’s South Lake Union area, work at several sites is in progress as sites are cleaned up to make way for new businesses and housing. This recent KING 5 news segment does a good job of telling the story.

Industrial past, bright future

Ecology, along with local and federal partners, continues to help remake Tacoma – from the waters and shores of Commencement Bay to land impacted by widespread fallout within the Tacoma Smelter Plume. And in other areas of the city, such as downtown, cleanup has led to new development and vibrancy.

Don’t just take our word for it

Of course, it’s easy for us to say these things. But we’re not the only ones – just listen to what people in Spokane, Palouse and other places say about some of the ways we’ve helped them.

The “environment, economy, community” relationship – it makes a difference for all of us.

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