Superfund sites are a high priority for the Environmental Protection Agency under Administrator Scott Pruitt. He has put 21 of them on a Redevelopment Focus List, to accelerate cleanup. Two of those are in Washington and one is in the Puget Sound region, in Renton.
Quendall Terminals is the largest undeveloped waterfront parcel left on Lake Washington. It’s 22 acres on the southeastern shore, covered with blackberry bushes and alders, just south of the Seahawks training facility and just off Exit 7 of I-405.
It was raining hard when I went there to meet Robert Cugini, one of the current property owners. He says the soil is full of toxic chemicals from more than 50 years of industrial use that started more than a century ago.
“The coal tar that was generated at Gasworks Park was brought to this site and refined into creosote, rooftars and asphalts,” said Cugini, whose family purchased the site about 50 years ago, after the polluting industries had ceased, but before laws governing the cleanup kicked in.
Cugini worked at the sawmill alongside the site after college, then went on to join the family company, which he says used it as a log storage facility until about 1998. The property has been vacant ever since. It was added to the federal Superfund list in 2006.
Superfund sites are places that have been contaminated by hazardous waste and identified by the EPA for cleanup.
Cugini agrees the land is extremely polluted and says he would not let children play in the mud here. The documents that detail the cleanup needs fill a couple of offices, he says. On a rainy day like this one, he says runoff is an issue. Surface water can pollute the lake and the groundwater. It needs to be cleaned up.
Cost estimates on the cleanup range from $20 million to more than $100 million. The owners paid for the studies to show that. Now they’re seeking a developer to help pay for the cleanup and get the property moving again.
Cugini’s company has worked with the City of Renton to get a redevelopment plan in place, for up to 10 apartment buildings, plus a waterfront promenade and park. Renderings convey the appeal, with amenities that would include a public park, wildlife buffers and public trail alongside the property. That plan was approved last June. But because it’s a Superfund site, the ball is in the EPA’s court now.
“I can’t go any further until EPA decides what the cleanup is going to be,” Cugini said, adding that the agency’s decision will determine whether it’s attractive enough to potential developers that cleanup in fact happens.
“I would hope that the EPA would choose a remedy that could actually be done, so we don’t wait another 40 years to see the property redeveloped.”
Cugini says the inclusion of Quendall Terminals on Scott Pruitt’s new Superfund Redevelopment Focus List came as an encouraging sign. It doesn’t change any regulations, but it should mean more attention and faster decisions from the EPA.
Still, some wonder how the agency can actually pull this off without cutting corners. Kara Cook-Schultz is Toxics Director for the Washington Public Interest Research Group. She notes that Administrator Pruitt is making revitalization of the Superfund program a priority at the same time that he aims to cut its budget by about 25 percent.
“My concern is that we continue to clean up these sites in a thoughtful way, following all the regulations and that we don’t speed through the necessary monitoring that it takes, to make sure these sites are cleaned up before we put some apartment buildings on top of them,” Cook-Schultz said.
She says the public needs to pay close attention, to ensure that responsible parties pay for the cleanups and that all the required monitoring takes place.
The EPA is expected to issue a decision on the cleanup plan for Renton’s Quendall Terminals site by the end of this year. Public hearings would take place after that, with a final plan coming out in early 2019.
Washington State has one other Superfund site on the focus list: Frontier Hard Chrome, in Vancouver.