EPA wants Navy to help fix former dump

Source: http://www.kitsapsun.com, october 15, 2014
By: Christopher Dunagan

In a clash of two federal agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency has ordered the Navy to take care of a hazardous garbage dump along Highway 3 about two miles southwest of Gorst.
The 5.7-acre dump, previously known as the Bremerton Auto Wrecking Landfill, has collapsed several times since 1997 and threatens to blow out Highway 3, possibly sending tons of garbage downstream into Gorst Creek, according to legal documents filed this week by the EPA.
The proposed solution involves a diversion of Gorst Creek around the landfill at an estimated cost of between $5 million and $7 million, according to EPA estimates.
The Navy seems to acknowledge that it disposed of waste in the landfill from 1969 to 1970, but Navy officials claim that the EPA has not established a connection between the Navy’s trash and chemical contamination in Gorst Creek.
Jeffry Rodin, EPA’s onscene coordinator, said the agency’s order has been issued under the federal Resource Recovery and Conservation Act, which addresses solid waste as well as chemicals.
“I think we can say that the Navy is by far the largest single generator of waste in that landfill,” Rodin said. “As we do with all sites, we did a thorough search for responsible parties … The Navy was the only viable responsible party.”
Since 2002, the EPA has conducted several studies at the site, including an engineering assessment that considered possible solutions. The Navy declined to participate, according to the EPA order.
The old garbage dump was constructed in the 1960s, when the property owner directed Gorst Creek through a 24-inch culvert at the bottom of a steep ravine and began dumping garbage and debris on top of the culvert. Kitsap County health officials twice rejected a landfill permit to allow dumping into the ravine.
Despite the lack of a permit, the Navy entered into a one-year contract starting on July 1, 1969. The Navy estimated that 125,000 cubic yards of waste would be dumped, including industrial trash; contaminated garbage; timber and logs; oils, tars and chemicals; and sawdust, according to EPA findings.
The Navy continued to honor the contract even after Kitsap County filed for a court injunction against the owner, Ames Auto Wrecking, the order states. The Navy’s position was that it was up to local authorities to enforce the solid-waste laws.
“The way the landfill was constructed was in violation of a number of county and city codes,” Rodin said. “That landfill was created to win the Navy contract. Would a reasonable federal agency have disposed of waste in an unpermitted landfill?”
About the time the Navy’s contract expired in 1970, the county issued a permit to operate the landfill, which accepted waste from local residents until 1989.
As it stands, the dump contains an estimated 150,000 cubic yards of waste and debris. Under the Navy contract, 93,000 cubic yards of waste was delivered — but not all of that ended up in the landfill, Rodin said. Metals may have been recycled, and paper and wood may have been burned, so the total volume of Navy waste remains unknown.
Hazardous wastes found at the site and downstream in Gorst Creek include cadmium, copper, lead, manganese, mercury, nickel, zinc, and polychlorinated biphenyls. Many items found in the dump, including lead-acid batteries, were marked as military-issue, according to EPA findings.
“Things were different back in the ’60s,” Rodin said. “As a general rule, a lot of industrial facilities did not segregate their waste,” so the result was mixture of materials, including industrial chemicals.
The culvert under the dump collapsed years ago, so the massive pile of debris creates a dam when it rains, said Grant Holdcroft, environmental health specialist with Kitsap Public Health District.
“Any time there is more than 2 1/2 inches of rain in a 24-hour period, we go out and inspect,” Holdcroft said. “We are constantly worried about it. Every fall, we can expect water to impound behind the landfill. If we get too much rain, it floods over the top and causes a washout.”
The largest debris landslides occurred in 1997 and 2002, causing flooding downstream and spreading wastes over a wide area. Government employees were called on to clean up the mess, which included hypodermic needles, Holdcroft said. Some of the garbage threatened to plug up a culvert under Highway 3, raising the risk of a road washout.
Creating a new stream channel for Gorst Creek would regain at least 700 feet of salmon and trout habitat buried by the garbage, according to Doris Small of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. In addition, salmon would no longer be blocked from nearly a mile of stream plus wetlands situated above the garbage dump.
“The concept of rerouting the stream is pretty amazing, but expensive,” Small said.
The EPA order requires the Navy to develop a detailed plan to construct the diversion channel and further stabilize the landfill unless the Navy offers an alternative plan. The order will become effective in 11 days unless the Navy requests a conference with EPA, according to a letter signed by Richard Albright, director of EPA’s Office of Cleanup.
Rodin said the EPA does not have authority to enforce the order against the Navy — another federal agency. But if the Navy ignores the order, it could become subject to federal lawsuits brought by any interested party.
The Navy received the order Wednesday and has yet to prepare a response, according to a written statement from Sheila Murray, spokeswoman for Navy Region Northwest.
“The Navy takes its environmental responsibilities seriously and works to address the risks posed by the Navy’s environmental liabilities,” the statement says. “The Navy is currently reviewing the order and will provide a response to EPA in accordance with the timelines laid out in the order.”

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