The Next Chapter will begin soon on the Cleanup of the EPA Superfund site on Wyckoff Point, next to Pritchard Park

Wycoff PointWe don’t often associate Bainbridge Island with words like “pollution” or “contamination”. But on the southeast corner of otherwise pristine Eagle Harbor sits one of the State’s, if not the country’s, largest Superfund sites – Wyckoff Point.

If you were living on the island – and perhaps commuting to Seattle – some 30-plus years ago, you probably remember the 100-foot-tall smokestack, the dock jutting out into the water, and the remains of the Wyckoff Company Creosote plant still intact and still operating on the sand spit.

It was a living, breathing testament to our industrial past that also once included the world’s biggest sawmill in the late 19th Century at Port Blakely, and a minesweeper manufacturing plant during World War II, located near the site of the present-day Bainbridge Ferry Terminal.

Plant site in 1995 - image credit WikipediaThe history of Wyckoff is both fascinating and tragic. Around 1904, a wood preservation treatment operation began there, and over the next three decades the plant steadily grew, producing Creosoted timber for railroad trestles, bridges, tunnel shoring and railroad ties.

In its heyday, the Eagle Harbor operation was one of the largest producers of treated wood products in the United States. Their products were shipped to various points around the globe – including Central America, where some wood from the Bainbridge plant was used in the construction of the Panama Canal. Elsewhere, in places like San Francisco and Los Angeles, the treated wood was purchased and used in building wharfs and flood-control channels. The work force at the plant eventually exceeded 100 employees and those workers formed a union shop in 1937.

Meantime, the company town of Creosote grew up alongside the wood preservation operation, boasting a general store, post office, electric generating system (the first on the island), a domestic water supply, a street system, an excursion steam dock, a ferry dock, a dance hall, public parks and a bathing beach. While the historic buildings have long since been removed, some foundation artifacts and ornamental plants installed by residents of Creosote still remain.

Things began to change at the manufacturing setting in 1947 when Walter L. Wyckoff acquired the facilities, and introduced the use of Pentachlorophenol into the pressure-treatment of logs and timbers. Excess chemicals were drained from eight retorts (huge pressure chambers) directly into the soil that seeped deep into the ground, eventually contaminating Eagle Harbor and nearby beaches. (Pentachlorophenol is extremely toxic to humans, according to scientists. Acute inhalation exposures in humans have resulted in neurological, blood, and liver effects, as well as eye irritation).

The Wyckoff Point, particularly an eight-acre spit where the Creosote plant operated for 80 years, is the focus of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund cleanup operation. Approximately one million gallons of contaminants remain underground at the site. The cleanup, which began in the mid-to-late 1980s, includes an array of Creosote extraction and the use of groundwater pumping wells.

It was named a Superfund site in 1987, not long after island residents and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration became increasingly concerned about the effects of Creosote contamination on local bottom fish that were found to have cancerous lesions.

Going even further back, the severity of pollution from the Wyckoff wood treatment plant was first documented in the 1970s by state and federal agencies, but it was only when property values started to drop in the early 1980s that the Bainbridge community became more involved. In 1984, the Kitsap County Health District banned fishing in Eagle Harbor, where it continues to be prohibited, due to environmental pollution and health concerns.

Wycoff Point - Pritchard ParkOver the years, the EPA has worked to clean up the site following the closure of the plant in 1988 and the subsequent disassembly of the buildings and chemical tanks, the removal of formidable 100-foot-tall smokestack, along with the huge dock that once soared out into Eagle Harbor.

Meantime, local residents didn’t exactly sit on their hands. They wanted to do something with the beautiful uplands that surrounds the Superfund site. Around 2003, a group of locals, working in concert with the Bainbridge Island Land Trust, acquired the property in and around the eight-acre Superfund site and converted it into the nearly 50-acre Pritchard Park and the adjacent Japanese American Exclusion Memorial.

Since 2010, the EPA has been exploring new methods to remove the contamination from Wyckoff Point. The latest efforts – expected to begin in earnest early next year – will involve multiple phases of new cleanup efforts that will likely impact the Bainbridge community on some level.

According to the EPA, the two areas remaining to be cleaned up are the beaches around the point and the former wood treatment operations area. Cleaning the beaches will include removal of contaminated sediments and capping remaining contamination.

Wycoff PointCleanup will begin with demolition of the former thermal pilot test system and replacement of groundwater wells. Future activities include replacing the perimeter sheet pile wall, in-situ soil stabilization (ISS), and soil capping, the EPA noted in a fact sheet.

Further, existing groundwater wells will be decommissioned and new wells will be installed to optimize space on the site for construction equipment. The old thermal pilot test system will be demolished to make room for the soil cleanup. A portion of the “sheet pile” wall around the perimeter of the former Wyckoff facility will be part of the cleanup remedy, authorities said, and the existing perimeter sheet pile wall will be replaced with a reinforced concrete wall.

Heavily contaminated sediment will be dredged and taken to an offsite disposal facility. The residual sediment will be capped with material designed to prevent contamination from coming to the surface, the EPA explained.

Heavily contaminated upland soils and groundwater will be treated with soil/cement. Additional improvements include so-called “outfall replacement” storm water management, and a vegetated soil cap.

Aerial view of Wyckoff Eagle Harbor - image credit EPA.govWell field replacement and thermal pilot test demolition construction are expected to begin at an unspecified date early next year. EPA officials said potential impacts to the community during these activities might include:

  • Beach access: For public safety, portions of the beaches may be closed during certain stages of construction. Signs and barricades will be placed to indicate when beaches are closed.
  • Noise: In general, work will be performed consistent with the City of Bainbridge Island noise regulations. Contractors will take steps to reduce overall noise as much as possible.
  • Roadways: Access to Creosote Place NE may be restricted at times due to construction traffic.

The perimeter wall replacement is expected to begin in 2025, the EPA said. Access to Pritchard Park and the adjacent Japanese Memorial should not be affected by the EPAs work.

Source Material: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Wikipedia and our own reporting.

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