There’s a lot happening at the former Reynolds smelter site in Cowlitz County’s industrial area this autumn. Some of it will be tangible, boots-on-the-ground work, but there’s also a tremendous amount going on behind the scenes. Although cleanup of the site and redevelopment are on separate regulatory paths, parallel progress is being made.
First an overview of what’s up with the site cleanup, then an outline of what’s happening with environmental reviews related to coal export proposed by Millennium Bulk Terminals – Longview.
Cleanup action plan
For almost three-quarters of a century, the site of the former Reynolds Metals Reduction Plant in Longview has hosted intense industrial activity. For 70 years, this property was an active aluminum smelter and continued to receive bulk shipments of alumina after the smelter closed in 2001. The ore continued on to a Wenatchee smelter.
For the past decade, most of activity at the site has centered on understanding and developing options for cleaning up the chemical contamination and waste byproducts left behind by the operations of the first 70 years. While working alongside the local community, property owners and Cowlitz County, we have carried out a regulatory oversight role ensuring future cleanup will meet strict legal standards that protect people and the environment.
Rigorous studies and sampling of the site identified soils with elevated levels of fluoride, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and total petroleum hydrocarbons. Testing's shown that the shallow groundwater at the site contains fluoride and PAHs.
The importance of cleaning up this site to the local community is reflected by the robust public engagement during the cleanup process. This includes local leaders, community members, tribal governments, the property owner Northwest Alloys, Inc., and Millennium, which leases the property. As a result, this complex cleanup is well-informed and comprehensive, as outlined in the draft Cleanup Action Plan, which Ecology expects to finalize later this year.
A thorough cleanup of this site is a high priority for everyone. Northwest Alloys, Inc., and Millennium are responsible for funding the cleanup. Once the final Cleanup Action Plan is issued and a legal Consent Decree is signed, cleanup can begin.
Columbia River Sediment Dredging
While investigating the site, Ecology found contamination in nearby Columbia River sediments. A small area of sediment is contaminated with PAHs.
In November, this pocket of pollution is scheduled to be dredged and sent to a landfill licensed to accept contaminated sediments. More information about the early dredging action is outlined in an approved interim cleanup work plan.
Clean, sandy backfill will replace the material that is removed.
Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview Environmental Review
Separate and distinct from the site cleanup, Millennium is proposing to build and operate a coal export terminal on a portion of the site. Before any permit decisions can be made, Cowlitz County, Ecology and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must complete federal and local environmental studies.
The federal study is led by the Army Corps of Engineers and follows the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The local study is being co-led by Cowlitz County and Ecology and follows the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). The two studies are on different timelines and both are required before local, state and federal permit decisions can be made.
Final SEPA EIS planned for Spring
The SEPA final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is a much-anticipated project milestone. After three public hearings that drew hundreds of people and an unprecedented 267,000 public comments, the draft study requires significant additional work before issuing it in a final form.
Cowlitz County and Ecology announced that they plan to release the final SEPA EIS on April 29, 2017, four months ahead of schedule.
NEPA Draft EIS Out for Public Review
On Sept. 30, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued its draft EIS for the federal review required by NEPA. The 60-day public comment period on the federal draft study continues until Nov. 29. More information is available at the Millennium Bulk Terminals NEPA Draft EIS webpage.
There are also public comment periods for two federal permits related to the proposed coal export terminal that continue through Nov. 29. Read the joint public notice.
Cleaning up legacy pollution from large industrial sites is a big deal for any Washington community. For the Longview-Kelso region, the cleanup and redevelopment of the old Reynolds smelter offers important economic opportunities, and a chance to reclaim a contaminated site.
Cowlitz County and Ecology continue to ensure activities at the site, whether they are related to cleanup or a future use, are meeting local and state requirements.
Back in 1941, when the Reynolds smelter was manufacturing aluminum to build aircraft for the war effort, it’s unlikely that anyone imagined what the future of this site held; both the immense effort required to clean up the site, and the equally immense efforts from people of all walks of life to influence its future.
One thing is for sure: there is a lot of activity on the site. It’s a flurry of activity and it’s not even winter, and there’s much more happening in the months ahead.