The Washington Department of Ecology is seeking $11.37 million from Olympia Brewery owner Tumwater Development LLC to cover the state’s costs in responding to a 2019 oil spill into the Deschutes River and Capitol Lake in Olympia. In addition, the company is facing a $14,000 penalty and is subject to a separate Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA). The NRDA process is used to evaluate the impacts of oil spills and may require the company to pay for associated damages. That amount is still being determined.
On Feb. 25, 2019, Ecology responded to an oil spill from a vandalized transformer at the former Olympia Brewery site. About 602 gallons of oil spilled into storm drains, Tumwater Falls Park and the Deschutes River which flows into Capitol Lake and Puget Sound.
The oil contained toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). When released into water bodies, PCBs can accumulate in the aquatic food web and build up to harmful levels over time, affecting marine life.
Responders removed more than three miles of oil-contaminated shoreline vegetation and excavated PCB-contaminated soil from Tumwater Falls Park. The spilled oil also sank into the lakebed sediment of Capitol Lake and made the cleanup complex and difficult. Divers removed contaminated sediment by suction and had to wear fully-encapsulated protective suits because of the harmful nature of the PCB oil.
“Cleaning up this oil that sank and contained PCBs was incredibly complex, time intensive and required tremendous resources,” said Dave Byers, Ecology’s spill response section manager. “Testing of sediments in Budd Inlet showed that our quick response did not allow PCBs to migrate into Puget Sound, preventing further environmental damage.”
By taking immediate action to remove the PCB-containing oil, Ecology prevented Capitol Lake, Tumwater Falls Park and adjacent private property from becoming formal toxic cleanup sites that would have taken years to clean up at a far greater expense. Without the immediate cleanup, the contamination from the oil spill would have spread to other parts of Capitol Lake and the surrounding area. The parks along the shoreline would have closed for years, affecting public use and local events.
Penalty and damage assessment proceeds support grants issued by Ecology to public agencies and non-profit organizations for environmental restoration projects. Reimbursed spill response costs will go into the state’s oil spill response account, and be available for future spill responses.
Tumwater Development LLC has 30 days to appeal the penalty to the Pollution Control Hearings Board.
Additional photos of this response can be found on the Department of Ecology’s Flickr page.