Skykomish school site remains contaminated years after town cleanup

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by JOHN LANGELER / KING 5 News

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KING5.com

Posted on June 8, 2014 at 11:15 PM

SKYKOMISH -- Years after a multi-million dollar environmental cleanup in Skykomish was completed, the town's school still sits on contaminated soil while the district and Burlington Northern Santa Fe negotiate on how to remove the pollutants and compensation.

BNSF spent millions to remove more than 77,000 cubic yards of polluted soil from Skykomish.  The contamiination came from eight decades of railroad activity in the small mountain town, which led to diesel oil seepage into the ground and subsequently, the Skykomish River.

Washington's Department of Ecology said the oil poses no health risk to humans.

Today, Skykomish looks brand new.  Streets and sidewalks are pristine while the town benefits from a new sewer and utility system.

However, a small part of the cleanup remains.  The Skykomish School.

"It's in the back of people's minds all the time," said city councilman Kevin Weiderstrom, "From the outside, it seems like it could be done a little bit quicker."

Weiderstrom said the negotiations that have stretched for nearly ten years are keeping the community from moving on from its polluted past.

"Once this is done, the rest of Railroad Avenue can be paved, the sidewalks can be finished and the rest of the residents can be done with it," he said.

BNSF and the Skykomish School District indicated separately a level of frustration with the length of time negotiations have taken, but a deep willingness to find a solution.

Weiderstrom indicated a compromise could come very soon, but major work would not begin until next summer.

One of the major hangups is the method of contaminated soil removal, according to BNSF and the school district.

The current plan involves pumping hot water into the ground, pushing the oil towards a collection area near the river.

However, school officials are concerned this method could create toxic vapors around the building.

"It's not an unfounded concern," explained Brad Petrovich from Washington's Department of Ecology, "(The issue) has to be addressed before we can sign off (on the plan)."

BNSF said it will ensure any cleanup is done safely, and may conduct the work when school is out.

The other major sticking point is compensation.  Property owners in Skykomish were all paid by BNSF for access to decontaminated their soil.  The school district is asking for the same, in addition to legal protection from any further issues related to the issue, according to the school district's attorney Stephen Tan.

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