Tax payers pay a tax into the Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA) fund whenever they purchase gasoline and a number of other hazardous substances. The idea is to create a fund for funding cleanup projects. This tax was passed by a voter approved initiative and was recently upheld by a King County Superior Court ruling that simply dismissed the challenge to the law HERE. The tax provides funding to state and local communities for environmental cleanups, protection and management.
For local governments faced with contamination issues from past industrial uses and garbage landfills these funds are an important part of cleanup and management of environmental contaminants. Many water bodies around the State of Washington as well as upland sites have been significantly impacted by legacy contamination from past industrial use when concerns about contaminants and the harm those contaminants could do to human health and the environment was not as well understood.
The Washington State Department of Ecology recommends grant funding from the MTCA fund through grant application programs. And since Ecology is often very involved in cleanup selection process at sites involving local governments, Ecology has the potential to play a key role in funding of cleanup projects.
The key policy decision in determining the extent and the cost of cleanup of Bellingham Bay and the Whatcom Waterway from mercury contamination from past waste water discharges from the Georgia-Pacific paper mill has centered on the aerated sediment basin (ASB) lagoon.
The GP plan, Alternative J, called for dredging the contaminated sediment and placing that sediment in part of the ASB creating an upland area at part of the ASB at an estimated cost of $23 million.
The Port has indicated they would prefer to convert the lagoon to a marina and follow a different alternative to clean up the waterway and the bay. The Port policy on turning the ASB into a marina doubled the cleanup cost with an initial cost estimate of $44 million dollars for cleanup alone. It also means that more contaminated sediments will be left in portions of the waterway and bay covered over with a cap of clean sediment.
The Port's plan was estimated to cost nearly twice as much as the original GP cleanup proposal and would leave much greater amounts of sediment behind in the bay and waterway. And it should be noted that the GP cleanup plan likely would cost significantly less that the $23 million estimated sine a berm would not be required across the ASB unless someone else wants to use the ASB as a waste water treatment site (there have been suggestions of using the site for city stormwater, but I know little about the viability of such a proposal). Without the berm the cost of the GP proposal would be on the order of $15 million.
Half of the cleanup costs are proposed to be covered by state grants through the MTCA fund. Which leads to an interesting policy question: should state grants for environmental cleanup be directed toward a project where the landowner’s decision to create a large boat marina triggers a cleanup requirement and doubles the cost of the cleanup? Ecology and State leaders have consistently supported paying $22 million to support half of the cleanup costs that includes the excavation of a boat marina. Are there other projects around Washington State that have been denied MTCA funding in recent years? What should be the priority of MTCA funding?
Next: The Port of Bellingham Plan Faces New Problems and Cost