Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Kennewick on the High Seas

Monday this week brought some blustery weather at times. Bellingham as well as other places got buffeted a bit in the wee morning hours, but all was calm as I headed down Whidbey Island, and the ferry ride across to Port Townsend was a very smooth sail. I had a very short pre construction meeting at a project site and then a short chat about another project and then back on the Kennewick for the trip back to Whidbey.

Just before pulling out a navy ship heading for Indian Island passed by. Indian Island is a munition depot center indian-island-jefferson-county and indian-island-us-supreme-court-case.

Navy ship on its way to Indian Island
 In addition, I had a nice view back to the Olympics and the rain shadow with blue sky.

Olympics and the blue hole

But as we got into the more open water of Admiralty Inlet westerly swells driven by the surge of west wind down the Strait of Juan de Fuca had just arrived. This made the ride interesting.

View from the third deck level
This is the only the second time I have been on a ferry where a wave surged up onto the car deck. On this trip it happened dozens of times. The captain ordered no one was allowed on the outside decks and told everyone to stay in their seats. There was a reported case of sea sickness on the bridge much to the crew's delight. We sailed very far south to avoid the worst of the waves. At one point we reversed course and turned the boat around so that the lighter end of the ship was leading into the waves. It was announced that if that did not work we would head to a different port. All of these later events were a first for me despite the many ferry trips I make.

The Kennewick pulled through. It was designed for this more open water run. The completion of the crossing made for a more efficient day as I had a visit to make to Coupeville and Oak Harbor. I took a little side trip to see the waves along Ebbys Landing.
The waves are reminder that fetch (the distance of open water) is a major factor in erosion of shorelines and at least in part explains the treeless slopes on significant portions of the northwest shore of Whidbey Island.


Monday, February 25, 2013

My Path to Geology


Me at Anza Borrego, California
I have been scanning old family photographs and during this exercise it became very evident that my father was very much into geology. Nearly all of our family vacations involved a trip to some geologic wonderland. Within the mix of photographs there would be pictures of rocks or unique landforms. A get away trip he took with my mother to Sun River in central Oregon consisted of trips to lava fields, cinder cones and Newberry Crater (Oregon's other Crater Lake). True romance.
I remember when the picture above was taken; I really really wanted to hike down into the landscape below and explore the whole thing. "Just for little bit? Please." This urge happened throughout our family trips. I always wanted to take whatever trail we parked by and if there was not trail I was sure a route could be found to see more stuff. My parents as well as my siblings learned to keep a sharp eye on me.
A slot canyon off of Mulley Twist
I started out in college as an engineering major. The first summer right before heading back to classes after summer work my buddy Tim and I drove to Salt Lake where we joined Mike for a September trip to the Deep Creek Range in northeast Nevada. However, flash floods and closed roads caused a change of plans and we ended up in southern Utah.
I have always linked that Utah trip to why I became a geologist, but I was already well on my way from all those previous trips. It wasn't until that trip to Utah that it became a conscience idea. Tim, Mike and I all had been engineering students. I had already switched majors to atmospheric science. By mid winter all three of us were geology majors. All three of us graduated with geology degrees, but by various quirks of restlessness, circumstance, finances and romance we graduated from different universities. 
The old wagon, 5 to 6 kids, mom, dad and one future geologist

Sunday, February 24, 2013

ASB to Marina and State Toxics Account

This post falls into the long, wonky and local (Bellingham) category. It also has a bit of an opionion to it and I close with an editorial note. For an overview of the site in question see Aerial view.

A couple of weeks ago I noted that in conversations I have had with several supposedly in-the-know folks (elected policy makers that I would prefer not to name at this point) indicated that the former Georgia-Pacific wastewater treatment lagoon (ASB) on the shores of Bellingham Bay was not going to be converted into a marina asb-to-marina-look-past-personalities. I have since indirectly been told that the marina from the ASB is 50 years in the future" or "way off in the future".

Contrary to those statements, Washington State Department of Ecology has a public release this past month (Publication Number 13-09-121) stating "Phase two construction is scheduled for 2016". Phase two is excavating out the ASB and converting it to a marina. Somebody is wrong. Or perhaps plans published by Ecology do not mean anything.

What does appear to be accurate is that the Port of Bellingham will be proceeding with a cleanup of a portion of the Whatcom Waterway this year. The schedule is to hire a contractor in June and begin cleanup in July. This is phase one of the cleanup of the waterway. Completing phase one as currently planned is premised on a plan that includes converting the ASB into a marina.

The phase one cleanup will involve dredging sediments contaminated with dioxins/furans along with a touch of mercury and other stuff from the shipping terminal and from the very upper tidal estuary. There will also be some shoreline work stabilizing slopes and bulkheads. The dredged sediment will be disposed of at a yet to be named landfill site designed to handle just such material. The estimate is that 159,000 cubic yards of sediment will be dredged. Additional areas of contaminated sediment in the waterway will be covered with clean sediment.  The cost estimate for this phase one portion of the cleanup is estimated to be $25 million.

The original Port of Bellingham plans for the sediment in phase one developed by the Port back in 2007 called for open water disposal. That is the sediment was to be dredged onto a barge and taken to a location that was less environmentally sensitive and dumped back into the water. However, that will no longer be allowed due to a change in open water disposal regulations regarding dioxins/furans. Regulations that were actively being reviewed back in 2007.

Before the original Port plans were developed, Georgia-Pacific had planned to dredge the sediments in question along with a lot more sediment in the Whatcom Waterway and dispose of the sediment in an upland site located immediately adjacent to the Whatcom Waterway. This upland site was the GP wastewater treatment lagoon (aerated stabilization basin or ASB). Ecology approved this plan as the preferred alternative for cleaning up the contaminated sediments in Bellingham Bay and the Whatcom Waterway. The estimated cost for removing essentially all of the tainted sediment: $23 million.

This approved preferred cleanup was killed cleanup-death-of-alernative-J. The Port of Bellingham wanted to convert the ASB into a marina instead. Years of negotiation and analysis leading to the Alternative J approach came to an abrupt end. The GP cleanup plan for the waterway and the bay can be viewed as more protective versus the Port's plan that involves less dredging and a reliance on capping the tainted sediments in place. The GP Alternative J plan was also a lot less expensive. As noted the entire waterway and bay cleanup under Alternative J was estimated to be $23 million; whereas the Ports' phase one cleanup alone exceeds that cost.

The reason the Port's cleanup plan for the waterway and bay are so expensive relative to the original more protective cleanup plan is that Port wants to convert the ASB into marina. The Port already successfully got congress to remove a portion of the waterway as a federal channel in order to avid the need for dredging (by the way this was a reversal of the Port's previous position of the early 2000s when the Port insisted that GP dredge the waterway to federal channel depth). It makes no sense to claim that the ASB will not be made converted into a marina yet continue with plans and cleanups all driven by the assumption that it will be.

As it stands all plans and documents on the Bellingham Bay waterfront still include converting the ASB into a marina. The behind the scenes statements by elected officials that there are no plans to build the marina in the ASB or that it simply does not pencil out are at odds with the current cleanup approach that is very nearly about to be implemented.

There is however a broader state-wide issue at play here. How is the Port paying for this much more expensive cleanup approach? First the Port does have a chunk of money via an insurance fund associated with the site having been contaminated by GP. That pays for half the costs of the the phase one cleanup. The second half is covered by the State Toxics Control Account. These funds are generated by a tax on petroleum products. The idea is to have a fund to help cleanup and prevent pollution. The Whatcom Waterway and Bellingham Bay cleanup approach and the use of this fund raises questions about how these funds are prioritized. And it puts Ecology staff charged with managing these funds in a tough spot particularly when political pressures are brought to bare (a future post).

Turning the ASB into a marina will be very costly because before sea water will be allowed to flow into the ASB, the entire basin will need to be excavated with significant portions landfilled. Early cost estimates are on the order of $75 million based on previous Port documents and subtracting out the phase one cleanup part.

Editorial Note:

The planning for a major redevelopment on the Bellingham waterfront is complex. It also generates lots of passion and alas arguments. I have never felt any particular passion about any of the various ideas: saving or not saving historic old buildings, street layouts, where the rail tracks are located, even the zoning does not get me excited one way or the other. A new marina seems to be a reasonable idea for a waterfront and in fact may be far better than some other ideas that have been suggested for the waterfront.

One might presume that I am opposed to the construction of an additional marina on the Bellingham Bay waterfront. I have no objection to a new marina. But I will say that I do object to the use of the State Toxics Account to partially fund the marina construction. I view the scheme as deviating greatly from the purpose of that fund and I am already not comfortable with the willingness to fund a much more costly cleanup approach that has been driven by the conversion of the ASB into a marina.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Geomorphic Sheep

I had a project out in the San Juan Islands this week. This time a visit to Decataur Island. I had a legitimate reason to head up a very scenic slope to determine a land form, but regardless would have headed up this slope anyway in a quest to check out some bedrock I was interested in. While heading up the slope, I noted a series of curved large divots in the slope.

Some of the divots appeared fresh with exposed soil and others were shallow and vegetated. The area has free ranging sheep and I assumed they were the result of sheep acting as a geomorphic force. The day was on the chilly side - low 40s with wind and spitting rain. Felt like I was in my ancient tribal homeland. The purpose of the divots then became obvious.

The still wet umbilical cord and very unsteady legs suggests this wee one is only a day or two old. Made me recall reading All Creatures Great and Small and how sheep have a habit of lambing in cold wet very early spring weather.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Its Called Irondale for a Reason

Irondale is an unincorporated hamlet of old homes in Jefferson County on the northeast side of the Olympic Peninsula about 15 miles or so south of Port Townsend. Aerial View The name is not a fanciful reminder of some far away town. Irondale was one of the earliest, if not the first, heavy industrial sites in Washington State. The iron and later steel mill operated at the site from 1881 to 1919.

I was aware that there had once been an iron works somewhere along the coast here. But it was not until I headed down the beach from the county park at the end of Moore Street that I learned of the scale of the operation. I was utilizing the beach to access a steep bluff slope further south when I came across the former kilns.  

Line of kilns on beach south of Moore Street

The kilns were supported by wood planks still in reasonable condition after 100 years

There is a bit of blackened sand and gravel from the operations

Down drift from the kilns are scattered brick and limestone fragments
The limestone was used to purify the molten iron

Initially the iron ore source was from bog iron in the bog lands of the nearby Chimicum Valley. The Chimicum Valley is a former glacial outwash channel. The valley was likely a sub glacial ice channel that then acted as drainage pathway as the glacial ice receded out of Puget Sound and meltwater drained around the end of the glacial ice towards the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The low spots later filled with peat bogs and bog iron formed in the bogs.

Fuel for the kilns was thousands of cords of wood derived from the nearby forests. Limestone came from quarries on San Juan Island and perhaps a few smaller quarries on Orcas Island. Later ore came from British Columbia and one old photo of the loading dock indicated a ship with ore from China.

Charcoal kilns, Irondale (Library of Congress)

Besides the kilns on the beach, the concrete foundation remains of the steel mill are located above the low slope above the beach.

Foundation of steel rollers, Irondale Mill

 Former mill site

An environmental cleanup was completed at the site within the past year. I have not spent the time digging into the details of the cleanup. But suspect that it was mostly an effort to stabilize the high metal content soils associated with the mill works with some of heavier metals and other contaminated soils removed from the shore area.

As can be seen in the pictures above, the kiln areas are eroding. I have been to the shoreline reach to the south of this site several times before over the past 10 plus years. On previous visits I had always been able to reach the beach via scrambles down the bluff. Not this last time as the toe of the bluff slope over its entire length had been eroded with several base of bluff failures appearing to have been very recent. The erosion made for a bit of a hike and a bit of coastal history.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Hood Canal Elk: No Charge for Mowing and Weeding

I am not expert on the various elk herds on the Olympic Peninsula. Last summer I cam across a herd in Brinnon. This group may be the same, but if so they have drifted several valleys and ridges south so I suspect it may be a separate group. We have had a mild winter in the low lands and this group is keeping the lawn trimmed and were not bothered at my stopping along Highway 101. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Soft Sediment Deformation - Stainforth Provides a Possible Model

An aspect of the mine waste failure in north England (coal-trains-landslides) suggests a means of soft deformation that is commonly seen in preglacial sediments exposed along the bluffs of the Salish Sea 

Contorted silt and sand layers below, Jefferson County

Tilted and folded silts, Jefferson County

The folded and sometimes broken deformed sedimentary beds from soft sediment deformation may obscure the presence or suggest the presence of tectonic deformation within these units. The mound of mine waste reminded me of an advancing ice sheet; a thick load of material placing a mass on soft sediments that will have to deform. That deformation and even possible offsets of sedimentary beds may act very much like what has been observed at Stainforth. We only see the surface expression of that deformation, but the subsurface is being deformed as well via a deep-seated fracture followed by disruption of sedimentary layers.  

Mine waste pile deforming the subsurface.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Flower of Scotland

Not much to do with the Washington landscape, but perhaps I can twist this toward Washington. The unofficial national anthem of Scotland mixed with football is impressive. 

The song Flower of Scotland was written in the 1960s and has been proposed as a national anthem in the Scottish Parliament. Scotland will be voting on independence in 2014. After watching/listening to the above unofficial national anthem it is easy to see the national pride in Scotland is strong. These folks are singing about an event that took place 700 years ago.

The Flower of Scotland may be a new song, but the pride and feelings apparently run deep. Perhaps Washington State will some day come up with an anthem other Louie Louie. Washington's freedom from English rule perhaps came too easy and did not require any wars sending the King's army back to England or any bitter memories of pillaging armies and installed feudal lords (put aside that the US army rather brutal put down of the tribes in eastern Washington). Washington was freed of English rule by treaties - remarkable that such a rich land could avoid European war fare. Perhaps a future song subject that will inspire football stadiums.

A wee bit of Scottish pride - but my ancestral homeland is Ireland and that is a whole other story of independence.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Coal, Trains, Landslides and Long Distance Geology Arm Waving

Dave Petley has had plenty of landslides to post about from his homeland of England of late due to a long stretch of very wet weather even for wet England. He is a clearing house for all sorts of landslide and geology risk information. He recently posted on a rather unique recent landslide:
The Petley post stirred my interest so I had to do some long distance geology investigation.
Uplifted and pushed rail tracks
Aeriel view of slide and rail damage 
The above images sure look like a classic deep-seated rotational slide. The fractures on the slope are the upper part of the slide where the slide surface is dropping. If one projects a curving line down through fractures, the lower part of the slide is being lifted upward as the upper part drops. It is a gigantic balance. Hence, the ground at the rail lines is lifted upward while the top of the slope drops. Early accounts of less severe uplift along the rail line support this interpretation.
The gray pile of soil is a mine waste pile from a near by coal mine. So we have coal, trains and landslides. Just the kind of thing to get folks in Washington excited. But all the coal stuff aside, this slide has really got my interest at several levels as a geologist. For one, there are several deep-seated slides like this along the Salish Sea shorelines with very similar geometry including one in Seattle as well as a couple I have worked on in Jefferson County on the Olympic Peninsula along Hood Canal.  
My first long distance investigation of this slide was pulling up Google Earth.
The slide area is in the center area of the image
Also. you can click the Google Map Link Google Map Aerial View
Besides getting a sense of the land area, I did checked on Google Earth's elevation for the site. The mine waste pile at the time of the Google Earth image was as high as 109 feet. But that was in 2008, and based on the geometry of the pile in the aerial with the fractures, the pile was even higher and  the high area was much broader. The ground elevation just south of the rail line is generally 15 feet. Hence, a pile of mine waste rock piled up on the order of 95 feet.
This is a really flat board plain with a river estuary about 10 miles to the east. (If you want to take a virtual trip to the area go to Google Earth and type in Stainforth, UK)
A street view of the pile from the north, non-failure section has a warning sign that maybe says it all.
North side of the mine waste pile.
And then there is the disconcerting thought of what would this failure would have been like if instead of being on the south side of the pile, it had been on the north.
Homes across the street from the opposite side of the mine waste pile where the failure took place
At this point I know that the pile was really big. I also know that the elevation of the area is very low. Any streams flowing in this area will have very low gradients. That means that recent alluvial sediments underlying the area are likely silts and clays and possibly filled in organic rich soils. I also know that this area has been glaciated and the mass of ice likely pushed the local land surface downward below current sea level. More reasons to suspect silts and clays. But I know very little else and the extent of my geology understanding of England is way less than a little sketchy.
But this slide is way too interesting so I took a crack at trying to find some geology maps of the UK on line. The British Geological Survey has geology viewer similar to out own Washington State Department of Natural Resources geology viewer. I was able to get a 1:50,000 scale map view of the area which given the geology is reasonable: Alluvium - clay, silt, sand and gravel. Perhaps not real helpful, but given the extreme low gradients in the area and low, silts and clays seem probable. I also noted that map indicates glacial lacustrine (lake) deposits. I would suspect that these units may underlie the area and based on my own experience in western Washington, these units are susceptible to deep-seated rotational failures when the slope geometry is right.
The mine waste pile is located in the yellow alluvium area
Dave Petley did the same geology exercise before I finished my long distance investigation the-geology-and-a-possible-mechanism-of-the-hatfield-stainforth-colliery-landslide/, and includes a block diagram of a deep-seated rotational failure.
I also took a crack at trying to find a Soil Survey. Canfield University National Soil Resources Institute has a soils view site that describes the soils as: Naturally wet loamy and clayey flood plain soils.
Soils Map from Canfield University.
A 95-foot deep pile of mine waste placed on soft, unconsolidated silts and clays strikes me as a recipe for soil failure. The zone of influence from this kind of mass would be very deep and would cause settlement and compaction of the underlying soils. I have been involved in projects where we have placed a pile of soil on a development site to compact the soils in somewhat similar flood plain settings. Typically it will take a few months. The pile is removed and the site is then ready for the loads from the building. But the soil piles we have used are never at the scale of the mine waste at this site. I also know that for soft glacial marine silt/clays preloading as described above typically does not work as the tight clays do not compact very rapidly.
A possible cause of the deep-seated failure may have been the loading was too rapid and too large causing a fracture plain to develop through the underlying silts and clays as water was being rapidly squeezed out by the huge load of mine waste. Throw in the added loading on the pile from lots of rain over the past few months and a highly unusual failure resulted.
Perhaps a bit of arm waving theory here, but for an engineering geologist exciting stuff and an opportunity to learn some lessons and think through some possible scenarios. As this failure is further investigated, there may be some interesting engineering lessons for a future text book. Disasters have a way of being teachable moments - at least one hopes. 
There is little doubt in my mind that this is a deep-seated rotational failure. As such there will be no easy fix. Simply removing the uplifted soils and replacing the tracks will create an imbalance along the now established slide failure surface and will very likely lead to more slope movement. A significant amount of the pile will need to be removed in order to prevent additional movement and fixing the rail lines. It may be easier, faster and cheaper to simply reroute the rail lines.
There is another aspect of this failure that may be useful to understanding some of our local western Washington geology, but I'll save that for the next post. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

More on the Toandos Landslide

When I posted on one of Toandos landslide complexes landslide-complex-on-toandos, I forgot to add the oblique aerials I had of the slide area.


1994 (WDOE)

The 1994 image is pre the big slide event. Small shallow slides along the shore are evident at several locations and trees have been removed for a view on one of the narrow properties above the slide. Otherwise most of the shoreline bluff and slide complex is forested. However, this slide complex had already been identified by Jefferson County in 1983. Note the small kettle lake in the upper part of the picture. The land in the upper part of the image is underlain ice wasting deposits and glacial till.

2001 (WDOE)

As can be seen in 2001 nearly all the trees on the lower portion of the bluff have been removed. Note the relatively fresh headwall scarp marking the extent of upper slide complex. The land at the headwall dropped about 20 feet. The upper half of the bluff moved like a glacier with trees on the slide surface with the lower part of the upper deep slide cascading over the steep bluff to the shore below. That is what took out nearly all of the trees.

2006 (WDOE)

By 2006 most of the lower bluff is tree covered again with a stand of red alder. A good example of one of the challenges of reading the landscape - the trees get in the way.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Timber Harvest Above Dabob Bay

I was doing work up above Dabob Bay and Hood Canal on the east side of the Olympic Peninsula AERIAL VIEW. Had a nice view of an ongoing logging operation. The trees had already been cut as one of several clear cuts and were being yarded up the mountain side slope to a landing off the main logging road through the area.

Yarding landing

The yarding involved at least half suspension of the cut trees. With the but end of the logs lifted well off the ground, there is much less soil gouging and compaction than simply dragging the logs up the slope. The tower is typically set near the upper edge of slope break. After yarding up the slope, the trees are dropped and limbs are removed. Another operator then moved the trimmed logs onto the logging truck to haul to either a mill or to an export port.

Loading logs above Dabob Bay

The new harvest gave me an unexpected view over Dabob Bay and the southern end of the Bolton Peninsula. Quilcene Bay is on the left of the peninsula, and Dabob Bay is on the right. Both bays are arms of Hood Canal and both are outstanding oyster bays. The bare area on the southern end of the peninsula is an eroding bluff exposing alternating siltstone and sandstone of the Twin Rivers Formation.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

ASB to Marina: Look Past the Personalities and the Past

Former Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike made a presentation at Huxley College (a sub unit of Western Washington University) on the redevelopment plans for the Bellingham Bay waterfront and the Bellingham Herald published an opinion piece by Mr. Pike former-mayor-says-to-scrap-marina. His criticism of the current proposed plan revolves around the three issues: 1) the park plan, 2) historic buildings and 3) converting the former Georgia Pacific waste water treatment basin (ASB) into a marina.


I agree with Mr. Pike that the former ASB turned into a marina should be dropped from the waterfront redevelopment plan. However, I should say that I am very skeptical of his alternative ASB uses, and I have no particular strong views on the park plans or on the reuse of historic buildings on site. I will only add that I have done subsurface drilling at the former GP site and evaluated soil liquefaction potential, and yes, the soil will very likely liquefy and laterally spread in an earthquake and that issue ought to be considered when thinking about any development on the Bellingham Bay waterfront fill soils.

But on the issue of converting the ASB into a marina, I would encourage those that may be offended by Mr. Pike's style, timing and suspected political scheming to really think through this flawed idea and how it drives the rest of the planning efforts for the area. That said, I am perplexed that the former mayor would have such a strong view on the marina concept now, but as mayor failed to include a non ASB to marina scheme as an alternative in the Environmental Impact Statement. His failure to do that should lead to pause when criticisms are aimed at the current mayor.

Turning the ASB into a marina has drifted to such a fiscally ridiculous position that it is irresponsible to leave this scheme as the center piece of the waterfront redevelopment plan. It is the dominant feature of the plan and yet I have been assured in various conversations that "It won't be built." One excuse consistently raised for leaving it in is that it is too late to take it out because an alternative was never included in the the EIS. The waterfront plan will very soon be presented to and then deliberated on by the Bellingham Planning Commission. As decision makers advising the City Council, one would hope that the Commission will take charge of the information they need to make an informed decision.   

I have posted and written about the ASB/marina and bay cleanup previoulsy (see below). Chapter 1 provides some history and Chapter 2 may be the more helpful in understanding the cleanup issues that have previously confused people, including Bellinghams VSPs (very serious people for you non Krugmanites). The remaining chapters get a bit detailed and take some dedication. The bottom line is the ASB to marina project costs have drifted from $44 million to upwards of $120 million.

bellingham bay cleanup planning 15 years and counting - Chapter 1
bellingham bay cleanup death of alternative J - Chapter 2
bellingham waterway and-bay cleanup port alternative - Chapter 3
mtca funds proposed for marina excavation - Chapter 4
bellingham bay cleanup how is ports plan going - Chapter 5 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Historic Mine Pictures

My grandfather was an electrical engineer and took color slide pictures at various mine sites he visited in the 1930s and early 1940s. I have been scanning the images. I've been to a few of these mine sites and studied and read papers on a few of them as well. And big holes in the ground exposing lots of rocks is always interesting stuff for geologists. Rock candy for mining geologists.

Bisbe, Arizona

Castle Dome, Arizona

Miami Copper Leaching

Morenci Pit, Arizona

Ajo, Arizona

Electric powered train

Electric rails in pit

Test mill at Morenci, Arizona

Lead chat piles in Oklahoma

Lead chat piles in Oklahoma

Iron mine in northern Minnesota

Diesel electric power for drilling

Bingham Pit, Utah

Iron mine in Minnesota

Sewel Seam Coal Mine, West Virginia