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Group sues city over toxic dump

Shelton-Mason County Journal of Shelton, Washington

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Nonprofit: City' out of compliance for decades'

A nonprofit environmental advocacy group has filed a lawsuit against the City of Shelton for failing to close a toxic dumpsite despite three decades of government orders to do so.

In the civil suit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, Waste Action Project charges the city has failed to properly close its former C Street dump in violation of solid and hazardous waste regulations. The lawsuit comes 34 years after the Mason County Health Department instructed the city to stop dumping contaminated sludge at the site and to submit a plan to fence the site or otherwise limit access to the site.

In the lawsuit, Waste Action Project states the city has not "completed a closure plan, closed the landfill, covered the landfill, tested the soil, groundwater or nearby streams, monitored for methane production, provided fencing with locks and warnings signage, or properly recorded the deed and history of the site in violation of state and federal solid and hazardous waste regulations enacted under RCRA."

In the lawsuit, Waste Action Project asks injunctive relief directing the city to "conduct proper and compliant closure of the site"; penalties of $37,500 per day for ongoing violations of hazardous waste regulations; and attorney fees, expert witness fees and costs incurred in bringing the action.

In the lawsuit, Waste Action Project states the landfill "is unlined and operated as an open dump, receiving and burning industrial and municipal waste, including but not limited to sewage, baghouse ash, industrial and military chemicals, and residential waste until at least 1986 and was never properly permitted or closed."

The failure to clean up the site is affecting the "recreational, scientific, economic, aesthetic and/or health interest of Waste Action Project and its member(s)," the lawsuit states.

"Waste Action Project has members who live, work, fish and recreate around Shelton, Goldsborough Creek, Oakland Bay and Hammersley Inlet and are affected by Defendant's discharge," the lawsuit charges.

The city had a year's notice to respond to the lawsuit. On Dec. 11, 2014, Waste Action Project sent a letter to Shelton City Aclministrator Dave OLeary and Director of Public Works Greg Clark, notifying them that the group intended to file a lawsuit in federal court against the city regarding the failure to close the landfill.

"It is our hope that the city will take this matter seriously and resolve it," Waste Action Project Executive Director Greg Wingard said in a telephone interview Tuesday with the Journal.

Shelton-area residents told Waste Action Project about the city's failure to close the toxic site, Wingard said.

"We found out that not only was the city out of compliance, but they had been out of compliance for decades," he said.

The Shelton City Commission discussed the lawsuit in a closed executive session on Monday prior to the group's regular study session.

The matter wasn't mentioned until Shelton resident Katherine Price stepped up to the microphone during the public comment time. She mentioned that Waste Action Project had warned the city of the lawsuit a year ago.

"For 12 months, you didn't do anything," she told the commissioners.

Price mentioned that the suit asks for $37,500 per day in fines for the continued violation.

"Think about that when you say you don't have enough money for abatement, not enough money for port-a-potties," Price said. She added, "It's very unfortunate, and I blame you all."

Mayor Gary Cronce responded that the city is taking action on the dump.

The commission in June awarded a $286,667 contract to Aspect Consulting Inc. to work with city officials to negotiate an Agreed Order with the state Department of Ecology (DOE) and develop a remedial investigation and feasibility study for the landfill. The city received a $215,000 cleanup grant from DOE and will pay the remaining 25 percent as matching money.

"The reality is we're moving forward with the process of cleaning up the C Street dump," Cronce said.


The 17-acre landfill lies just outside the southern boundary of the proposed Shelton Hills development, west of downtown Shelton and U.S. Highway 101. Private owners mined the site for sand and gravel before the city bought the land in 1928 to use as a municipal landfill.

The former Rayonier pulp mill and research laboratory dumped byproducts and demolition debris at the landfill. The city dumped sludge from its wastewater treatment sites. Between 1976 and 1981, wastewater treatment sludge containing ash from Simpson Lumber Co.'s Shelton mill was dumped at the site.

In a December 1981 letter to theraayor and city commissioners, then-Mason County Health Officer John Butler said the city had been observed dumping sludge from its treatment plant at the C Street dump, despite the fact that is was not a permitted solid waste disposal site. The city was dumping about 120,000 gallons of sludge each month, creating a 4-foot-deep pond accessible to people and animals, the letter stated.

In the letter, the county ordered the city to stop disposing the sludge at the site, and to establish a schedule "for submitting a plan and timetable to the Health Department for fencing or otherwise limiting access to the sludge already deposited at the Old City Dump."

In 1986, an inspector from the state Department of Ecology (DOE) noted that the landfill was still not closed and cited evidence of newly dumped sludge and household waste. Citing that report, the county instructed the city to close the dump in compliance with state laws and to monitor the groundwater, the lawsuit states.

The DOE also ordered the city to close the landfill under the State Model Toxics Control Act.

In January this year, the department named the city the potentially liable person responsible for cleaning up the site.

In its most recent move on the site in October, the Shelton City Commission gave preliminary approval to a plan to identify toxins and begin a cleanup strategy at the landfill.

The commission passed an Agreed Order with DOE that makes the city responsible for completing a technical memorandum identifying "chemicals of concern" and screening levels at the site; developing a remedial investigation plan; conducting a feasibility study; and defining the cleanup action plan.

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Original Publication Date: December 31, 2015

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