GORST — Federal, state, county and local government agencies joined with the Suquamish Tribe on April 19 to commemorate the completion of a multi-year cleanup of the long-contaminated Bremerton Landfill-Gorst Creek site.
The cleanup site is located next to Highway 3 in Bremerton, about five miles upstream from Sinclair Inlet and Puget Sound.
As part of the extensive cleanup project, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its partners completed the excavation and removal of nearly 340,000 tons of debris and hazardous materials from the six-acre, 1950s-era landfill. The cleanup will prevent further downstream toxic pollution from moving downstream and protect water quality for people and wildlife, said Michelle Pirzadeh, EPA Region 10 deputy regional administrator.
“With our partners the U.S. Navy, the Suquamish Tribe, state and local agencies, we accomplished a significant cleanup and helped restore Gorst Creek, vital and much-needed habitat for fish and wildlife in the Puget Sound watershed,” Pirzadeh said.
The cleanup was a long time coming. Beginning in the 1950s, the landfill collected a veritable flotsam and jetsam of auto wrecking and demolition debris, household and industrial waste, scrap metal and other junk. The landfill also accepted demolition materials and trash from the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. When the landfill was constructed, Gorst Creek was diverted into a culvert beneath the landfill. Over time, EPA spokeswoman Suzanne Skadowski said, as the garbage piled over 60 to 80 feet deep in some locations, the landfill crushed the culvert, blocking fish passage to upstream habitat.
Skadowski said that during heavy rains, the landfill was inundated and flooded, with the potential to discharge toxic chemicals and heavy metals downstream and into Sinclair Inlet and Puget Sound. Frequent storm flows and debris slides from the landfill also covered about 800 yards of the creek bed downstream, degrading and polluting water quality and fish habitat, officials said.
The Washington State Department of Transportation said it had to frequently unclog the culvert under Highway 3 when the buildup of trash and heavy rainfall threatened to wash out the highway. The City of Bremerton also had to regularly clear garbage from the downstream creek on city property.
In a 2016 settlement with the EPA, the Navy agreed to fund the removal and cleanup of the landfill and restoration of Gorst Creek, estimated to cost nearly $30 million, the environmental agency said.
EPA’s excavation of the landfill removed and disposed or recycled nearly 340,000 tons of trash, debris and hazardous materials, which was transported off-site in more than 10,000 truckloads, according to the agency.
Some of the recycled goods were put to good use. More than 100 tons of granite was recovered from the landfill and donated to Bremerton, Poulsbo and Kitsap parks departments and Olympic College to reuse as benches and other outdoor features. Nearly 900 tons of scrap metal, tires and concrete were recovered for commercial reuse or recycling, and native trees and shrubs cleared from the site during construction were saved and reused for erosion control and stream habitat.
Almost 4,000 tons of hazardous materials were safely disposed of at permitted disposal facilities, Skadowski said.
Following the landfill excavation, the EPA restored more than 1,000 feet of the Gorst Creek stream channel and restored the natural habitat with more than 7,500 native plants, she noted.
The EPA will monitor the cleanup and restoration site for two more years, Skadowski added, to make sure the native plants thrive and non-native and invasive species are under control.
“The removal of the Gorst landfill is a great accomplishment,” Leonard Forsman, chairman of the Suquamish Tribe, said in prepared remarks for the commemoration.
“It improves habitat for endangered native salmon and shows how we can right the errors of our past. This project demonstrates how all of us can turn the tide for the future of this sacred resource and improve the health of the environment for generations to come.”