Truth in Aviation: March 3, 2003 (Vol. 8, #4)

Dirty Fill Bill Pushed by Port, Fought by Citizens

Olym048Citizens from the airport communities fanned out across the legislature to fight a bill written by the Port to get around requirements imposed by the Pollution Control Hearings Board. They testified at hearings on house bill HB1876 and its companion senate bill SB5787, the “dirty fill bills”, which would allow contaminated fill in the embankment for a third Sea-Tac runway.

SB 5787 passed out of the Senate’s Natural Resources, Energy and Water Committee late last week, despite strong testimony against the bill from community members, environmental groups, and the Airport Communities Coalition. The House bill is still under consideration in the Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee. Contact information for the Committee, and for Frank Chopp, Speaker of the House, appears below.

The chairwoman of that committee, Rep. Kelli Linville (D. 42), told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer last week that she was “grappling” with questions about the Port-proposed bill, including the propriety of legislative intervention in a pending lawsuit. Chopp told the PI that he had been talking with the Port, but did not say what contacts he had with citizens. The battle is likely to reach full pitch this week because Wednesday, March 5 is the deadline for bills to come out of committee.

The bills were proposed by the Port of Seattle, as a way to undo an August 2002 ruling of the Pollution Control Hearings Board. That Board, after a two-week hearing in March, ruled that local streams, wetlands, and aquifer could only be properly protected by setting lower limits for contamination in runway fill than had been proposed by the Department of Ecology. The Board’s ruling is now on appeal to the state Supreme Court. The Port claims that it probably will not be able to find fill that is clean enough to meet the Board’s requirements. So, it wants the Legislature to declare that only one particular test may be used on the fill, a test that does NOT detect metallic contamination at levels ruled harmful by the Board.

Local papers carried dueling editorials, the PI admonishing the Port for trying to do an end run around environmental regulations and support from the Times, claiming “it’s not about dirt”.

Legislative contact information

The legislative hotline (1.800.562.6000) has been out of commission for several days, so here are Olympia office phone numbers and E-mail addresses for Speaker Chopp and the members of the House Committee on Agriculture & Natural Resources (Speaker Chopp & Rep. McDermott are the only two who live in King County).

  • Frank Chopp, Speaker of the House of Representatives (D, 43) 360.786.7920
  • Kelli Linville (D, 42), chair 360.786.7954
  • Bruce Chandler (R, 15) 360.786.7960
  • William Eickmeyer (D, 35) 360.786.7902
  • Bill Grant (D, 16) 360.786.7828
  • Janéa Holmquist (R, 13) 360.786.7932
  • Sam Hunt (D, 22) 360.786.7992
  • Dan Kristiansen (R, 39) 360.786.7967
  • Joe McDermott (D, 34) 360.786.7952
  • Ed Orcutt (R, 18) 360.786.7812
  • Dave Quall (D, 40) 360.786.7800
  • Phil Rockefeller (D, 23) 360.786.7934
  • Mark Schoesler (R, 9) 360.786.7844
  • Bob Sump (R, 7)  360.786.7908

What the dirty-fill  bills would do

The two dirty-fill bills – HB 1876 and SB 5787 – would have a very simple effect. They would allow the Port of Seattle to bring fill to the runway site that does not meet established standards for water-quality safety.

They would achieve this result rather subtly, by requiring the Department of Ecology, the Pollution Control Hearings Board, and the state judicial system to recognize the Synthetic Precipitation Leaching Procedure (SPLP) as the only test to be used in checking for 14 hazardous metals in runway fill.

This test is a good test for some purposes, but it does not detect metals at low levels.  It will NOT detect metals at levels that the Pollution Control Hearings Board has said are too high for the fill, for this huge project at this fragile site.

The Port of Seattle has told the Legislature that the SPLP test is scientifically recognized (true), is used by many States and by the US EPA (true), and was totally disallowed by the PCHB (not true). The Board only said not to use the test to allow contaminated materials to be placed in the runway embankment.

The Port conceded in legislative testimony that it wanted this test to be used so that it could bring in fill with contamination levels higher than those allowed by the Board. The Port claimed that it would not be able to find fill that met those criteria, though it brought in no experts to support that claim.

The Board heard testimony in March 2002 that the SPLP test had been mis-used by the Port. For example, the Board’s findings of fact note that “  … a Port consultant acknowledged [that] after site sampling shows a site has failed the MTCA Method A based initial screening criteria, the Port uses the SPLP to approve the importation of fill material.”

Other testimony raised other doubts.

Summarizing its concerns, the Board wrote, “The Board is concerned with the intended use of the SPLP process.  Therefore, the Board finds the SPLP process should not be used to allow the importation of fill above the fill criteria.”

In its Order, the Board made only one reference to the SPLP, in Para. 8:

8. The SPLP process may not be used to authorize the importation of fill that exceeds the modified fill criteria;

Obviously, the Board did not rule out appropriate use of the test – only the inappropriate one.

The practical effect of the legislation would be to over-ride Para. 8 of the PCHB Order. The result would be the same as making that paragraph read:

8. The SPLP process MUST be used to authorize the importation of fill that exceeds the modified fill criteria;

Draft Pollution Permit Issued, Hearing March 31

The Washington State Department of Ecology has issued the long-expected draft NPDES Permit. The permit, which would be good for five years, describes what discharges the Airport may make into streams & rivers.

A public open house, workshop, & hearing is scheduled for:

Monday, March 31
Criminal Justice Training Center
19010 1st Avenue S, Burien, WA 98148.

The open house is from 4:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., workshop from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., and the public hearing from 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

RCAA’s experts have not yet had time to review the draft permit. TIA will issue a newsletter covering some of their comments before the hearing. If you want immediate notice when that special newsletter is posted, e-mail the RCAA office, with “NPDES webletter” in the subject line.

Written comments are due April 15th to:
Water Quality Permit Coordinator
WA State Department of Ecology
Northwest Regional Office
3190 160th Avenue SE
Bellevue, WA 98008-5452

What’s a NPDES Permit?

State & federal laws require that everyone who discharges pollutants into rivers, streams, or other bodies of water apply for a special permit, good for five years, that describes exactly what the polluter is allowed to do, and where.

At the end of the five years, the polluter must apply again. The the intent is that at each cycle, the permit will allow less pollution, more rigidly controlled. These are called National Pollution Elimination Discharge System permits, or “NPDES” for short.

In Washington, these permits are issued by the Department of Ecology, and appeals are reviewed by the Pollution Controls Hearing Board.

These permits are also sometimes called “sec. 402 permits”, because they are required by sec. 402 of the federal Clean Water Act.