Highland Park Action Committee: ‘The Hum’ update; Nickelsville vow

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

“We have found The Hum.”

So began Highland Park Action Committee co-chair Carolyn Stauffer, opening tonight’s HPAC meeting – and drawing cheers.

(If you don’t know why she said that – read this story first.)

There also was applause for Jonathan Hall from Lafarge, as Carolyn reiterated that the previous evening’s “reconnaissance mission” clarified that the plant was not the source of the persistent noise. Kay Kirkpatrick, who had first sleuthed “The Hum” in early September and was part of last night’s “mission,” stood up and reiterated her appreciation for Lafarge’s interest in community cooperation.

After reconfirming this morning that the sound traces to a ship-offloading operation at the CalPortland dock on the Duwamish River, Carolyn said, she went there, young children in tow, in hopes of talking to them about what had been discovered.

“A really intensive shop-vac” is how she described the equipment that seems to be the noise, and “they do it 24/7 until the ship is emptied out.” She recapped reporting The Hum to the city weeks ago and getting unrealistic responses, then forgetting about it until WSB reports and comments earlier this month revealed how many people were being affected.

“We have sourced it – so the question is what do we do from here?” Carolyn said. She’s in contact with the city, and pointed out that Julie Schickling – who recorded it earlier this month (here’s the WSB story with her original audio clip) – got it at 62 decibels, from her home, at 4:30 this morning. 50 decibels, Carolyn said, is the limit for the industrial zone. However, she said, they’re having trouble getting the city to come record it since they only work morning to mid-afternoon.

Carolyn also sent a copy of the crowd-sourced Google Map created by a WSB reader to the CalPortland manager with whom she spoke. Co-chair Billy Stauffer then said they received a statement just before the meeting, saying CalPortland thanks the community for pointing out the problem, and “they will do everything they can to work with us.” Carolyn added, “The ball is rolling and it’s just a matter of time.” Here’s the statement, from CP’s Steve Penswick:

We learned for the first time today that our operation is a suspected source of the West Seattle Hum. We have begun investigating the situation to confirm these suspicions. We will cooperate with the community and local agencies to take appropriate steps to address the community’s concerns.

“So much for the fish,” somebody cracks from the audience, drawing laughter, as Carolyn removes the microphone that the KING 5 TV crew had asked her to wear.

Meantime, The Hum continued, audible right outside the building – Billy said they had relatives visiting and while the subject hadn’t come up, they stopped and said – “What is that NOISE?”

Several attendees told their stories too of being troubled by the sound, but expressed hope that tracing the source was a great first start.

Two other big topics at the meeting – coverage ahead, starting with Nickelsville, which HPAC has been talking about for months:

NICKELSVILLE: The camp housing otherwise-homeless people has been back on the southeastern edge of Highland Park for almost a year and a half now. Carolyn Stauffer said there was hope it wouldn’t be there much longer.

She started by saying that HPAC had received more than 160 responses to a survey sent out over the summer, and that she is very proud of the community for the way they answered the questions with “very few NIMBY responses …” She said “kind, compassionate, experienced-based responses” dominated, adding, “I was proud to go to the city with these comments and say, These are my neighbors, and these are their concerns.”

“The takeaway message we got from that survey is that people are ready for Nickelsville to move,” she summarized – within six months. Another takeaway message: The West Duwamish Greenbelt has a lot of problems with transients, as does the area off SW Othello from Highland Park Way. Metro drivers also have to be given a way to deal with riders who have no fare, she added.

They met with city reps and homeless advocates to discuss this, she said, because the mayor’s office had come up with some legislation regarding possibly legalizing encampments. But none of the advocates liked the proposed ordinance, she said, so Councilmember Nick Licata took on the issue of whether to advance it. She says he is reworking it. She said one good point about it: Six months max at a location, and access to basic services such as water. “It’s in Nick Licata’s hands now to re-look at it,” she said. She added that Nickelsville reps told her – reiterating this in writing – that they were willing to move, and have been looking at other sites. But they would need the city, with community members’ help, to come up with an appropriate site.

The offices of the mayor and Licata committed recently, Carolyn said, to find a new Nickelsville site. No timetable was mentioned, though.

COMBINED SEWER OVERFLOWS: Seattle Public UtilitiesTim Croll, who briefed the Delridge Neighborhoods District Council about the upcoming Longfellow Creek projects one week ago tonight (WSB coverage here), was at HPAC to provide “our own private briefing,” as Carolyn Stauffer said while introducing him. He explained the overflows into Longfellow Creek, and the fact that measures taken years ago turned out to not be enough to control those overflows when heavy rain overwhelms the system.

As he had explained at DNDC, SPU explained the steps they plan to take – starting with some retrofitting and upgrades for the existing processing/storage equipment. “We’ll take that as far as it goes,” said Croll, to find out how much that will cut down on the overflows.

Then, they’re looking at “Roadside Raingardens” to divert some of the water from ever getting into the system in the first place. They’ll be doing studies “over the next couple of years” to find potentially promising places for those facilities. That may solve the problem, but if it doesn’t, they will have to find a location from another storage tank – possibly millions of gallons. Right now, there’s a 1.6-million-gallon storage tank at Delridge and Orchard, near Home Depot, for example, and another tank by Westwood Village. They’re marked on this SPU map:

(Click image to see larger version as PDF)
They’re the two biggest tanks in the city, another SPU rep said, which means this is a bigger retrofit project than anywhere else.

To get it all under control will take half a billion dollars and 20 or 30 years, Croll acknowledged in response to a question about how much it will cost and how long it will take.

The question came up again: How are you reaching the diverse communities in this area? SPU said that their survey will be available in multiple languages, but they are also reaching out to community groups that can help them extend their reach. Group members informed them of the White Center Community Development Association‘s potential to help in this area.

Another question – what about the Ballard “Roadside Raingardens” problems? Croll recapped lessons they’d learned, including “slow down, talk to the community, get all the scientific information …”

You can find out a lot more about this at the meeting next week, October 4th at the Salvation Army Center, 9050 16th SW, 6-8 pm. And there’s an overview of the situation on this city webpage.

OTHER NOTES: The P-Patch at Westcrest is almost finished; work parties are coming up 1-4 pm on October 6th and 13th … Spray Park bids all came in too high and “Parks is trying to figure out what to do” … Another Opportunity Fund grant is being sought in the current round of Parks and Green Spaces Levy funding applications, to improve access to the park … Traffic-calming and safety measures have been completed, including a new crosswalk on Holden, new ones by the nearby elementary school, and speed bumps on 10th, and there will be a ribbon-cutting next Wednesday with the mayor on hand – meet up with the mayor, students, and community members at 8 am October 3rd, 11th and Holden, to walk to school.

HIGHLAND PARK IMPROVEMENT CLUB NEWS: The Corner Bar is coming up again Friday of next week (October 5th) … Then on Saturday 10/13, it’s the annual Harvest Dinner (find out more on the HPIC website), including this time a Talent Show (talent is being sought!), and it’s also a donation collection for the Food Bank … October’s Movie Night is coming up on the 3rd Friday of the month … They’ll have a Holiday Bazaar on December 8th – Highland Park Elementary is not having one this year, Julie Schickling announced, so its past organizer is working on the one at HPIC.

COYOTE CONCERNS: One attendee says she believes coyotes are living near two vacant houses in the 13th and Cloverdale vicinity.

Highland Park Action Committee usually meets the fourth Wednesday of the month, 7 pm meeting after 6:30 pm potluck, at HP Improvement Club, 12th and Holden.

28 Replies to "Highland Park Action Committee: 'The Hum' update; Nickelsville vow"

  • Wendy Hughes-Jelen September 27, 2012 (1:29 am)

    Great job! I hope their equipment can be changed so it falls within compliance. And the city works for US. Someone is going to have to stay up late, like the rest of us, to come verify The Hum.

  • cj September 27, 2012 (2:53 am)

    Nice detective work! I have to wonder about the workers though and if its so loud for us then what about potential hazardous noise for the workers there.

  • Alisa September 27, 2012 (4:22 am)

    Agreed with Wendy! Good job on finding the hum… ready for it to end! As community members (and some of us night owls) is there anything that we can do to speed the process of getting this shut down or at least minimized? Recordings? Complaints? Letters? Phone calls? Signing something? Anything? We all need this to go away quickly and I want to help make it happen.

  • mike September 27, 2012 (6:03 am)

    I dunno, the midshipman fish has fooled people before, don’t bring out the pitchfork and torch yet people.

  • happy September 27, 2012 (6:18 am)

    Yay, WSB!!

    = )

  • Alan September 27, 2012 (7:05 am)

    You probably can’t see it from the street, but you can see the vacuum unloader from space. Here is a link to it on Google Maps: http://goo.gl/maps/B6QOv

    Clearly it is a permanent fixture on the dock, so hopefully they can find ways to dampen the noise.

    Thanks to WSB for all of their work on this.

  • ca September 27, 2012 (7:06 am)

    funny I didnt see this yesterday, but heard the hum from 130a-430ish am this morning! but didnt wake me up…just letting puppy out for potty :)

  • AE September 27, 2012 (7:29 am)

    I’m disappointed that the noise continued throughout last night. Leads me to believe that a change will have to be forced.

    Maybe they were in the middle of and operation and couldn’t reasonably stop, but I’d like to think they are concerned about the fact that they are seriously disturbing hundreds of people.

  • Elizh September 27, 2012 (7:51 am)

    If you remove the mufflers from a vacuum pump exhaust, ithe pump will operate more efficiently. The trade off is the resultant noise.

  • Koni September 27, 2012 (8:08 am)

    It seemed louder than ever last night ;(

  • cjp September 27, 2012 (9:12 am)

    Any idea if the collected responses Ms Stauffer took to the city are available anywhere? Would they be entered into the public record? I’m curious to get perspective on how the reasoned compassionate responses that still have the net result of NIMBY, are not not categorized as NIMBY.


  • cjp September 27, 2012 (9:20 am)

    AE- We’re talking about an industrial business. Chances are the foreman on site can’t just make the decision to shut down operations immediately because they’ve recieved a noise complaint. Any change in their schedule is going to affect profits, operating procedures, possibly the paychecks of 3rd shift workers, etc. There are probably contract and SLA negotiations to be had with ship-owners, freight operators, etc.

    I’m sure its annoying, but expecting them to just flip the switch the next day because they are the source of the hum is a bit myopic. They might not even be aware of the hum-hunt that has been gripping WS all this time. From the perspective of the neighborhood this is a grand adventure that has been unfolding for weeks. From their perspective, someone just came up and knocked on their door out of the blue and said ‘you know that loud thing you do, its REALLY LOUD’. They’ve responded saying that now that they know people have concerns, they’ll look into it. Give them a chance.

  • Bill September 27, 2012 (9:45 am)

    They only work from morning until mid afternoon, unless you need some fish sounds recorded.

  • Pam September 27, 2012 (10:48 am)

    Is this a new system for empting the ships ? I am sure if not its been going on for a long time, why now are the rports of the “hum” just being reported. I feel we have not yet solved the “hum”.

  • BP September 27, 2012 (10:49 am)

    If you too want to thank LeFarge for their dedication in sleuthing the Hum like I did…



  • Sophie September 27, 2012 (11:15 am)

    I found an offloader on Youtube, complete with sound, in case people were wondering:

  • Alan September 27, 2012 (12:15 pm)

    I noticed that the link I provided earlier didn’t give the desired result. I have done a screen capture for better viewing and uploaded it to Picasa. https://picasaweb.google.com/116257106015818984632/WestSeattleHum

    There is a Shore Access point immediately across from the point in question, providing excellent views. There is even a picnic table and park bench, so you can sit and enjoy. I have included photographs of this as well.

  • DonHP September 27, 2012 (12:15 pm)

    Great job all of you that figured this all out. I’m one who also owes an apology to Lafarge for pointing the finger at them. Here’s a clip from yesterday, of the machine/pump on the pier where the Silver Lake was docked.


    It appears that the pump can roll on tracks along the dock to reach various compartments of the ship. It was clear too that the noise was the pump and not anything on the ship itself. Also the great satellite image that was included on a previous post shows the pump hooked up to the Silver Lake or a similar ship. That ship could be the Sun Ruby, which is the same type of cargo ship as the Silver Lake. Using Ship Tracer, I looked up where the Sun Ruby was during the Labor Day weekend, and sure enough, it was tied up to the Cal Portland dock. However, a few days later it moved north up to the Lafarge plant.

    I’m just about ready to call this problem solved, except I’m still confused by my “seek out the bad sound” mission on the Monday night of Labor Day. I left my house in highland Park and stopped at several locations listening for the source of the sound. I came down Highland Park Wy and turned into Pioneer Industries lot and heard the sound load and clear coming from the north. I then parked behind the Subway shop and it was still coming from the north. I drove into the access road to Terminal Services near where the off-loading pier is located. I don’t remember a ship being there at that time but it was evident to me that the sound was definitely coming from the area of the Lafarge plant. I then drove to their front gate and it was very loud and clear the sound was coming from the towers on the north end of the plant. That’s when I shot the video “LafargeHum” that is posted on youtube.

    The only idea I have now, is the sound I was hearing might have been a combination of Lafarge’s equipment and the ship unloader on Cal Portland’s dock echoing off Lafarge’s towers leading me to believe that all the sound was coming from that location. Or, is it possible that Lafarge has the same kind of pumping machine at their north dock and were they unloading a ship or barge over the Labor Day weekend? Either way, all of us in Highland Park hope Cal Portland, or Lafarge, figures out how to quite down the pumps.
    Thank you all again. I was not able to attend the meeting last night but wish I could have been there.

    • WSB September 27, 2012 (12:42 pm)

      Don – Lafarge, as I noted in one story this week, does rent out its dock space to empty ships after the loading, and they said they had another such ship there on September 5th, probably the one you mention, which would have been shortly after the last serious outbreak of The Hum … and the Silver Lake is supposed to go tie up there after it’s emptied out in the current operation.

  • bsmomma September 27, 2012 (1:03 pm)

    It was so loud this morning in the 5 o’clock hour! Usually air traffic can drown it out but not this morning! I’m in North Admiral.

  • bsmomma September 27, 2012 (1:04 pm)

    It was so loud this morning in the 5 oclock hour! Usually air traffic can drown it out but not this morning! I’m in North Admiral.

  • westseattledood September 27, 2012 (1:12 pm)

    Alan and DonHP,
    thanks for going out and grabbing the shots. My iphone video got the sound but no zoom so it was not adequate.
    And DonHP, I apologized to the Lafarge Mgr. and he was gracious. He was impressive, though understandably cautious, in his willingness to join us. I am very pleased to have sat at the table with him last night. It has been challenging to figure this out for a number of reasons. But we are over that hump and we can all move forward.

    Also, thank you to everybody who has called the city complaint line so they get the data they need. And thanks to WSB, as always.

  • berge September 27, 2012 (2:43 pm)

    Big big thanks to WSB but also to numerous readers who did some additional tracking to lead us to the ships and do a little more digging (Chris, Kay K, others). You guys are impressive!

  • lily September 27, 2012 (3:47 pm)

    Since we all know where it is coming from and know that it’s not the world coming to an end…let’s all relax and go on with our lives.
    BUT let the City take care of Cal Portland.

    • WSB September 27, 2012 (3:53 pm)

      I have a message out to see what they have to say today … haven’t heard back yet.

  • Heather September 27, 2012 (5:48 pm)

    Now if we could just plan a treasure hunt…any cool WS urban legends about gold coins???

  • JayDee September 27, 2012 (6:26 pm)


    I saw this on Ecology’s website about noise pollution FAQs for citizens:

    It doesn’t offer much hope if the City or County (South Park?) don’t do anything. Even if they can say they are in an industrial area, insistent pressure on the council can help change minds…

  • Jan Hubert September 28, 2012 (7:50 am)

    The hum woke me up at 1:18am this morning and I had to put earplugs in to block it out. Never really noticed it that loud before. I live across from Sealth. Hope they can stop this.

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