City Light starts cleanup at ‘surplus’ site on Pigeon Point

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

If you drove, walked, or rode past 21st/Andover in Pigeon Point on Friday, you might have noticed the crew working at the old Seattle City Light substation on the northwest corner. It’s one of the six West Seattle “surplus” sites that City Light is looking to unload.

A reader wondered if a decision about this site’s fate had already been made, considering that the tree work being done by the crew yesterday looked extensive. So we checked with City Light – and found out it’s more than tree work. SCL spokesperson Scott Thomsen tells WSB it’s part of a cleanup at the site, after soil sampling at the site turned up contamination beyond what’s considered acceptable for residential property.

While he stresses that no decisions have been made about this or any of the other sites, he told WSB, “As part of our look at potential disposition of the land, we did some soil sampling to check on contamination, since before selling or otherwise transferring it, we would want to take care of remediation.”

Sampling at 21st/Andover turned up three substances at levels beyond what is now considered the “(needs) cleanup standard for residential property,” which he listed during our conversation as:

*DDT, at a concentration of up to 6.2 parts per million (ppm), which is twice the residential limit of up to 3 ppm (industrial, Thomsen said, is 4 ppm)

*Lead, at a concentration of up to 290 ppm; residential limit is 250 ppm, industrial 1,000 ppm

*PCBs, at a concentration of up to 2.7 ppm; residential limit is 1 ppm, industrial 10 ppm

PCBs were used for insulating transformers, and while Thomsen says City Light “didn’t specifically buy it,” manufacturers of some equipment would have used it. DDT, you might recall, was a pesticide used widely until catastrophic effects were noticed in the ’70s, and its use at this site, according to Thomsen, dates back to the ’50s.

The tree removal is related to this, he explained, because their rootballs would hold contaminated soil; overall soil removal is planned for the site as part of the “remediation,” he added, which he said is precautionary even though “none of this (involves) dramatically high concentrations” of contaminants.

He didn’t have specific information handy on soil testing/cleanup needs for any of the other sites, but we’ll be checking back. And as for decisionmaking on the sites’ fate, he says there’s no specific timeline right now, but “discussions are ongoing.”

Community groups including the West Seattle Green Space Coalition have been advocating for a delay in decisionmaking so that there will be more options for the sites’ future. Sale for residential development would likely be quickly accomplished, but making it available for parkland or other open-space use would take more time, especially if community groups had to go through grant applications and/or fundraising to get money for purchasing it. If this 8,000-square-foot site were developed for residential use, since it is zoned L-1 (the L is for “lowrise”), five housing units would be allowed – cottages, townhouses, or rowhouses.

16 Replies to "City Light starts cleanup at 'surplus' site on Pigeon Point"

  • Craig December 21, 2013 (1:22 pm)

    All of the trees have been removed from the 16 th and Holden site due to work on site this week.

    While we in Highland park were told of SPU’s legal right to sell the properties, I question their lack of accountability to the needs of the neighborhoods of these “surplus properties.”

  • Mike December 21, 2013 (2:15 pm)

    This is an interesting article. There are more city light locations that are up for surplus right now in residential areas, one is near the Gennesee Hill school location. If they have to remove trees due to rootballs being contaminated, it’s a guarantee that surrounding residence have soil impacted by these locations. That would make residents of those places next to the surplus locations liable if they sell their homes. I think the residents need to also have their soil tested and hold city light liable for any contamination. They let these locations degrade and not keep them up to standards, it’s not the financial problem of the residence near by, it’s the responsibility of City Light to take care of their facilities. If an auto salvage yard was found to have contaminated soil like this, they’d be shut down and fined.
    We pay a fortune for our utilities as is, we already know they’ve had fraud and theft due to lack of proper security measures. Hold them responsible and force them to utilize that money we give their monopoly.

  • dc December 21, 2013 (3:46 pm)

    Without the data and knowing the sampling locations, you can’t be sure that the surrounding properties are contaminated. If adjacent property owners are concerned, they should request the data from the city through FOIA.

  • Craig December 21, 2013 (4:46 pm)

    I’m really trying not to look at the actions of clear cutting sites as a slap in the face to anyone in favor of preserving green space or asking SPU to consider local wishes for the sites.
    If the trees in our neighborhood (at these sites)are going to all disappear then maybe the toxin levels for all of the sites should be made public and the cleanup procedure posted before work begins?

    • WSB December 21, 2013 (5:26 pm)

      Craig – I will be following up with SCL on Monday. I just drove around to the other West Seattle sites (as those following this closely know, there are also three sites on the list NOT in West Seattle; we’re just following the WS ones, and that includes the one mislabeled “White Center,” which is actually in Highland Park) and did not see any evidence of recent tree cutting – at least, outside the fences.

  • Karen Lyons December 21, 2013 (6:52 pm)

    I am with GSNC and have been following this story. I have also seen the soil tests. I do not see the need for the removal of trees. In the past month I have done some research on past soil removals at City Light substations. Apparently, they have a boiler-plate statement they put into all their explanations of complete soil removal. They did not even show soil test results in these past explanations.
    Quote~City Light “The planned activities are related to the removal of soils and/or debris from the property.There may be low levels of contaminants such as lead present due to past uses at the site. Any contamination that may be present is contained to the site and will be cleaned up by us.”
    Complete soil removal because “there may be low levels of contaminants” Could it be they were hoping we would just take their word for it and not ask to see soil tests? The soil test results they have posted do not justify full removal of trees. For the Dakota substation they are citing low levels of pesticides that were stopped in the 1980’s and have long passed their half-life dates.

  • Oh, the humanity! December 21, 2013 (9:27 pm)

    Apparently some basic Seattle Civic education is in order: Seattle Public Utilities (aka SPU) is a fancy name for the water department that some corporate welfare dollars came up with in the 80’s. SPU has nothing to do with electrical service.

    City Light, the electric company,h has been selling off these old substation lots since the 60’s. Since we’re not all dead, it’s probably not something to clutch your pearls about. But if you insist, don’t do it at, say, West Seven. That lot was a huge City Light sub back in the day.

    And if you really want to twist your panties, why bother with this, when you’ve got the cancer cluster we politely call Harbor Island? Or that carcinogen producer known as Nucor/Bethlehem Steel/Salmon Bay/or whatever the latest DBA is?

    It’s fun and easy to fly off the handle at small fry municipal stuff. Trouble is, it gives the real rats cover. But that’s not the point, is it?

  • J December 22, 2013 (11:58 pm)

    I am not a soil scientist, but it seems to me that toxins might be better left in the roots of a living tree, than to remove the tree and allow the decomposing roots to release the toxins into the soil and water table. Living trees do wonders.

  • Hmmm December 23, 2013 (10:51 am)

    So I was the one that pointed this out to wsb. Thanks Tracy.
    Actually my concern was more about the development of the site. The surrounding properties are all r5000 and have both Eca and slope restrictions. Yet this one doesn’t? Also as Tracy pointed out it’s zoned lr1. I’m more concerned about the possibility of 472 no parking micro-boxes being built on that site. I’m guessing the developers are drooling at sites like this. Unfortunately it won’t surprise me if this site never goes to market and gets developed as lr1. To me it has more a stench of site prep than remidiation. Probably something along the lines of not having to disclose it to new owners post-development if it’s done now.

  • Karen Lyons December 23, 2013 (3:56 pm)

    City Light has already told us they want to sell to the highest bidder, period, no discussion. My thought is that a cleared lot that is cleared out of the City Light customer’s pocket saves any real estate broker a lot of money and makes the property a much easier sell.

    • WSB December 23, 2013 (3:59 pm)

      Theoretically, the plan has to go to the City Council, so whatever City Light has told you, it’s not a done deal yet. Even something as small as the “disposition” of the old Fire Station 37 went through an amazing amount of bureaucracy before selling it to a prospective resident was finalized. Anyway, I have contacted SCL today about information on other properties and have not yet had time to process everything they sent in response, but I’m expecting a followup later tonight. – Tracy

  • Hmmm December 23, 2013 (5:29 pm)

    I wonder if it’s possible to request that the city reviews and/or changes the zoning before a sale. I would imagine the zoning was only to allow for future electrical upgrades Not taller housing.

    • WSB December 23, 2013 (5:39 pm)

      Zoning cannot be changed without City Council approval, and that requires a sheaf of public notice. Nothing has been changed with this site any time recently; I don’t know if you are involved with the Pigeon Point Neighborhood Council, but they might know about anything way back in the past. Nothing shows in county or city records regarding even proposed changes at the address but there’s a lot of property in WS that’s zoned for something different than its current uses.

  • Karen Lyons December 24, 2013 (7:28 am)

    It is DONE. Pigeon Point is clear cut with NO City Council approval. This site had beautiful specimen trees; large Japanese maples, an outstanding Persian Parrotia, Crabapple, Magnolia, 4 varieties of pine, Rhodendron and many more. I think City Light rushed this clear cutting because they feared our group was about to do our own soil testing. Trees are excellent filters and cleaners of soil, that, plus the soil profile of Fauntleroy, suggests that that soil was probably very clear of contaminants. The odds are they will be clear cutting the Dakota substation very soon unless we can find a way to stop them.

    • WSB December 24, 2013 (7:46 am)

      Karen – the reports they sent were too much reading for me to write up yesterday and I’m not going to publish a followup on Christmas Eve/Day when readership is much lower, but Lynn Best of SCL did say, “Other former substation sites that we are planning to clean up in the West Seattle area are Dakota, Fauntleroy, and White Center.”

  • Mary Fleck December 30, 2013 (1:41 pm)

    Seattle City Light told neighbors that it was studying potential disposition and would be reporting to Seattle City Council in Winter 2014. We have not seen any report yet, and Seattle City Council has not authorized any sale of the properties.

    In October, West Seattle Green Space Coalition presented a petition to Seattle City Light and the City Council with over 600 signatures asking that NO ACTION be taken until neighborhoods can be involved to find funding for the best possible uses of these properties. Many neighbors oppose selling the properties for more high density development.

    Why did Seattle City Light unilaterally decide to chop down all the trees at 2 sites when the City Council has not made any decision about the future of these sites? The trees on these sites have been beautiful additions to our neighborhoods for years. Ask questions, and express your concerns:

    Here is contact information:

    West Seattle Green Space Coalition is meeting at 3:00 on Saturday, January 4 at High Point Library. Please join us!

    Mary Fleck
    co-Chair, WSGSC

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