PHOTOS: State crew out on West Seattle beaches, cleaning up dangerous ‘driftwood,’ wishing they could do more

(WSB photos by Patrick Sand)

A crew working for the state Department of Natural Resources is back out on West Seattle beaches this week, cleaning up creosote – a toxic threat you might not even recognize as you walk along beaches strewn with old pilings containing literally tons of the substance long used as a wood preservative.

We were invited to photograph a cleanup site just north of the Fauntleroy ferry dock on Wednesday when state Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz was visiting the crew. While the beachfront property there is privately owned, part of the tidelands belong to the state, which obtained access agreements with dozens of property owners to facilitate this part of the cleanup.

Crew members are cutting up creosote-contaminated wood and loading it on board this vessel:

From there it’s taken across Puget Sound to Manchester in Kitsap County, and transported from there to a landfill. Before our visit, they had already removed 20 tons of contaminated wood – DNR’s aquatics restoration manager Christopher Robertson explained that every linear foot of a log like this could contain a gallon of liquid creosote, which he described as “very nasty stuff.”

You’ve heard that toxins in the water is one of the biggest threats to Puget Sound orcas. That makes this removal a boon to them, as well as to the salmon they need to survive. Part of Commissioner Franz’s reason for visiting is to highlight her budget request for the coming year, to better fund this and other projects vital to protecting the state’s environment.

Franz would like to double the amount of creosote that the state can remove. Right now, this project only has access to one six-person crew, two weeks a month; ideally, Robertson and fellow aquatics restoration manager Monica Shoemaker told us, they could keep half a dozen crews and a fleet of boats busy.

By the way, while on the beach, we learned about a new app that you can use to help if you spot debris on the beach – like this damaged float that had appeared sometime within the previous day:

It’s a threat to marine wildlife and birds because it contains styrofoam that looks to them like yummy fish eggs:

You can report something like this via the MyCoast app, in which our state is a participant – find out about it here. Besides “large marine debris,” derelict vessels are another category of reporting for which you can use MyCoast. Back to the creosote removal:

This isn’t new – the state’s been doing it for more than a decade. But unfortunately it’s the kind of work that has to be repeated – there’s so much creosote out there, any beach is vulnerable to something more washing up. Fauntleroy is just one of many beaches where the state is doing this work.

14 Replies to "PHOTOS: State crew out on West Seattle beaches, cleaning up dangerous 'driftwood,' wishing they could do more"

  • just wondering February 21, 2019 (1:08 pm)

    As a child I tried “riding” a creosote log in the water at the beach.Bad, bad idea!  

    • Maria February 22, 2019 (8:53 am)

      I’m envisioning it was more like log rolling :)

  • Danny February 21, 2019 (3:39 pm)

    Thank you for your hard work in removing the driftwood. Creosote is nasty stuff!

  • vlado February 21, 2019 (3:50 pm)

    I suspect that some of those pressure treated poles were made at the now gone Wykoff Company facility where Jack Block Park is now located.  The park was built over a clay cap that seals the creosote free product that is still  present in the ground underneath.  There are monitoring wells located in the clay cap that are used to measure any potential leakage, which are visible for anyone interested.  It is a Superfund site so it gets regularly monitored by the EPA.I was given a tour of the Wykoff creosote facility in 1990 when it was still operational.  It was very messy, with large pressure tanks that would be loaded up with wood to be saturated by the creosote.  When the pressure tanks would get opened, some of the creosote would drip into the ground.  There was an even larger creosote facility at Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island that is also a superfund site that was closed in the 1980’s, the West Seattle facility was kept operational until the early 1990’s.

    • Mike February 21, 2019 (7:06 pm)

      It’s capping barrels of toxic waste.  Part of the deal the port made with government entities was they wouldn’t be required to ship out and pay more to dispose of toxic waste and contaminated sediment if they barreled it up and put a publicly accessible park on top of the barrels of toxic waste.

  • JVP February 21, 2019 (3:55 pm)

    Always makes me happy to see folks cleaning up nasty junk that’s in our waters. 

  • JTK February 21, 2019 (4:34 pm)

    Now everyone do the polar plunge!  Get in that water!  Ugh.  

  • Katie February 21, 2019 (4:45 pm)

    I play with my family at that spot pretty regularly so I’m hoping it’s new wood washing up? Or as it been there for a while?

  • I’mcoveredinbees February 21, 2019 (8:57 pm)

    Thanks, vlado. That’s interesting!

  • singular February 21, 2019 (11:01 pm)

    Public Lands Commissioner. Visits a cleanup site. With her first to go cup of the day. Just freakin’ brilliant.

    • KM February 22, 2019 (7:56 am)

      Ugh. Single use sucks.

  • Maria February 22, 2019 (9:02 am)

    Aside from that observation and any other ideological slant though, Hilary Franz is an awesome presenter if anyone has a chance to see.  Entertaining and dynamic – not something I went in expecting.

  • rob February 23, 2019 (3:58 pm)

    did they all so clean up the poison saw dust ?

    • WSB February 23, 2019 (4:08 pm)

      Yes, the shavings were removed too.

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