The state and the developer of Point Ruston have agreed to spend $500,000 to study how to remove creosote-soaked docks along Commencement Bay. The 2,300 pilings cover nearly two acres above the water next to where developer Mike Cohen is building the ambitious urban village project, which will combine condominiums, apartments, a hotel, office and retail space on both sides of the boundary between Tacoma and Ruston.
The agreement was signed by Cohen and Doug Sutherland, commissioner of public lands, during a ceremony next to the docks Nov. 26. Point Ruston LLC will contribute $100,000 to the study, while $400,000 will come from the state’s Model Toxic Control Fund.
The docks are the last visible remains of the smelter that once occupied the site. Operated by American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO), it was among the larger smelters on the West Coast. It ceased operations in the 1980s and Cohen later purchased the land.
Removing the docks could disturb contaminated sediments, as well as the cap of clean sediments placed by Point Ruston. The study, scheduled to be completed by next May, will present options for the safest and most cost effective methods for removal.
Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg called Cohen a visionary and applauded him for his commitment to environmental remediation. He imagined the area after the docks are removed and tourists visit Point Ruston. “They will be amazed at the beauty we take for granted,” he said. The sunny blue skies provided breathtaking views of the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges as he spoke.
Mayor Bill Baarsma discussed his father’s 33 years of employment at the smelter. The mayor also worked there during summers while in college. Among his duties was sweeping fine ore dust on the docks. “In my view, this is hallowed ground,” he remarked.
Baarsma said in his wildest dreams he would never have imagined the urban village rising on the site. Nearby, construction crews were busy building the first condominium village.
Cohen discussed the importance of his company partnering with government agencies in cleaning up the Superfund site. “We have been exploring every opportunity we could.”
Sutherland recalled when he was mayor 20 years ago how he and others hoped the smelter site could become a people-oriented public area. He applauded the commitment of Cohen and his business partners. “There are people who had the vision and the courage to make huge investments here,” Sutherland remarked.
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