Drains to Streams

Huge Developments Planned for the Waterfront

We are now facing enormous nearshore developments in Budd Inlet. On the West Side, West Bay Development Group wants to develop 478 market-rate apartments and more than 20,000 square feet of commercial space at the old Hardel site. On the East Side, The Port of Olympia is planning administrative buildings, mixed use, hotels, retail and other waterfront structures. This scale of development along the shoreline will impede ecological function, reduce opportunities for cleanup of legacy contamination and greatly reduce restoration potential.

Stopping any of these is going to be difficult because the City has pulled its own regulatory teeth. Coincidentally, the City’s Shoreline Master Program (SMP) is currently under Periodic Review and comments will be accepted.

The SMP is dominated by make believe. There’s no dioxin contamination, there are no stream estuaries or other ecological structure, and good science is sorely lacking. And where it might count, the SMP is ignored.

A. Dioxin is the most biologically damaging non-radioactive substance known. It is present in Budd Inlet sediments in concentrations that exceed every threshold and continues to flow into the bay from undetermined sources. The Olympia Shoreline Master Program (SMP) barely mentions this most significant problem. In the early 1980s 1.1 million cubic yards of contaminated sediments were dredged from in front of Cascade Pole and used as fill along the eastern side of the Port Peninsula, adjoining East Bay. Dredge spoils since have gone into a containment cell with steel sheet piling and slurry walls that will inevitably fail.

The Sediment Characterization Study, dated 2008, page 20, is an aerial showing the dioxin hotspots just northeast of the Hardel Site and at the southeast corner of East Bay. Surface contamination is generally an indication of an ongoing source. We should, after 12 years, have identified these sources. The Budd Inlet Sediment Dioxin Source Study dated March of 2016 does not attempt to locate specific sources or pathways of dioxin hotspots.

B. East Bay has the poorest water quality in Budd Inlet. It fails for virtually every parameter including bacteria, temperature, dissolved oxygen, fine sediment and nutrient loading. These failures are directly related to loss of ecological function through dredging and filling the bay and running its tributaries through long culverts.

One of the stated goals of the SMP is “To ensure, at a minimum, no net loss of shoreline ecological functions and processes and to plan for restoring shorelines that have been impaired or degraded by adopting and fostering the policy contained in RCW 90.58.020,” Where has this ever happened?

The SMP suggests four improvements for East Bay:

1. “Plant 2,300 linear feet of shoreline to create a functional riparian zone”. No mention of what is meant by planting “shoreline”, no mention of species. And no explanation as to how planting shoreline will “create and functional riparian zone” or provide “ecological function”.

2. “Reconstruct the mouth of Indian/Moxlie Creek and estuary”. No explanation of what this means. I’d hypothesize that Daylighting the estuary out of its half mile long culvert is the only way to do it. Once again, where’s the science?

3. Plant approximately 1,500 feet of nearshore riparian vegetation along East Bay Drive”. Is this part of number 1 or something additional?

4. Plant approximately 4,200 linear feet of riparian vegetation. 1, 3 and 4 all seem to be part of the same effort. They total 8000 linear feet and the Port doesn’t have 8000 linear feet available for this kind of thing.

Allowed building setbacks are 30 feet from the high water mark. Given that some of this is riprap and other armoring and waterfront trails and other features, the width of planting will be less. Riparian buffers composed of vegetation become effective at somewhere between 16ft and 1920 ft of width depending on site characteristics and the nature of contaminants. Given the critical nature of estuarine environments, we might hope for the higher number.


The riparian buffer does not exist in a vacuum. In marine nearshore environments where beaches are fringed with riparian vegetation, the upper intertidal wrack zone accumulates organic debris from algae, seagrass, and terrestrial plants and provides food and shelter for many organisms. Armored beaches have substantially less organic matter and ecological connectivity.  A narrow riparian planting will do little if placed on top of a pile of rock.


5. Culverts

There’s some discussion of bulkhead removal and replacement of hardened shoreline with soft structural stabilization measures “water‐ward of Ordinary High Water Mark (OHWM) where appropriate”. The long culverts of Moxlie and Schneider Creeks are intertidal. Both are water-ward of the high water mark.

C. No science.

a. There’s no classic scientific inquiry, the clear statement of observation> hypothesis> test> conclusion.

b. There’s no analysis of primary production and no analysis of the impacts of physical parameters on chemical and biological production.

D. The SMP is ignored in practice where it would count.

Under 2.34 Restoration and Enhancement Policies:

“A. Olympia recognizes the importance of restoration of shoreline ecological functions and processes and encourages cooperative restoration efforts and programs… to address shorelines with impaired ecological functions and processes”. Really?

“B. Restoration actions should restore shoreline ecological functions and processes as well as shoreline features and should be targeted towards meeting the needs of sensitive and/or locally important plant, fish and wildlife species as well as the biologic recovery goals for State and federally listed species and populations” Sounds good. Never happens.

“F. Incorporate restoration and enhancement measures into the design and construction of new uses and development, public infrastructure (e.g., roads, utilities), and public recreation facilities”. Never happens.

“G. Shoreline restoration and enhancement should be considered as an alternative to structural stabilization and protection measures where feasible”. Never happens.

“M. Restoration and enhancement projects may include shoreline modification actions provided the primary purpose of such actions is clearly restoration of the natural character and ecological functions of the shoreline”. A dream.

Under appendix June 12, 2012

“To meet current Shoreline Master Program requirements, at a minimum the Restoration Plan must consider and address the following subjects (WAC 173‐26‐201(2)(f)): Identify degraded areas, impaired ecological functions, and sites with potential for ecological restoration; Establish overall goals and priorities for restoration of degraded areas and impaired ecological functions.. the Restoration Plan is intended to identify shoreline, or areas upland that impact shorelines, that need to be restored to a healthy and functioning condition. The Plan is for the purpose of identifying potential projects and programs that would contribute or achieve restoration for those degraded areas”. Where? When?

“Salmon have been confirmed in Mission, Moxlie, and Schneider Creeks, which all empty into Budd Inlet”. That’s it?

“When prioritizing restoration actions, the City will give highest priority to measures that have the greatest chance of re‐establishing shoreline ecological functions and processes.” This would be restoring estuaries.

“Reconnect Fish Passage to Budd Inlet, and Restore Mouths of Tributary Streams. Expanding available fish habitat and spawning opportunities for fish is a high priority. Perhaps the most frequently encountered fish passage barriers are culverts that are improperly designed, installed, or maintained, and channel alterations that result in impassable conditions (Harry & Konovsky 1999)”. All talk no action.

“Ongoing or recommended restoration projects or programs that would restore and improve fish passage and mouths of tributary streams include”: At this point we might expect to see a list of “restoration projects and programs” but what we see is a  list of non-profit and other groups.

“Critical Areas regulations in effect on October 1, 2013, contained in the Olympia Municipal Code (OMC) Chapter 18.32 and 16.70, require “that current and potential ecological functions be identified and understood when evaluating new or expanded uses and developments”, that “adverse impacts to be mitigated in a manner that ensures no net loss of shoreline ecological functions” and that this “shall include avoidance as a first priority” and that there be “incentives to restore shoreline ecological functions where such functions have been degraded by past actions”. Once again it never happens.
“The protection, restoration and enhancement of shoreline ecological functions and system‐wide processes, especially as they pertain to the long‐term health of Budd Inlet, are high priorities of Olympia’s Shoreline Program”. How’s that?

Ecology states:: “In regards to scientific data and ecological functions, protection of the shoreline environment is an essential statewide policy goal, consistent with the other policy goals of the Shoreline Management Act (Act). To satisfy the requirements for the use of scientific and technical information in RCW 90.58.100(l), the Guidelines require local governments to identiff and assemble the most curent, accurate, and complete scientific and technical information available, and to base their Master Program provisions on an analysis that incorporates this information. WAC I73-26-201(2)(a) states that local governments should be prepared to identif three things: the scientific information and management recommendations on which the Master Program provisions are based; assumptions made concerning and data gaps in the scientific information; and risks to ecological functions associated with Master Program provisions fthrough the process identified in WAC 113-26-201(3Xd)]….”when determining allowable uses and lesolving use conflicts on shorelines”, local governments must apply the following preferences and priorities in the order listed below: Number one (i) Protect and restoring ecological functions…” Olympia is not complying with these provisions. 


LEGAL APPEAL submitted

On March 8th, Olympia Urban Waters League submitted a legal appeal to the City of Olympia’s decision to issue a determination of non-significance(DNS) for the Westman Mill development.

This SEPA DNS should be rejected because the option of removing the stream from a half mile long culvert and restoring the estuary has never been seriously considered. The assumption made by City and Port has been that the site would be developed, an assumption that invalidated the ensuing process which has been fraught throughout with attempts to ignore, marginalize and mischaracterize community advocacy for restoration.

East Bay is considered impaired under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act because it contains too many nitrates and too little dissolved oxygen. The Estuary Restoration Act, administered under NOAA, states that estuaries are dynamic, productive and support important ecosystem functions including chemical and nutrient cycling and maintenance of biodiversity and biological production. The Westman Mill site is the area of intertidal exchange. This is the only place this exchange can be located. It can’t be remediated elsewhere. It needs to be structured as naturally as possible to be effective.

Nothing about this SEPA DNS addresses impacts on the impaired waters of the East Bay estuary or Indian and Moxlie Creeks, despite a preponderance of science affirming structural restoration as a necessary step to improving water quality.



Moxlie Creek

Comments on Westman Mill Development, 510 State Ave NE, Olympia. September 25, 2017

Westman Mill 01.jpg
Westman Mill development area.

The area on State street that is today (February 2018) being readied for development, is adjacent to East Bay. If Moxlie Creek were daylighted, this would be the area of intertidal exchange, the estuary. This is the only place it can be located. It can’t be remediated elsewhere. The entire estuary at one time totaled several hundred acres. This is the only portion of the historic estuary that’s available for restoration.

Estuaries are one of nature’s perfect designs. Fresh water being lighter than salt water flows out on the surface drawing salt water in underneath, along with phytoplankton and zooplankton. This mixing is important and it happens best in shallow water in the presence of sunlight and atmospheric oxygen. In a darkened pipe there is no sunlight. No phytoplankton. No marine web of life. An intertidal culvert is especially bad because the tide pushes water back up into the pipe where it becomes septic. East Bay is Federally Degraded for low levels of dissolved oxygen and high levels of nitrates, conditions that would benefit from restoration.

East Bay is also contaminated with PCBs and dioxin. We should be attempting to locate, isolate and remediate the sources of this ongoing contamination. Southern Resident Orcas are probably heading toward extinction for two reasons, lack of food and the presence of lipophilic persistent bioaccumulative toxins like PCBs and dioxin.



Statewide, benthic levels of PCB and dioxin in urban, contaminated areas have not gone down. “PCBs in Puget Sound’s benthic indicator species appear to be increasing in several urbanized areas, and not decreasing in any sampled location. Particular challenges identified by these studies may be to develop methods for reducing new PCB sources to the pelagic food web and to understand the causes for PCB increases in benthic species from urbanized locations. Puget Sound’s pelagic prey base continues to be a hot-spot of PCBs in the northeastern Pacific Ocean region, resulting in long-term contamination of apex predators and other species important to healthy ecosystem function and to human use. Recovery of at least two species listed for protection and recovery by the U.S. Endangered Species Act and Canadian Species at Risk Act, southern resident killer whales (Krahn et al. 2002) and Chinook salmon (Myers et al. 1998) may be significantly hindered by their exposure to PCBs from their prey base in Puget Sound (Hickie et al. 2007; O’Neill and West 2009; Mongillo et al. 2016).”


Moxlie outfall 01.jpg
Moxlie Creek outfall into East Bay

According to the comprehensive Sediment Characterization Report of 2008 (page 54): “Additional evaluation is needed at the Hardel Mutual Plywood site and the Moxlie Creek discharge to determine whether these sites are significant sources of dioxin/furan contamination through the use of PCP as a wood preservative…” The way to do this is to sample using in-line sediment traps and similar techniques. If the Moxlie Creek discharge is the source of dioxin entering the bay, the most plausible source of dioxin entering the pipe would be contaminated fill around the pipe entering through fissures. Claiming that the source is an old piling or woody debris doesn’t rule out the culvert, even if true.

Ecology claims that they “collected and analyzed soil samples from borings to define the vertical extent of soil contamination (and) drilled as deep as we needed to, to define the vertical extent of soil contamination.” They claim that “if DNAPLs (dense non aqueous phase liquids like dioxin containing creosote) were present, we would see related contamination somewhere in the soil, vapor, and/or groundwater.”

According to the the EPA: “Although analysis of ground water provides useful information on the distribution of the soluble components of the DNAPL, the presence of other phases of the DNAPL may go unrecognized. The investigation must, therefore, be more detailed to obtain information concerning the phase distribution of the DNAPL at a site. Site characterization may require analyses on all four phases (aqueous, gaseous, solid, immiscible) to yield the appropriate information. In brief, data collected on the various phases must be compiled, evaluated and used to help identify: where the contaminant is presently located; where it has been” and so on.


The nature and extent of contamination on the Port Peninsula are unknowns. DNAPLs are heavier than water and will tend to sink to an impervious layer and migrate horizontally. We should sample to this impervious layer which on this property is about 25 feet deep.

Harry Branch