July 18, 2008

County Council to Discuss Swift Creek Dredging Funding: If Approved, State Agreement Would Help Pay $190,000 in Excavation Costs

By Sam Taylor, The Bellingham Herald, Wash.

Jul. 18--Whatcom County is very unlikely to get federal help in the upcoming fiscal year to clean up asbestos-laden Swift Creek.

But the state Department of Ecology is paying $190,000 for limited channel excavation, stockpiling and bank armoring of the creek.

County Council members will be asked Tuesday, July 22, to approve an agreement with the state for the work. The state's money will pay for nearly half of the project. Another $200,000 will be paid by Whatcom County.

The creek east of Everson is tainted with naturally occurring asbestos, a fibrous material that washes down from a landslide on Sumas Mountain. The county used to dredge the creek to prevent flooding, and sediment piled up along the creek was hauled off by locals to use as fill or for other projects. That stopped in 2005 because the state said it was unsafe to disturb the cancer-causing asbestos. Ecology, now, has approved limited work at the site.

In the beginning of 2008, the county requested $400,000 from the U.S. Congress so the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could begin a general investigation into Swift Creek issues. The investigation would basically be of potential ways to clean up the creek that might lead to more federal funding.

Neither the U.S. House of Representatives nor the U.S. Senate approved the request, said county geologist Paul Pittman.

"There is some remote possibility that it still could be added to the presidential budget," Pittman said in an e-mail. The county believes that a "long-term solution" to Swift Creek's naturally occurring asbestos problem could cost more than $100 million.

"Whatcom County is really incapable of taking this on at a local level," Pittman previously told County Council members.

The county also is working with Ecology for more money to work on the creek.

Reach Sam Taylor at [email protected] or call 715-2263. Read his Politics Blog at TheBellinghamHerald.com/blogs.


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