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Living on the Duwamish,
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Digging Deep

Boeing leads restoration of Seattle’s Duwamish Waterway

May 20, 2015 in Environment, Community

The sediment around Boeing’s Plant 2 site in Seattle has a century’s worth of stories to tell. The story it tells now is one of restoration.

Much in the same way as Boeing mobilized to support World War II, the company has now met the challenge of removing legacy contamination and constructing valuable wildlife habitat on the Lower Duwamish Waterway. Over the last three years, Boeing completed a comprehensive cleanup of the 1-mile span of the waterway next to Plant 2.

From divers to dredge equipment, this effort involved removing 265,000 cubic yards of sediment from the waterway and shoreline – enough to fill 4,000 railcars – and replenishing the waterway bed with clean sand.

Excavated sediment was transported by barge to a waterway facility, where it was packaged and loaded onto railcars and transported to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-approved landfill. All of this in-water work happened around-the-clock during construction windows, when juvenile salmon were not migrating.

“Of the 38,000 people who live in south Seattle, many are in close proximity to our cleanup,” said Brian Anderson, Boeing Duwamish cleanup project manager. “It took a significant effort on our part to coordinate the project with their lives.”

“Boeing really listened to what the community wanted and actually implemented a more stringent cleanup than possibly could have been required,” said Bill Pease, a resident of the nearby South Park community. “We’re pretty excited that the cleanup was done with a lot of care and with a lot of integrity.”

Boeing’s cleanup was the largest of the early cleanup actions of the Lower Duwamish Waterway Group, a partnership among the City of Seattle, King County, Port of Seattle and Boeing. Collectively, these cleanups reduced Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) risk in the waterway sediment by about 50 percent – halfway to the PCB sediment cleanup goal set by the U.S. EPA for this Superfund site.

“The EPA appreciates the efforts of Boeing to not only remediate but restore this stretch of the waterway to as close to its original form as possible,” said Kate Kelly, director of the Office of Air, Waste and Toxics at the EPA’s Seattle office.

This comprehensive cleanup demonstrates Boeing’s commitment to build a better planet by restoring places affected by past manufacturing practices to support the well-being of the community.

“We did this cleanup because we knew we could make a difference in the waterway and community,” said Steve Tochko, Boeing remediation manager. “Now that the U.S. EPA has released its final cleanup decision, we are working with others on studies to support the design of a remedy for the rest of the waterway.”

Many efforts are underway to prevent pollution from entering the waterway throughout the region. For example, Boeing constructed multiple state-of-the-art stormwater treatment systems to help improve water quality.

Boeing also made the Duwamish Waterway a better place for salmon. Demolition of the old B-17 facility freed up the space needed to restore 1-mile (1.6 kilometers) of shoreline and create the largest habitat restoration project in the Duwamish.

The team carved out intertidal wetlands and brought in piles of woody debris and 170,000 native plants to provide food and refuge for fish and wildlife, improving Puget Sound salmon runs.

“This is proof that habitat can be created in an industrial environment and we expect it will improve the quality of life for fish and wildlife on the Duwamish,” said Anderson. “The vision is that there will be an opportunity for co-existence among business, wildlife and community along the waterway.”

Straightening of Duwamish River begins on October 14, 1914

1914 shot of the Duwamish River being straightened.

1914 shot of the Duwamish River being straightened.

In 1913, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began rechanneling the river by excavating and dredging more than 20 million cubic yards of mud and sand. Within 10 years, the Corps had changed the Duwamish from a nine-mile river to a five-mile engineered waterway. In addition to solving the ongoing risk of flooding, the straighter and deeper waterway also allowed for easier navigation by ships. The soil excavated during the rechanneling-combined with an additional 4 million cubic yards removed during the regrading of Jackson and Dearborn streets-was used to construct the 350-acre Harbor Island to separate the mouth of the waterway into two separate channels. With the wider and deeper Lower Duwamish Waterway, sea vessels were now able to move beyond Elliott Bay into what would eventually become the industrial and commercial core of Seattle.

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Meet the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition (DRCC)

The Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition/Technical Advisory Group (DRCC/TAG) has been working since 2001 to secure a thorough cleanup of south Seattle, Washington’s Lower Duwamish River. Founded by local environmental, tribal, and community organizations, the coalition has been formally recognized as the “Community Advisory Group” for the Duwamish River Superfund Site. The Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition works to ensure that the Duwamish River Superfund cleanup not only restores environmental health and protects fishers and families who use the river, but also reflects the priorities, values and will of the people who live and work in the region. DRCC/TAG’s programs include guided river tours, educational forums, habitat-restoration events, river festivals, youth programs, and neighborhood activities designed to link people to the river.

Vision of the DRCC

It is the vision of DRCC/TAG that South Seattle residents will be able to fish for crab in the river without risks to their family’s health, that endangered salmon will be able recover without PCBs or other toxic body burdens, and that the banks of the Duwamish River will be a welcoming and risk-free place for our children and our grandchildren to wade, fish and play.

A vision without a plan is just a dream, A plan without a vision is just drudgery, but a vision with a plan can change the world.

Come on down to the river for these annual events hosted by the DRCC:

Duwamish River Festival / Festival del Río Duwamish

Since 2006, we have been celebrating the diverse communities that live along the Duwamish River with an annual festival on the last Saturday in August. Bring the whole family and enjoy the fun!

Public Boat and Kayak Tours

DRCC/TAG and guests provide a two hour tour of the Duwamish River Superfund Site. Learn about the natural and human history of the Duwamish Valley, environmental health and (in)justice, and the future of Seattle’s very own Superfund cleanup site on this guided tour aboard the Admiral Pete power boat.

Duwamish Alive!

DRCC/TAG is a founding member of the Duwamish Alive! Coalition, which coordinates twice-yearly multi-site habitat restoration work parties within the Duwamish watershed.

Meet the Environmental Coalition of South Seattle (ECOSS)

ECOSS was established in 1994 to address environmental concerns of the South Park neighborhood and lower Duwamish River. By bridging the interests of residents, industry, and government, the organization has created a model that is both sustainable and mutually beneficial.

ECOSS in the Community

ECOSS was created by South Park community members to facilitate working partnerships among different, and often conflicting, segments of the community – residents, businesses, industry, and government. The aim was to bring these groups together to address environmental and developmental needs of the community. To this day, ECOSS acts on this vision, providing leadership and serving as a voice for communities around Puget Sound.

“Since 1994, ECOSS has been providing businesses and residents with simple, cost-effective solutions for reducing their environmental impact”.

— Kevin Burrell, Executive Director, ECOSS

Meet the Community Coalition for Environmental Justice (CCEJ)

The CCEJ’s mission is to achieve environmental and economic justice in low-income communities and communities of color. We believe that everyone, regardless of race or income, has the right to a clean and healthy community.

We work to improve air quality in South Seattle as well as mobilizing support to save low-income housing. We support youth of color leadership while reaching thousands of community members a year with education and events.


Habitat Restoration along the Lower Duwamish Waterway

For decades the public have been striving to create beautiful and more eco-friendly areas along the Duwamish River. There are several parks, improved public access, and tons of restoration projects happening right now. Below is a map indicating where these areas are and what they are doing with them.

Click here to view the map