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Wwp Wants To Dam Up Its Spilled Oil Utility Says Digging Up Contaminated Downtown Site Unnecessary, Impossible And Too Costly

Washington Water Power Co. wants to dam its underground oil spill at First Avenue.

After studying the downtown spill for nine months, the utility concludes digging up the heavy fuel is unnecessary, impossible and too pricey.

Instead, WWP proposes a half-block-long subterranean wall to stop the oil from oozing toward the Davenport Hotel and beyond to the Spokane River.

The containment plan also calls for ground-water pumps and paving, among other things, to minimize water contamination.

If approved by the state, the underground wall, possibly constructed by filling holes with grout, could be installed next summer.

The project could cost WWP as much as $10 million, said company Vice President Les Bryan. He said none of the bill would be paid by ratepayers.

For the past two years, the Davenport’s owner and others have tagged the spill for slowing development and hurting property values of prime downtown real estate.

But there is little early criticism of the utility’s containment plan. “At first sight, I don’t see a problem,” said Peter Mills, geologist for Sun International, the Hong Kong firm that owns the Davenport.

Mills said a potential problem is making sure the dam actually seals off the oil, instead of just channeling it.

The WWP study, which included drilling 80 holes and monitoring 29 wells, produced some findings that clash with the utility’s previous spill assessments.

The new estimate of the oil leaked from the defunct steam plant is as much as 75,000 gallons. Company officials suspect the oil leaked from massive underground tanks for about 16 years before being detected in 1982.

That theory better explains how the heavy oil moved more than 400 feet down a gentle slope.

The utility also suspects most of the 75,000 gallons had leaked from the tanks by 1982. Earlier, the company figured only 1,300 gallons were lost.

News of the spill was not made public until more than a decade later in 1993.

WWP officials will explain the preliminary containment plan Thursday at the Rodeway Inn at First and Lincoln. The open house is scheduled from noon to 7 p.m.

Spokane geologist Jackie Stephens, president of Blue Ridge Associates, said the containment proposal makes sense.

“I think that’s a real logical approach,” he said. Stephens had no qualms about the utility’s proposal not to try to dig up the oil.

“I don’t think that makes any sense at all. It’s not going anywhere.”

Stephens likened the Bunker C oil spill to underground asphalt.

Sheri Barnard, a consultant to the Davenport Hotel’s Hong Kong ownership, said she hasn’t studied the containment plan.

But she said the dam could cause problems for the hotel’s planned tunnel under First Avenue to a new parking garage. “Our main concern is time,” she said. “Right now, we can’t move ahead.”

Davenport owners repeatedly have stated that financing the complete hotel renovation hinges on the area’s “clean bill of health.”

WWP officials believe their plan meets that requirement. They note that almost all of their water sample tests indicate the spill is relatively harmless.

“We really see no reason why development can’t begin down here today,” said Rob Strenge, WWP spokesman.

After studying the downtown spill for nine months, the utility concludes digging up the heavy fuel is unnecessary, impossible and too pricey.

Instead, WWP proposes a half-block long subterranean wall to stop the oil from oozing toward the Davenport Hotel and beyond to the Spokane River.

The containment plan also calls for ground water pumps and paving, among other things, to minimize water contamination.

If approved by the state, the underground wall, possibly constructed by filling holes with grout, could be installed next summer.

The project could cost WWP as much as $10 million, said company vice president Les Bryan. He said none of the bill will be paid by ratepayers.

For the past two years, the Davenport owner and others tagged the spill for slowing development and hurting property values in prime downtown real estate.

But there is little early criticism of the utility’s containment plan. “At first sight I don’t see a problem,” said Peter Mills, geologist for Sun International, the Hong Kong firm that owns the Davenport.

Mills said a potential problem is making sure the dam actually seals off the oil, instead of just channeling it.

The WWP study, which included drilling 80 holes and monitoring 29 wells, produced some findings that clash with the utility’s previous spill assessments.

The new estimate of the oil leaked from the defunct steam plant is as much as 75,000 gallons. Company officials suspect the oil leaked from massive underground tanks for about 16 years before being detected in 1982.

That theory better explains how the heavy oil moved more than 400 feet down a gentle slope.

The utility also suspects most of the 75,000 gallons leaked from the tanks by 1982 when the company figured only 1,300 gallons were lost.

News of the spill was not made public until more than a decade later in 1993.

WWP officials will explain the preliminary containment plan Thursday at the Rodeway Inn, at First and Lincoln. The open house is from noon to 7 p.m.

Spokane Geologist Jackie Stephens, president of Blue Ridge Associates, said the containment proposal makes sense.

“I think that’s a real logical approach,” he said. Stephens had no qualms with the utility’s proposal to not try to dig up the oil.

“I don’t think that makes any sense at all. It’s not going anywhere.” Stephens likened the Bunker C oil spill to underground asphalt.

Sheri Barnard, a consultant to the Davenport Hotel’s Hong Kong ownership, said she hasn’t studied the containment plan.

But she said the dam could cause problems for the hotel’s planned tunnel under First Avenue to a parking garage. “Our main concern is time,” she said. “Right now we can’t move ahead.”

Davenport owners have repeatedly stated that financing the complete hotel renovation hinges on the area’s “clean bill of health.”

WWP officials believe their plan does that. They note that almost all of their water sample tests indicate the spill is relatively harmless.

“We really see no reason why development can’t begin down here today,” said Rob Strenge, WWP spokesman.

, DataTimes


 
Tags: cleanup

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