The state Department of Ecology struck a nerve when it drilled for feedback Monday night on plans for cleaning up a downtown Spokane oil spill.
About 80 people played build-a-better-oil-trap. They asked whether the state has considered all possible solutions, whether all of the estimated 75,000 gallons of oil would have to be removed and whether scientists could be more specific.
The state has proposed six recovery plans for the Washington Water Power Co. spill. Comments from Monday’s hearing will be included in the final cleanup plan. The public has until Nov. 30 to send written comments about the proposals.
“Nothing has been decided at this point,” Department of Ecology site manager Patti Carter told a skeptical crowd.
Some audience members wanted the cleanup plan to include help for future downtown growth instead of just environmental help. Some wanted WWP to pay and to help bring in future business. Some wanted the state to consider alternatives such as removing the oil through horizontal drilling or pressurized wells.
Others just wanted answers - now.
“I’m still confused as to what’s required in terms of cleanup,” said Chuck Robey, a member of the Friends of the Davenport organization.
“What has to be recovered is everything we can,” answered Guy Gregory, a state hydrogeologist.
“No, that’s not an answer,” retorted Robey.
In a way, it is. The spill’s difficult to get at and difficult to describe.
It’s not pooled beneath the ground: It is seeped into crevices in the sand, and it slopes from a depth of about 15 feet below the ground to 50 feet down. At its thickest, the contaminated soil is about 4 feet thick. For most of the strip, it’s less than 2 feet thick.
From above, the area is shaped like an “OK” hand signal and covers about a block, stretching from Second Avenue toward First Avenue, from Lincoln to Post.
The oil is goopy, like molasses. Department of Ecology scientists speculated that the mass wasn’t likely to move - up, down or sideways.
Most of the oil probably leaked out of massive underground tanks in the WWP steam plant about 16 years before being detected in 1982. WWP then reported the leak to the state - but not to neighboring property owners or the public.
News of the spill wasn’t made public until 11 years later. The new owners of the Davenport Hotel and others downtown since have blamed the spill for slowing development and hurting property values.
“What we want is a cleanup,” said Jeffrey Ng, executive director of the Davenport Hotel. “But all of these proposals they come up with are containment.”
That’s true, Department of Ecology officials agree.
Most of the six proposals include monitoring groundwater and eliminating any contact with contaminated soil.
One plan would include demolishing the Rodeway Inn and digging up the area to a depth of 30 feet.
At least one audience member said most of the plans were busywork. The oil isn’t going anywhere, Naomi Clark said.
“I’d like to see the Davenport progress, and the district,” Naomi Clark said. “I feel the whole thing is just a red herring.”