Washington Water Power Co.’s oil spill in downtown Spokane is 50 percent bigger than the utility claims, says a consultant to businesses near the underground plume.
An analyst for Kleinfelder Inc. suspects at least 115,000 gallons of gooey fuel oil are stuck in the city’s core instead of WWP’s estimate of 75,000 gallons.
The Bellevue, Wash., company’s report is among about 50 written comments the state Department of Ecology received in a final flurry of criticism and praise for WWP’s proposal to contain the spill.
The utility is asking the state to approve its estimated $4.4 million plan to pump out about one-tenth of the oil that leaked from its defunct steam plant and then dam the rest with an underground wall along First Avenue.
But dozens of geologists, lawyers, environmentalists, business owners and citizens panned the containment proposal as inadequate and possibly illegal.
Some accused the utility of exaggerating potential cleanup costs and warned that leaving oil in the ground would doom a chunk of downtown real estate.
An attorney for Metropolitan Mortgage & Securities urged the state to require WWP to dig up all the contaminated soil and pump out any polluted water.
“We are concerned about the continued vitality of the downtown area if WWP is allowed to leave what amounts to a landfill in the business district,” wrote Bruce Blohowiak.
But WWP’s two-year spill study was praised by many, including Spokane geologist Jackie Stephens, president of Blue Ridge Associates.
“I find that WWP has been diligent with its investigation and very willing to go the extra mile,” Stephens wrote. “I conclude that their proposal makes real life and environmental sense.”
The state, which is expected to tell WWP what to do by this spring, also received detailed comments from utility brass.
WWP attorney Jerry Boyd asked the state to treat the polluted site like any other and warned that some business owners are hoping to cash in on the spill.
Davenport Hotel owners have already sued the utility.
Doug Pottratz, WWP’s environmental director, told the state that Kleinfelder produced no proof the spill is bigger than the utility estimates.
“I don’t know how you could get more accurate than we did it,” Pottratz said Wednesday. “It’s an estimate, but it’s a fairly accurate estimate.”
Kleinfelder was hired by a coalition of property owners near the spill area. WWP gave the group $50,000 to help hire the consultant.
Rory Galloway, of Kleinfelder, told the state that WWP miscalculated the amount of oil beneath the steam plant and north of the Burlington Northern railroad tracks.
He said the utility based its estimate on the average oil consistency over the entire spill site. Galloway called it irrational, considering the oil is likely to be about three times thicker near the source of the leak.
Pottratz said Galloway mischaracterizes the utility’s spill calculations.
The spill’s two biggest corporate neighbors gave the longest critiques of WWPs work.
The Davenport Hotel and Metropolitan Mortgage gave the state a total of 37 pages to ponder.
“Where will the oil be 10 years from now?” asked the Davenport’s letter. “Once WWP stops monitoring the oil how do we know if the oil will stay behind the wall?”
In his 14-page letter, Blohowiak, of Metropolitan Mortgage, asserted: WWP’s plan violates state law by cleaning up only a portion of the site; and an underground dam would only be a temporary fix.
Blohowiak suggested WWP dig up contaminated soil in the parking lot north of the steam plant and pump out potentially contaminated water in that area.
WWP officials call such an option impractical.
“It’s not needed,” Pottratz said. The thick, tar-like oil is about 30 feet below street level and not likely to move, nor pose a health or environmental threat, he said.
He also indicated such work could cost about three times as much as the utility’s preferred option.
The leak in the steam plant’s fuel tanks was discovered in 1981. But nearby businesses and the public didn’t know about the spill until August 1993.
WWP initially estimated the spill at 4,000 gallons. Drilling later showed the oil had seeped 400 feet north to First Avenue.