If you like rivers—the Duwamish River in particular—the Environmental Protection Agency needs to hear about it by 5 p.m. today. That's when the public comment period on the EPA's plan to clean the Duwamish River, which starts in South Park and spills into Puget Sound, closes.
The current EPA plan is totally inadequate and doesn't do anything to clean up toxic pollutants in the upper watershed of the river, according to James Rasmussen of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition and Duwamish Tribe. But "if the public overwhelmingly tells them to do a better job, they do it! That's something we've seen a record of with the EPA," he says.
As the coalition's coordinator explained on Slog:
The toxins kill micro-bugs that live in the water, causing a chain reaction upward through the food chain to people, increasing risk of cancer, immune system breakdowns, and reproductive disorders. The chemicals particularly threaten the health of the river’s fishermen.
The upriver sediment they would leave in place—which would eventually flow down river—isn’t clean either. Unless we do this right the first time, all that toxic stuff upriver will end up downriver.
To make matters worse, local officials want to do even less cleanup than the EPA, Rasmussen says. "The City of Seattle and King County need to get their heads out of their asses and stop worrying about the short term costs, and look at the long term costs."
King County Executive Dow Constantine supports the EPA plan and is "recommending some refinements," Sung Yang, his chief of staff, says. He assured me that "all of this is being determined by the data and analysis," and the plan they're supporting doesn't sacrifice any additional cleanup measures to cut costs. He says dredging in particular, as advocated by the cleanup coalition, is unnecessary and could actually hurt the environment. (Aaron Pickus from Mayor Mike McGinn's office referred me to this letter and said he has nothing to add.)
I hesitate to take Yang at his word, though. The EPA plan would “place the burden of addressing environmental contamination’s health effects on those affected, rather than those responsible for the risk,” an EPA document issued earlier this year said, and Mike O'Brien of the Seattle City Council admitted to Investigate West, "I feel like we’re on this rational path to failing these communities."
"This river is important to me," Rasmussen says. "I'm talking about a place that my people have been living for 10,000 years. The things that live in it that are my cousins and aunties and my uncles."
"We are the richest, most educated city in Puget Sound," he continued, in an epic and moving rant. "If we won't do it, no one is going to get out in front of us—Everett, Olympia, Tacoma. We're the ones who made a ton of fucking money off of Puget Sound. Seattle became Seattle on the back of the Duwamish river. It's time to pay that back."
Thanks, Slog tipper Tessa Morgan.