Lead found at ex-target site, EPA reports; Salt Creek park safe, agency says

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT ANGELES -- The Environmental Protection Agency wants to remove one to two feet of lead-riddled topsoil from a former shooting range at the edge of Clallam County's Salt Creek Recreation Area.

The contaminated site is in an area the public generally does not encounter at the popular 196-acre park 15 miles west of Port Angeles, officials said.

Shouldn't be concerned

"This [contaminated] area we found is an undeveloped area. The rest of the park is quite developed and clean," said Kathy Parker, on-scene coordinator for the EPA's Emergency Management Program.

"I don't think the public should be concerned at all."

The site is contaminated with lead, copper, zinc and other metals from bullets used in a World War II-era shooting range, the EPA said in a May 21 report.

It is near a boundary between the county owned park and neighboring state Department of Natural Resources land, and county officials said they don't yet know who owns the contaminated site.

Lab tests performed on 160 soil samples taken from the densely wooded, 90-by-70-foot target zone last August confirmed high concentrations of lead, the EPA said.

The highest concentration was 66,600 parts per million -- or 6.66 percent of the soil.

"It's a lot," Parker said.

"But you would expect to find high lead levels in a shooting range impact zone."

Lead concentrations higher than 250 parts per million are considered harmful to humans, Parker said.

The natural element can damage a human's neurological functions if ingested.

It can become concentrated in things humans and animals eat, like berries or mushrooms.

Lead is especially harmful to children, Parker said.

Contaminated area

The contaminated site is located at the southeast corner of the area -- which is on the coast north of Joyce -- near the Striped Peak trailhead, not far from the softball field.

It is covered in thick bushes and a grove of 70-year-old, second-growth trees.

"The area in question is in a very, very remote spot," said Joel Winborn, Clallam County parks, fair and facilities manager.

"You literally have to bushwhack to the site."

Parker estimates that soil removal would cost somewhere between $200,000 and $250,000.

"I don't know who would pay for it," she said, citing issues that need to be discussed with Clallam County and state Department of Natural Resources officials.

The EPA also recommends warning signs or a fence around the site.

County lacks report

Clallam County officials have yet to take a position on the issue because they have not received the EPA report, County Administrator Jim Jones said Friday.

After the county receives the report, Winborn will make a recommendation to the three commissioners in the coming weeks.

Commissioner Mike Doherty, whose district covers Salt Creek park and the West End of Clallam County, said there are a number of World War II-era sites in the county where lead is present.

"It would be a good thing to eventually clean those things up," Doherty said.

Who owns site?

But first, the county must determine who owns the contaminated Salt Creek site.

Clallam County and the DNR are paying for a survey to determine if the target zone sits on county property or DNR property, or both.

The EPA's on-site study was prompted by a county resident, Josey Paul, who raised concerns over lead contamination in forests, wetlands and marine shorelines.

"One of the things that concerns me is that people pick mushrooms in this area," Paul said.

"It's already been proven that this site is extremely contaminated, and it threatens people and wildlife using the park, and that the contamination has been spreading."

Paul said the EPA report "pretty well confirmed what I've suspected for a long time."

"They need to fence it off, put signs up, keep people out and clean it up," he said.

The federal government acquired what is now Salt Creek Recreation Area during World War II to build the Camp Hayden Military Reservation artillery battery.

Shooting range

After the war, the Coast Guard used the property as a shooting range until 1957. A civilian gun club operated a 200-yard and 500-yard target range until the county closed it down in 1968.

"All shooting ranges are extremely toxic," said Paul, who has been a critic of a proposed shooting range near his residence at Sadie Creek.

"Most have a high hazard of lead escaping off site."

What concerns Parker and Paul about the Salt Creek site is the lead has been sitting there in a rainy environment for more than 60 years.

"It's had a chance to break down, oxidize and become a more mobile form of lead," Parker said.

The EPA said lead and other harmful metals have leached into a nearby wetland and could flow into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and harm wildlife.

Jones questioned the science behind the idea that the lead could leak into the Strait and wondered if cutting down trees to build a road and digging out the site would cause more environmental harm than good.

"I want to see the environment protected, but I want to see it protected practically," Jones said.

Parker met with county and DNR officials on May 14 to discuss her findings. Winborn said there were no new revelations from that meeting.

He said the county has been working with the EPA throughout the process.

"We will not put anybody in danger," Winborn said.

"We are cooperating and doing everything we can do," Jones added.

Winborn and Parker agreed that Salt Creek Recreation Area is safe.

The park has 92 campsites, trails, playfields, beaches and tide pools.

"It's a well-maintained county park," Parker said.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-417-3537 or at rob.ollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: May 31. 2010 11:25PM
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