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Polluted dirt could move through Keizer

Of the Keizertimes

The City of Keizer is asking for more information before the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) permits a contractor to truck 152,000 cubic yards of polluted soil through Keizer.

“The city is not opposing the project, we just want questions answered and to make sure that our citizens are protected and our neighbors are protected,” said Elizabeth Sagmiller, manager of Keizer’s environmental and technical division.

The main concern is the presence of a pesticide called dieldrin (see sidebar: What is dieldrin?). The soil contains several long-lasting pollutants, but dieldrin is the only one that exceeds health standards for residential use. The current plan is to haul the soil – in approximately 14,000 truckloads – from a development site off Hazelgreen Road Northeast in Salem, west on Lockhaven Drive and then north on Windsor Island road to fill in two abandoned quarries. The route travels near hundreds of Keizer residences, directly past three schools (Chemawa Indian School, Whiteaker Middle School and McNary High School), and a block away from Keizer Elementary School.

Granada Land Company, LLC, has already begun work on a planned 500-home residential development at the Hazelgreen site, known as Northstar. Windsor Island Company, LLC, which is owned by the Zielinski Family Trust owns the planned disposal site at 6848 Windsor Island Road North, which is outside Keizer city limits. Visitors to the development site can see where several inches of soil have already been removed in the southeast corner of the 150-acre development. For now, the tainted soil is being stored on the site.

Despite public notices in traditional outlets, Keizer officials were unaware of the plan to move the dirt through the city until an article appeared in the Statesman Journal in July, with a deadline for public comment looming, Sagmiller said.

Nancy Sawka, a DEQ senior project manager, said that DEQ mailed out more than 200 public comment notices and the exclusion of Keizer was unintentional.

“I would have expected that the developer or project engineer contact us regarding how their plan was going to work. They aren’t under any obligation to do that because they aren’t getting a permit from Keizer, but it would have been nice to get the heads up,” Sagmiller said.

DEQ officials and Keizer representatives met on July 31 to discuss the matter, but Sagmiller said she was hesitant to put any faith in the commitments made until she saw it in writing. DEQ officials also admitted they hadn’t visited the disposal site during the meeting, but have done so since.

The public comment period was also extended so Sagmiller could respond with questions she had.

One of Sagmiller’s biggest concerns is monitoring the trucks that will move the soil.

“You haven’t told me how you are going to do dust suppression, how you are going to monitor the trucks and the plans in case of a spill,” Sagmiller said.

Sagmiller requested a report on complaints and accidents involving the contractor handling the prep of the Northstar site, I & E Construction. Only one complaint regarding “service quality,” from March 2017, was logged on the Oregon Department of Justice website. Sagmiller is still waiting for an official report.

The lack of study on the disposal site leads Sagmiller to other unsettling questions. However, DEQ officials are not required to test the disposal site and the owners have not asked them to.

At the development site, the DEQ studied the position of the contaminated soil in relation to groundwater, which is about 60 to 80 feet below the surface. At the disposal site, the abandoned quarries are estimated to be about 17 feet deep and well logs from 2005 demonstrated that the water level is also 17 feet deep.

“The disposal site is also part of the National Wetlands Inventory, a database that looks at all the wetlands in the United States and determines whether there are wetland features,” Sagmiller said.

While the property falls outside the the wetlands mapped by Salem and Keizer, which are generally more accurate, Sagmiller said the area bears telltale signs of the presence of wetlands.

“I can look at that area and see standing water and the vegetation like willows and sedges and a lot of weeds. Anything that tolerates wet feet,” Sagmiller said.

After the plan made headlines, Sagmiller said she received a number of calls regarding the situation from all over, including several in agricultural areas in Oregon and Idaho. Aside from specifics about dieldrin, the conversations seemed to signal a fear of setting precedence for moving tainted soil.

“In this case, for the city, what we are saying is DEQ needs to do their due diligence. We want to know why they made the decisions they made,” Sagmiller said. Sagmiller said.