Camp Indianola still toiling from oil spill

INDIANOLA — From the deck of the dining hall at Camp Indianola, guests can view the sprawling campgrounds filled with dense woods, cabins, recreation areas and wide open spaces of beaches and wetlands. The quiet, peaceful haven is host to guests who annually retreat to the 75-acre camp on the waters of Puget Sound.

But the area hasn’t been so quiet recently with the low rumble of all-terrain vehicles traversing the beaches and crews trying to finish clean up efforts from the December 2003 Point Wells oil spill.

Fuel oil that spilled near Edmonds infiltrated the waterfront property of the camp and adjacent private residencies as well as the Suquamish Tribe’s wetlands preserve on Dec. 31 — ruining what was once a pristine estuary.

“This point sticks out in Puget Sound, so we’re a collection point,” said Camp director Pete Simpson.

Simpson said he is concerned about the impact the spill has had to the campgrounds, especially within the camp’s half-mile of waterfront property.

Water and beach activities have since been restricted. There has also been an increase in traffic through the camp — the only way to the beach and clean up sites is the road through the facility.

And not only were the beaches, wetlands, the tribe, the camp and neighbors affected, Simpson said — the oil-soaked garbage that was taken out of the area will affect the landfills it was taken to for years to come.

“They got this incredible amount of stuff — soiled garbage, the pads, oiled rain suits ... and thousands and thousands of the pom-pom things,” Simpson commented.

But he said he was happy to see that Foss Maritime has taken responsibility for the spill and noted that clean up crews are still on the job a month and a half after the incident.

Simpson met with clean up crew chief Tom Davis Feb. 10 for an update on the efforts and said he was optimistic about the future of the location. Davis pointed out various areas on the camps’ beaches where pockets of oil remained, explaining that crews can clean some areas while others can only be cleaned by Mother Nature herself.

“He was very optimistic where they stood,” Simpson said.

It is still unknown what the county health department will report to Simpson, but he said he believes shellfishing will remained closed until further notice. Most of the beach area is open for walking, though.

“My understanding is they will give us the OK to have full use of it soon,” Simpson said.

The Camp Indianola staff hosts 6,000 people throughout the year, primarily non-profit, faith-based secular groups. Summer camps have been taking place at the site since the 1950s.

“The initial response is, ‘How can we help?’” Simpson said.

It was very obvious the first few days that the area was infiltrated with oil, but “it’s amazing how much has been cleaned up,” he said.

Simpson recalled the thick layer of oil that lined the beaches and at least 100 people helping clean up at the height of the disaster. Dumpsters were taken out hourly, full of oil soaked pom-pom booms and absorbing pads, he said.

While efforts continue and studies are being conducted about the impacts to the environment, Simpson said he was unsure what the long-term effects would be.

“We’re still trying to figure out the impact to the camp,” he said.

In the end, Simpson said he hopes that waterfront activities including kayaking, swimming and making sand sculptures, will be able to continue at some point in the down the road.

“But at this point we don’t have a clear answer,” he said. “Part of this whole event is learning how to be cooperative with the agencies involved.”

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