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Inslee gives thumbs up on clean up work

INDIANOLA — At first glance, the marsh looks greener. The beach smells cleaner. The water has returned to its emerald green color again.

However, upon closer inspection, some of the driftwood is a little darker. Rocks on the beach are stained. And there is still the possibility of further damage to the estuary that was once known for its pristine status.

But for now, it’s just a matter of letting Mother Nature run her course and revitalize the land that was marred by a 4,800-gallon oil spill in Edmonds last year.

Active clean up efforts of the December 2003 spill at the Doe-Kag-Wats Estuary were called off about two weeks ago, almost four months to the day after the incident, said Department of Ecology on-site clean up coordinator Paul O’Brien.

However, the Suquamish Tribe, which owns the private wetland, still prohibits shellfish harvesting on the beach. Monitoring of the site will continue as the weather becomes warmer.

The four-month clean up process included using pads, booms and pom-poms that blocked and absorbed the oil and crews manually scrubbed oil off driftwood and rocks. Crews also used a pump system, where water was pumped into the rocky, cobblestone beds when the tide was in. The water and rocks were disturbed just enough for oil to be released from the subsurface to the surface where it could be absorbed by pads.

U.S. Congressman Jay Inslee was on site May 10 to review progress. Inslee toured the site soon after the spill occurred and has spearheaded legislation to help prevent spills from happening in the future. During his Monday visit, he inquired the tribal and state officials about vegetation and shellfish harvesting.

“(In the marsh), the oil really got into the vegetation,” said Tribal Fisheries Department biologist Tom Ostrom. “That’s where it was concentrated.”

There is a possibility of trying to revegetate the marsh but primary plan is to let the native species run its course, Ostrom said, noting that crews were trying to be as careful as possible not to further damage the environment.

Tribal Executive Director Wayne George said the once-harvestable area is still closed off to shellfishing. The tribe is waiting for another round of sediment and tissue testing to take place.

“It’s closed, off limits, until we can assure them it is safe to eat,” George explained.

Ostrom said geoduck tests came back negative and the highly sought after shellfish were not impacted by the spill.

While the official clean up is complete, there will still be monitoring of the area. As the weather warms up, oil still trapped by vegetation could be released and remobilize throughout the marsh, Ostrom said.

Even so, Inslee said he was impressed with the clean up efforts.

“It looks so much better than it did before,” he remarked.

By his “cursory observations” there was not a lot of visible. But a closer look at the rocks and driftwood reveled oil residue, he said, noting he is also interested in seeing the toxicology report on the shellfish.

“I was happy to see the marsh land look relatively good,” Inslee commented.

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