After a half-decade of negotiating with Puget Sound Energy for 32 acres and millions of dollars worth of scenic property along the White River, an agreement was finally struck between PSE and the city of Buckley.
The Buckley City Council is slated to vote on the land exchange during its Tuesday meeting. The council will consider the pros and cons of the proposal.
“Basically, the deal was this,” Buckley City Administrator David Schmidt said. “No cash changed hands. What PSE is getting in return for handing over those 32 acres of prime real estate, is that now the city also inherits sole responsibility for any environmental impact that should arise from the five acres of land out by the Marion Grange, where the old city of Buckley garbage dump site was years ago.”
If the city finalizes the deal, Buckley will be on the hook for any monitoring of the site that the Environmental Protection Agency deems necessary. Puget Sound Energy will no longer have that legal burden, Schmidt said.
Pierce County health officials had been monitoring the methane levels coming off the site, but finally signed off on it about five years ago, when they were no longer detecting any substantially high levels of methane gas, Schmidt said. Methane is the byproduct of all the decomposition of buried trash.
“Another thing that PSE is getting out of the deal is small 10-foot wide strips of land that it can use as access roads so that they can still have utility easements that will enable them to do any necessary maintenance,” Schmidt explained.
The EPA was founded in the early 1970s. Prior to the federal agency’s inception, regulations regarding dump sites were lax, compared with today’s rigorous standards.
Bob Olson has lived in Buckley for all of his 65 years. Among the sundry tasks Olson has performed for the city through the years, he was once a substitute garbage hauler.
“As garbage men we didn’t ask any questions about what we were tossing into the truck, because there really wasn’t any list of stringent regulations we had to follow. People would chuck just about anything in the trash,” Olson said. “When you worked for the city back then, everybody filled in for one another, whether it was mowing, moving, maintenance or driving down the alleys with the garbage trucks. I did the garbage detail many times.”
During the 1960s and 70s, he recalls, many from the Plateau area hauled their own garbage or had trash delivered to the Buckley dump.
“As garbage men, we were never told by anyone to invest any thought as to what could actually be dumped or what couldn’t be dumped out there,” Olson said.
“I do remember that we used to get paid overtime by the city to go out there on the weekends, dig holes and take samples from the resulting little pools of ground water to measure its toxicity. That was about the extent of the monitoring that I can remember though,” he said.
He recalls cans of paint, turpentine, gas, anti-freeze and hundreds of tires going into the ground.
“Those were different times to say the least and to be fair, hindsight is 20/20,” Olson said. “We just did our jobs and didn’t think twice about what those chemicals might do after they mixed and mingled under the earth that we bulldozed on top of everything. I guess anything could be bubbling around underneath there.”