Photos by Steve Shay
The Port of Seattle's Duwamish River 101 cruise featured experts who spoke about environmental activism needed to clean the polluted river while expressing the need to preserve jobs and West Seattle & Georgetown communities along the waterway. Pictured are two happy fishermen showing off their catch, coho salmon, near Boeing Slip 4, soon to become a 3,000 foot long habitat restoration area. CLICK ON PHOTO FOR SLIDESHOW.

SLIDESHOW: Port 101 Duwamish River boat tour, "Community, nature & industry must coexist"

SLIDESHOW: Click on photo for more

The Annual Port of Seattle sponsored Duwamish River 101 Port tour left balmy Bell Harbor Marina Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. for a two hour tour. With Argosy's Captain Paul at the wheel, the ship was fully-booked, with environmental experts, Boeing and Port reps, neighborhood activists and other citizens. Speakers discussed the unique challenges the Duwamish faces including cleanup of its toxic river bed in the face of jobs, the Georgetown and South Park residents, and wildlife. The river bed contains PCBs, arsenic, dioxin and numerous other chemicals.

The Port partnered with the Environmental Protection Agency, Boeing, Duwamish River Clean Up Coalition (DRCC), Environmental Coalition of South Seattle (ECOSS), Manufacturing Industrial Council, and Vigor Shipyards. These groups supplied speakers. The Port's Sally del Fierro organized the event, and Port historian George Blomberg hosted.

The Duwamish industrial area represents 80 percent of Seattle’s industrial land and more than 80,000 jobs, with an annual payroll of $2.5 billion. The 5-mile-long Duwamish Waterway provides critical fish and wildlife habitat and public shoreline use areas. Efforts from King County, the Port, Boeing, the EPA and others have combined to make the waterway flow cleaner into Elliott Bay.

James Rasmussen, DRCC:

James Rasmussen, Coordinator of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition, or DRCC, spoke about the river's neglected past, and its need to serve industry, community, and natural habitat in the future.

"The Duwamish River is a Superfund site," said Rasmussen, a member of the Duwamish Tribe. "But there isn't any fund in Superfund."

That program was officially defunded.

"Still, the Superfund designation is very important," he said. "It means this is one of the most polluted places in the country. We're talking about over 100 years of pollution from industry, storm runoff, and other things. My grandfather used to work at Todd Shipyards. The way they did things back then (treating pollution) was drastically different than what they do today. That happened because we were in a hurry to get these things done. It was important to build B-17 Bombers at a rapid speed at (Boeing) Plant 2. It may be one of the reasons we won World War II.

"No one wants to look back and say, 'what a terrible thing you did,'" he said. "That's not the point. We have to be smarter today. A lot of business along the Duwamish River have found that once they change and become more environmentally responsible, the success of their business grows because they are doing a better job as a cleaner business."

He gave some practical tips, pointing out that pollution from cars like fuel runoff, tire wear, and oil, account for the largest amount of river pollution.

"Be careful what you put down the drain," he said. "Don't wash your car in the street. It may not seem like much, but if everybody did that, maybe there is hope for Puget Sound."

Steven Tochko, Boeing environmentalist:

Steven Tochko, Boeing senior manager for environmental remediation, spoke proudly of the Boeing Plant 2 Sediment Cleanup and Habitat Restoration plan at Slip 4 that begins in two weeks. The building has been removed. Some of the plant's ground level structure still there will also be removed.

"Slip 4 used to be one of the old meanders of the river," said Tochko. "The Boeing facility is 132 acres, built in 1936. "

He echoed Rasmussen's points.

"Plant 2 was mainly built for the war effort," said Tochko. "Over 7,000 B-17 planes were built here. This facility was put together quickly, and part of the facility was built over the river. A lot of contamination has occurred from these activities. Boeing demolished Plant 2, we were able to redo the storm water (filtration) system. It is now state of the art. The project will remove 6,000 railcars worth of (toxic) sediment.

"We will be implementing a habitat there, critical in improving the salmon migration. The Duwamish River is half salt, half fresh, a critical area for salmon born in fresh water, going into salt water, toward the ocean. There will be almost 3,000 lineal feet of habitat."

Dave Gering, Exec. Dir., Manufacturing Industrial Council:

"There are a lot of wonderful facts and figures the Port has that can be found on its websites," said Dave Gering, Executive Director, Manufacturing Industrial Council based in Georgetown. "The human story on all this is how do we get our kids into the pipeline to replace all these folks as they start to retire? This is already starting to happen. Our kids aren't getting these jobs in many cases. The Boeing Company is going through a remarkable growth period as are a lot of these other industrial companies (along the river) and are importing workers from Ohio and other areas in the Midwest. I just think it's one of the great failings, challenges, and opportunities that we are facing right now."

Gering said he is optimistic as new industrial training facilities are modernizing in area high schools. He pointed to Puget Sound Skill Center, a high school in Burien, that is now installing new equipment to offer manufacturing training.

We encourage our readers to comment. No registration is required. We ask that you keep your comments free of profanity and keep them civil. They are moderated and objectionable comments will be removed.