take me to the river

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The Duwamish Waterway is the last few (four) miles of what was once the Duwamish river and estuary. It was dredged, straightened, channelized and filled early in the last century to support an economic juggernaut of water-dependent industry. The Duwamish was once fed by several rivers; The White and the Black have been diverted and only a reduced Green river still exits to the Sound via the Waterway. It is still an important salmon river; it is also a Superfund site.

The Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition and the local chapter of the Sierra Club organized a Rock the Boat river cruise to help educate people about the history of the industrial Duwamish, cleanup plans, and the vision for the river in the future. The sediments of the waterway carry a variety of toxic substances, PCB usually being at the top of the list. The toxins get into the food stream, making resident sealife unsafe to eat. It also contaminates migrating salmon, which are eaten by orcas, and by people. The toxins accumulate at the top of the food chain, making our resident orcas the most toxic animals on earth. People are affected too.

The EPA and the various entities involved in the river cleanup identified seven early action sites, which were part of the tour. Because of recontamination issues the cleanup efforts are on hold.


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At Harbor Island Marina, where the East and West Waterways split off to Elliott Bay, by the Ash Grove cement plant. The Port of Seattle owns, operates and maintains the waterway and manages a multi-billion dollar economy.


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Industry and recreation on the Duwamish waterway.


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Boarding the Admiral Pete, a restored Mosquito Fleet passenger boat, for an educational and recreational cruise of the Duwamish.


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Unloading a gravel barge at the Ash Grove cement plant on the Duwamish.


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This is the site of the first attempted cleanup of an Early Action site, at the Diagonal CSO outfall pipe, which is barely visible above the high tide, just to the left of the white pipeline warning sign, right of the electric tower. The cleanup was done with inefficient open bucket dredging, which set loose several pounds of PCBs to float free and contaminate other areas. The dredge site was capped with clean sand but has been recontaminated by PCBs, phthalates and other toxics that are still coming in with stormwater. Because of what was learned here about recontamination, the rest of the cleanup is on hold.


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This green treed inlet is Diagonal Marsh, a salmon habitat restoration site managed by People for Puget Sound.


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The trees here are at a tide flat by the GSA facility, another restoration site which is reached from Diagonal Marsh. The Port owns narrow strips of land along all along the waterway and has been designing different types of salmon habitat that might fit in the different narrow strips, to try and get connective habitat throughout the waterway.


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Here by the doomed South Park bridge is Boeing Plant 2, location of another PCB hotspot and early action site. No longer in use, this plant built planes for WWII. Pipes under the floors were leaking PCBs for years. Across and a little upriver is Terminal 117, site of the former Malarkey Asphalt plant, another PCB hotspot and designated early action site. The community got involved and convinced the Port to test and mitigate the upland soils, not just the river sediments, because the toxic soils were affecting the neighborhood.


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Fishing on the industrial Duwamish. It's advised not to eat resident sealife at all; migratory salmon are caught and eaten here but people are recommended to limit their intake. It's the same salmon that make the orcas so toxic. This is Slip 4, another PCB hotspot and early action site. This site can't be cleaned because PCBs are still leaching in from an upland source at the north end of Boeing Field (King County Airport). The salmon were jumping in the river, but we were all hoping these people weren't going to eat any fish.


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The LaFarge cement plant at night. The waterside industries are vital to the economy, and have become an intrinsic part of the local landscape. Our working waterfront is part of the Seattle identity and is akin to art or kinetic sculpture. It's even integrated into the Sculpture Park design. The trick now is integrating it all in a sustainable way.


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The lime kiln at the LaFarge cement plant. The burning of the kiln emits mercury into the air. The neighboring community complains of bad smells that cause headaches and other side effects. This is an old plant that is not covered by new regulations.

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These silos at the LaFarge plant are at the south end of Kellogg Island, a natural preserve at the last remnant meander in the lower Duwamish. There are salmon habitat sites along the meander, at Puget Creek (near LaFarge), T-107 and Herrings House.


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Bridges across Harbor Island. Once this was tidal estuary and mudflats that could be walked across at low tide.


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The Ash Grove cement plant at night. This is the Duwamish waterway today, and is also part of the vision for the foreseeable future.

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