Three decades ago, Tacoma Tideflats industries emitted a witch’s brew of foul-smelling and health-threatening pollutants. Many of the Tideflats industrial sites were contaminated with chemicals, and its log yards were paved with a layer of arsenic- and metal-laden ground slag from Tacoma’s Asarco copper smelter.
The Tideflats’ air was polluted, its ground contaminated and its waters tainted.
That’s no longer the case, thanks to a dedicated cleanup effort and economic changes that eliminated the biggest sources of pollution. A handful of chemical plants closed down. A World War II-vintage aluminum smelter was razed. Pockets of contamination have been removed or sealed over. Even the notorious “Aroma of Tacoma” has become a distant memory.
The port has already cleaned up 420 acres of polluted ground, built several environmental mitigation sites where fish and natural vegetation are flourishing and restored 100 acres of watery habitat, said Jason Jordan, the port’s environmental programs director.
It is now routinely recycling 90 percent of the debris from building demolition projects and has begun a program of replacing lighting with more energy-efficient fixtures.
So pollution control is entering a new era on the Tideflats. It’s no longer about removal and remediation, but prevention and control. Both the port and industry are working with regulators to develop smarter, more inventive and cost-effective methods, from $100 stormwater buckets to $200 million fuel conversions.
It’s Earth-friendly, and smart business. Pollution rules will only become more strict, Jordan said, so “we’re trying to get out in front of the requirements that we see coming in the future.”
Turn to Page D2 for six examples of innovation.
FROM DIESEL ENGINE TO NATRUAL GAS
Perhaps the most ambitious and far-reaching initiative on the Tideflats is being launched this year by Alaska trailership operator Totem Ocean Trailer Express.
TOTE announced an agreement last week with the Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency for a multi-year effort that will convert TOTE’s two big roll-on, roll-off trailerships into the first vessels of their kinds powered by liquefied natural gas.
Now run on multiple diesel engines, those two ships sail twice weekly between the Port of Tacoma and Anchorage.
Reconfiguring the engines, equipping the ships with LNG fuel storage and building the region’s first LNG fueling facility might end up costing $200 million, said John Parrott, TOTE president.
New air pollution regulations that went into effect Aug. 1 would have required TOTE to start using low-sulphur diesel, but regulators gave it an exemption because LNG is even cleaner.
It’s also cheaper, too, because of abundant natural gas supply created by a controversial harvesting method called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. LNG costs 40 percent what low-sulphur diesel costs.
The natural gas conversion has more unknowns, Parrott said, but probably is a better long-term solution.
TOTE’s effort to create a fueling facility for its ships on the Tideflats could have spin-off effects for other businesses seeking to cut fueling expenses and emissions. No LNG refueling facilities now exist north of California. The creation of such a fuel depot in Tacoma could make it possible to operate other vehicles, trucks, forklifts, locomotives, ships, ferries and other devices on the less expensive fuel.
Under TOTE’s plan, starting in 2015, its ships would carry enough LNG in heavily insulated tanks to make the roundtrip between Tacoma and Anchorage without refueling. The ships would retain the ability to operate on diesel if LNG becomes harder to get.
HOMEGROWN WATER FILTERS
At the other end of the expense spectrum is an experiment in cleaning up stormwater. Working with low-cost materials, port environmental specialist Anita Fichthorn has created a new kind of filtration system.
It uses a mix of compost created by a Washington State University scientist to filter out pollution. Each box, designed to catch stormwater flowing off buildings into gutters, costs about $100, she said.
The boxes are fashioned from recycled food processing containers that food companies give the port. Those containers are filled with a layered medium of gravel, sand and compost, then planted with vegetation that absorbs metals and nutrients.
The first results have been encouraging. Tests show the compost and vegetation filtering out the vast majority of waterborne pollutants.
Now the port is expanding its biofiltration idea to other sites beyond the two test sites.
The port hopes to use biofiltration technology, for instance, to clean up storm water falling on the port’s log yards, Jordan said. That pollution is particularly challenging because the water typically is mixed with woody debris and bark along with the usual oils and metals from machinery, fences and rooftops. The new logyard filtration facility, still being designed, will likely include mechanical filters to remove the woody waste before the water enters the biofilter.
DECOR WITH A PURPOSE
One step beyond the port’s portable stormwater filtration boxes are three rain gardens installed last year at TOTE’s Tacoma terminal. The principle is the same, but the appearance is different. Stormwater is directed to the three in-ground rain gardens, which filter out the pollutants in the water before it leaches into the ground. The rain gardens look like landscape beds adjacent to terminal buildings.
The gardens remove pollutants and dress up the terminal’s industrial appearance.
CLEANER POWER WHILE PARKED
The port is equipping all of its new facilities with conduit and electric substations capable of providing ships operating at its docks with power generated by shore-base power plants.
Under the shore power plan, ships would operate their internal lighting, heating, cooling and mechanical systems with shore power when they’re tied up at the pier. Now, most ships continue operating their internal combustion engines while at the pier to power those systems. The shore power switch could cut pollution from those engines because the generators that create that power are likely far cleaner than the ship’s engines, particularly if that power is generated from water flowing through dams, from windmills or other green sources.
TOTE pioneered shore power in 2010. The $2.7-million project is expected to reduce carbon emissions by 2,600 tons a year. TOTE’s shore power facility is the first cargo shore power operation on the Sound. No other shipping lines have followed suit, but Jordan expects more will in time as newer ships are equipped with shore power receptacles.
MODERN UPGRADE OF CLASSIC TOOL
Tacoma Rail, the municipally owned short line railroad that provides switching services to the port and Tideflats industries, has acquired three eco-friendly locomotives. Two were assembled by Progress Rail Services at their Tideflats plant.
The new locomotives meet Environmental Protection Agency Tier II pollution regulations. The three new locomotives have the pulling power of five older, more polluting ones.
The new locomotives were paid for by a $2.5 million EPA grant and $1.8 million from Tacoma Rail.
CLEANER AIR, ONE TRUCK AT A TIME
The port and the City of Tacoma are working both with a carrot and a stick to get trucks serving port terminals to meet newer emission standards.
The stick is a rule that bans pre-1994 trucks from port terminals. The emissions goal is to have 80 percent of trucks serving the port operate with 2007 or newer engines by 2015.
The carrot is a program called Scraps that offers truck owners cash incentives to replace their older trucks with newer, less polluting models. The program offers owners of pre-1994 trucks $5,000 toward the purchase of a 1994 through 2006 model truck if they scrap their older truck. If they buy a 2007 or newer model, the incentive is a $30,000 firstname.lastname@example.org