You might decide to buy a house that needs a few repairs or a new roof, but what if the property had a “toxic cleanup site” sign in the backyard? Simpson Lumber Co. took a risk like that when it bought the local pulp and paper mill in 1985.
The company backed up that risk with a pledge to clean up the shores of Commencement Bay where it operated.
Citizens for a Healthy Bay and the rest of Tacoma are grateful for the company’s decision. This summer we join Simpson in celebrating the 25-year anniversary of the company’s restoration of the St. Paul Waterway. Plants, salmon, crabs and other marine life now thrive where pollution once reigned.
Decades of discharge and stormwater runoff from residential and commercial properties had created “dead zones” where no plants or animals could survive. Commencement Bay was known as one of the most polluted bodies of water in the country. However, that notoriety resulted in restoration and the St. Paul Waterway became the first Superfund cleanup and habitat restoration project in U.S. coastal waters.
Mill operators Champion International and Simpson Tacoma Kraft Co. worked out an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to change the way the mill operated and clean up the contaminated sediment.
Simpson didn’t wait around for government agencies to take the lead. Company leaders teamed with the city of Tacoma, the Puyallup Tribe, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the state Department of Natural Resources, public officials, and environmental and citizen groups to get the job done.
That’s how our organization got started. Citizens for a Healthy Bay (CHB) was founded to represent the people of Tacoma in Commencement Bay’s Superfund cleanup projects. We conducted research, documented the restoration process and made sure the community’s voice was heard.
Under Simpson’s leadership, cooperation on the cleanup project was swift and widespread. In today’s regulatory environment, it probably would have taken a lot longer. In just three years, the St. Paul Waterway project team:
• Cleaned up about 17 acres of underwater sediment with 300,000 cubic yards of clean soil and clay.
• Restored 7 acres of vital marine habitat where the Puyallup River enters Commencement Bay.
• Established systems to conduct ongoing monitoring and ensure continued responsibility for the project’s effectiveness.
Simpson and Champion invested millions of dollars; the restoration project involved no public funds. Business and government leaders considered the project a model industrial and environmental partnership. The effort showed how industry, citizens, tribes and environmental groups could cooperate on cleanup decisions. Simpson also invested time and money in actual cleanup activities, rather than spending it on costly studies and litigation.
The St. Paul Waterway restoration was one of many activities that, over the years, have demonstrated Simpson’s commitment to environment responsibility. Other milestones in Simpson’s environmental improvement portfolio include:
• Reducing odor emissions. Since acquiring the mill in 1985, Simpson improvements have reduced odor emissions by more than 99 percent.
• Improving Tacoma air quality. In 1991, Simpson started up a modern biomass boiler that reduced particulate air emissions by 98 percent compared with older units it replaced.
• Eliminating chlorine bleaching. Simpson Tacoma Kraft became one of the first mills in North America to use a new, environmentally friendly pulp-bleaching process in 1993.
• Using recycled materials to make paper. Simpson changed its processes and machinery so recycled cardboard is now an important ingredient in its pulp and paper products.
• Saving and recycling water. The pulp and paper processes use millions of gallons of water a day. Simpson engineers found new ways to reuse water, substitute for fresh water and cut water use in half.
• Building a green energy power plant. Renewable biomass left over from sawmills and the papermaking process is used in Simpson’s green energy cogeneration plant. The operation generates enough green energy to supply 30,000 homes.
These combined efforts make Simpson an exemplary environmental partner. At Citizens for a Healthy Bay, we appreciate Simpson’s cooperation and collaboration in projects that benefit our waters, our community and our local economy.Bill Anderson is executive director of Citizens for a Healthy Bay.