Neighbors fear project is stirring up Lake Washington toxins

KENMORE, Wash. -- The ongoing 520 Bridge project could be stirring up more than just concern on parts of Lake Washington.

People who live in Kenmore, where there are known toxins on the lake bottom, are worried that barges and tugs assembling big pieces of the new 520 Bridge are kicking up that tainted muck.

Even in chilly weather, Kenmore's Waterfront Park is beloved. But lying silently beneath the muck near the beach is dioxin and PCB, which are among the most dangerous contaminants.

Now neighbors are worried that a newcomer is stirring up that toxic mix.

"Well, I won't let my dog swim in the lake here at all," said Kenmore resident Pat O'Brien.

Concerned neighbors say they feel used.

"It feels like they're using our town to build the bridge. With no regard to the town at all,' said Jirius Isaac of the Kenmore Action Network.

The action network is concerned about the barges that are filled up with heavy parts of the 520 Bridge. The barges are floated down a narrow canal, where very large tug boats pull them out -- stirring up the muck in the process.

Photos taken by neighbors show the water full of sediment from the barges and tug propellers, which sometimes run aground.

"It's (making noises). So, it's churning up everything. And then you look at the water afterwards and it's brown -- like caf latte color," said Elizabeth Mooney of the Kenmore Action Network.

Under the marina, the muck has very high levels of dioxin and PCB. And neighbors also suspect the constructions site itself may have contaminants buried underground -- remnants of a dump full of houses that were demolished to build Interstate 5.

The problem is that no one has tested the stirred-up water to see whether dioxin and PCB is actually getting lifted up and spread, as neighbors fear.

"I'm not the expert, but if you're going to have to stop the violation that's potentially contaminating north Lake Washington, then maybe you bring in smaller barges?" Mooney said.

Documents show the Departments of Ecology and Transportation have asked the contractors building the 520 Bridge -- Kiewit/General/Manson -- to make certain they're not violating permits at the Kenmore site. But it's unclear if stirring up toxic muck under the water was even foreseen.

"There's been no protection, as the dioxins are continually allowed to be disturbed," said Anne Hurst of the Kenmore Action Network.

The state and city of Kenmore are negotiating a long-term clean-up and redevelopment plan, but that doesn't address immediate concerns about what's getting stirred up in the water right now.

On Tuesday, representatives from Kiewit said the company is using shallow draft tugs to minimize sediment disturbances. The company says it's also working with the state to assure they are meeting all rules