State hits 520 bridge contractor with notice of violation

KENMORE, Wash. -- The state Department of Ecology issued a notice of violation Wednesday against the 520 bridge contractor Kiewit/General/Manson with a $10,000 potential fine.

The announcement comes in the wake of a Problem Solvers investigation into Kiewit's tugboats, which have been stirring up potentially toxic sediment at the bottom of Lake Washington.

A number of area residents have seen the loosened sediments mucking up the water in the shallow Kenmore Canal. Two such residents described the water's hue as "a cafe latte color" and "a milkshake brown."

One citizens' group in Kenmore has been complaining for months to no avail until Wednesday when the state issued the notice.

Pieces of the 520 bridge get put into the water at the Kenmore site. But under the law, construction crews must not stir up too much mud.

Citizens are irked the state didn't test for toxins before allowing the project to begin.

The state has not tested the Kenmore site; however, it has conducted tests just 50 yards away. There, the state found high levels of PCB and dioxin.

Citizen activist Pat O'Brien says the notice of violation had to be initiated by citizens.

"Well, I think it's a beginning," he said. "You're always happy with any beginning that starts to correct a problem."

The canal is as little as 12 feet, and much smaller outside the channel where tugs often go. Seaplane pilots sometimes see sandbars here.

The contractor told KOMO News its crews have switched to shallow draft tugs. But some wonder whether that's enough.

"I think anybody that lives or uses Lake Washington should be very concerned about this," O'Brien said. "I don't care if you're in Renton or you're Bill Gates, or University of Washington; this lake connects to all those places. And all citizens should be worried about this resource we have."

The contractor told KOMO News late Thursday it is dedicated to high standards and is reviewing their options with regard to this violation notice.

In a Thursday statement, Kiewit said it is dedicated to maintaining the highest environmental compliance standards.

"In Kenmore, to minimize the disturbance of sediment, we operate in designated areas and use the shallowest-draft tug available that can safely maneuver the barge/vessel being towed/pushed. We are carefully reviewing the recent notification from the Department of Ecology and examining our operations in Kenmore," the statement reads.

The state says it sees the $10,000 fine as a last resort. The Department of Ecology plans to work with Kiewit to fix the problem.

But the question remains unanswered for neighbors: Is the mud stirred up and distributed by Kiewit's tugs contaminated with dioxin and other toxins?

No one is testing the water column to find out.