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From Creosote to Kids
A former Superfund site is transformed to include a recreational corridor.
By Mark Hinshaw

On an unusually warm and sunny late-winter afternoon, I strolled along the West Seattle waterfront and gazed at the seductive skyline of downtown Seattle in the distance. Listening to waves lap along the shoreline and watching toddlers playing in the sand, I had trouble remembering that not too many years ago, enormous logs were being dipped in tar on this very spot.

Andrew Buchanan, Subtle Light Photography

For over a hundred years, the Wykoff plant brought in long Douglas fir timbers and infused them with creosote for utility poles and piles. Railroad ties were treated similarly to slow down their natural rotting process. In a sense, much of the old growth forests was cut down, covered in creosote, and put right back into the land and sea.

Of course, we all now know the environmental consequences of that long-standing practice. By the late twentieth century, the land around the Wykoff factory—known as Terminal 5 of the Port District of Seattle—was completely poisoned. When it was designated as a Superfund site in 1986, the area was a total mess. Industrial detritus was piled all about, rail lines wove through the area, and decrepit docks littered the water’s edge. An errant teenager would occasionally penetrate the perimeter fencing, but it was hardly a place that anyone would want to venture into.

Finally the port began a major cleanup operation. It coupled the environmental mitigation project with an effort to vastly improve its rail, truck, and barge shipping operations. Seattle-based KPFF Consulting Engineers put together a team of engineers, biologists, hydrologists, geotechnical specialists, landscape architects, and architects to completely redesign the terminal. The result is nothing less than spectacular.

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