The seven acre parcel of contaminated land that can be seen from the Bainbridge Island ferry goes by several names: Creosote Point, Bill Point, and the Wyckoff/Eagle Harbor Superfund Site. Because of contamination, the point is off limits to the public. However, scientists are able to visit the site and collect data.
Two years ago, a team from the UofW’s Friday Harbor Labs conducted beach surveys to determine long-term impacts of the creosote plant on beach life. They plan to conduct a follow-up survey this year. In a personal note to Albert Greiner, the owner of property adjacent to the superfund site, Dr. Megan Dethier said “we found the beach in front of your house to be rich and healthy, as you suspected.”
Dr. Dethier included a copy of a report showing her analysis of the data. In her words, “…it is not a formal paper, mostly just a quick summary for my colleagues….”
In it, she described the process for collecting data from several Creosote Point sites and comparing it to two nearby beaches on Blake Island to the south and Jefferson Point to the north.
She observed that, “…looking simply at the species richness per transect at MLLW (with transects arranged overall from south to north)… all beaches look similar except the Pit site, which is strikingly less diverse than all the others.”
The “Creosote Pit” was defined as a limited horizontal area where hydrocarbons were visibly percolating out of the sediment above MLLW, near the northern end of the point.
The conclusions of the report were interesting:
At MLLW, the southern two Creosote Point locations were very “typical” for mixed cobble-sand beaches in central Puget Sound, with biota quite similar to sites to the north and south. At the mid-shore (ca. MLW), the southern locations were richer than expected, perhaps due to the presence of cobbles with the surfaces and stability they provide.
We anticipated seeing an effect of hydrocarbon pollution at the North and Pit transects, especially the latter, because of the continuing clear evidence of contamination there. While the species and abundances were clearly different than those at the locations further from the contamination, these differences could just as readily be explained by substrate/sediment differences as by pollution.
The presence of ampeliscid amphipods at the Pit was especially surprising, given the literature suggesting that amphipods in general, and this family in particular, are pollution sensitive.
If we understand these conclusions correctly, the researchers found the beach in front of the superfund site to be rich and healthy today. If the creosote plant destroyed life in Eagle Harbor, it appears to be back.
However, those of us who are required by agreements with the COBI planning department and the state Dept. of Fish and Wildlife to dump sand and gravel on our beaches every few years as mitigation for alleged harm caused by the installation or maintenance of a bulkhead must wonder why we must do so if rocks provide a better habitat than sand.