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Friends Notes

Keep up to date with news from Friends of Skagit Beaches

Checking in with Catherine Buchalski

Editor’s note:  Many of us remember the warm smile and amazing young woman who served as the final Skagit Beach Watcher’s Coordinator and briefly as Volunteer Coordinator for the Coastal Volunteer Partnership at Padilla Bay.  Catherine is now working in Chicago and sends this update on what she’s up to (including getting married next fall!) We wish her the best in all her endeavors.

Catherine BGreetings from Chicago!

by Catherine Buchalski

Two weeks ago, I woke up and realized it’s been a year since I left Anacortes for the bright lights and windy nights of the big city. I certainly never thought I’d be living in the Midwest and working in a 20+ story building, but next month I will celebrate my one year work anniversary with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Management Program here in Chicago. I must say the work is very different from my role as the Program Coordinator for the Coastal Volunteer Partnership. The last year has been busy.  I have organized and facilitated a series of meetings with elected and municipal leaders to address the challenges of shoreline management along a developed coastline; collaborated with other Lake Michigan states to prioritize actions and strategies for recovering the lake over the next 10 years; and strategized ways to increase public access and recreational opportunities along the lakefront from Chicago to the Wisconsin border. Overall, it has been quite a year, and I am so grateful for the learning experiences and new opportunities I’ve had here . . . even if I hate the crowds and parallel parking-ha!

Despite the new job, my time in Skagit County is never far from my mind. This coming year I’m particularly excited to work with my colleagues in establishing a collaborative research and education center on the shores of Lake Michigan. I have already shared many stories of how awesome Padilla Bay Reserve is, and what an amazing group of volunteers can achieve! There is also the possibility of developing a citizen science shoreline-monitoring program, and a host of educational programming that motivates me to work even harder.

While leaving Washington was a very difficult decision, I know from experience that my life is made richer and I am more fulfilled by every new adventure. My fiancée, Wes, and I will be visiting Washington in May, and, of course, a trip to Padilla Bay and Fidalgo Island are on the itinerary! I suppose only time will tell where our journey will lead us next, but I think the call of the West will be too much to resist, and we’ll be climbing the mountains and rocky shores again soon.

What happened to the Fidalgo Shoreline Academy?

FSA logo trnspNo, you didn’t miss it. 

The Friends Board made the decision to move our annual symposium from spring to a fall date.  We plan to host the 2017 Fidalgo Shoreline Academy in October.  We are also planning to move the event venue to the Northwest Educational Services District building by Seafarers Memorial Park in Anacortes.

Our team of volunteers is already working on plans for the event and you can be sure that we’ll be offering an excellent lineup of speakers and educational displays.  Again, this year we plan to offer a top-notch keynote speaker followed by three sessions each offering three interesting topic choices.  Each session will offer a choice between two indoor presentations or the opportunity to join our Trail Tales team for an interpretive walk for those who want to get outside and stretch their legs.  The Seafarers Memorial Park and Cap Sante Marina offer a great location for new interpretive topics that we haven’t been offered before.

Stay tuned for more information in our next newsletter.  You can also check our website for updates later in the summer at this link to the FSA page of our website.  If you’ve attended in the past, you should receive an email notification when registration time is approaching.

CVP Matching Grant Opportunity

We need your help!

Friends of Skagit Beaches is one of the funding partners that provides needed financial support for Coastal Volunteer Partnership at Padilla Bay.  Over the past two years (2015 & 2016) we provided $12,000 to support the program that has primarily gone toward funding for our talented Volunteer Coordinator, Samantha Russell, who has done an outstanding job getting this fairly new program off and running.  We need to up the ante and increase our annual donations to this excellent and expanding program. 


In 2017, Friends has a unique opportunity to double our funding to the Coastal Volunteer Partnership at Padilla Bay (CVP) this year.  One of our members has offered to provide up to $5,000 to match donations we receive to support the CVP program with $1 for every $1 donated.This would enable us to increase our funding for this program to $10,000 this year.  To date, we have received $2,967 towards of goal of raising $5,000, which will become $10,000 for CVP with the match from the grant sponsor.  With donations to date, we have received half of the matching grant and are delivering a $5,000 payment to the Padilla Bay Foundation for our 2017 contract to support CVP. We plan to deliver the second $5,000 payment by June 30th assuming we can raise the rest of the donations needed to get the full grant match.

Please help us reach the goal!  Friends is a 501c3 nonprofit and all donations are tax deductible. Here's how to donate (be sure to include a note/memo designating your gift to CVP Matching Grant):

1. Mail your donation to:

Friends of Skagit Beaches, P.O. Box 481, Anacortes, WA 98221.

2. Donate online using our PayPal donation linkDonate online using our PayPal donation link.

You don’t need a PayPal account to use this online donation feature.  Friends is a registered nonprofit with the Paypal Giving Fund, which means they cover the fees, so 100% of your donation comes to us!

Why support this program?

CVP volunteers have logged over 10,000 hours of volunteer service to our community and natural environment.  CVP has 35 new volunteers this year who have signed up to train as Salish Sea Stewards expanding our base of talented and dedicated volunteers to over 100.  As the volunteer base grows, so do the demands on the program to continue offering service to and opportunities in our local community.  These funds will make a difference in helping to sustain and grow the volunteer program and increase its impact in Skagit County.

Thanks for your support!

2017 Lecture Series Breaking Records

2017 Lecture Audience

Friends is in the midst of hosting our annual lecture series that continues to grow in popularity every year. This year the series kicked off with a presentation entitled “Research and Insights on Northwest Coast Humpback, Blue, and Gray Whales and their Incursions into the Salish Sea” by John Calambokidis from Cascadia Research Collective in Olympia, WA. A record of 290 people crowded into the Reid Harbor Room at the Northwest Educational Services District with standing room only and people spilling out into the doorways to catch the presentation. The lecture series team was quite surprised as the prior record was 162 people. Perhaps it’s a widening appreciation of the jokes delivered by our emcee, Matt Kerschbaum . . . on second thought it’s surely the excellent topics and speakers. We are so thankful for the amazing team of volunteers who put together this high-quality learning experience for our community. The lecture series project team is providing a great service for our community, which is obviously well-appreciated.

Coming up:

March 17 – “Sounds in the Salish Sea” presented by Scott Viers, PhD

April 21 – “Exploring the Salish Sea Floor” presented by Dr. H. Gary Green

March Point "Whitmarsh" Landfill Cleanup

March Point "Whitmarsh" Landfill Cleanup

By Betty Carteret

The current cleanup site being addressed under the Anacortes Baywide Cleanup program by the Washington Department of Ecology’s Toxics Cleanup Program (Ecology) is the March Point (aka Whitmarsh) Landfill site.  The site is located on the southwest shore of Padilla Bay in an area that was originally a marsh that was filled in and reinforced with rip rap during installation of the railroad line into Anacortes that now only travels as far as the Tesoro Refinery on March Point.

The landfill site is on the old county highway now South March Point Road, which was the main road into Anacortes and other points on Fidalgo Island until the 1950s. The nearby intersection with East March Point Road was once known as Whitmarsh Junction shown in this 1930s era photo with its tavern and gas station located near the current site of the T Bailey fabrication plant.

Witmarsh Anacortes Museum

Photo courtesy of Anacortes Museum Wally Funk Collection – by Ferd Bradey ca. 1930s

The cleanup of this former landfill site is being undertaken by Ecology in conjunction with “Potentially Liable Parties” who have been shown to bear potential responsibility for the contamination at the site.   They include Skagit County, which operated the landfill, Shell Oil Company and Texaco, Inc., Washington Department of Natural Resources (WA DNR), and several private parties who have ownership ties to the property, including the former owner of the Snow Mountain Sawmill closed in 2010. Ecology is also working closely with other stakeholders including the Swinomish Indian Nation and City of Anacortes in the evaluation and planning for the cleanup work.

This former landfill site has a long history of operating originally as an informal local garbage disposal site and later as an unregulated dump starting around 1950, which was taken over and run by Skagit County until 1973 when it was shut down. From 1961 – 1969 the county operated a burn dump and then converted it to a sanitary landfill that operated until 1973.  The site received household, commercial and industrial waste, which the county covered or “capped” in a manner that does not meet current environmental standards.

WasteCap1  WasteCap2

Photos courtesy of Washington Department of Ecology

From 1980 to 2011 the Snow Mountain Sawmill operated at the north end of the site and added a thick layer or sawdust and wood waste on top of the old landfill.  In 2014, WA DNR completed the removal of 44,000 cubic yards of wood waste and sawdust from the site, which now transitions to the responsibility of Ecology and liable parties to complete remediation of the landfill.  In 2015, a 4-foot-high berm was constructed on the site to control erosion.

Whitmarsh berm

A Remedial Investigation Feasibility Study (RI/FS) was conducted by Ecology from 2008 to 2014 to investigate what was disposed at the site and where it is located in order to determine the nature of contaminants and their threat to human health and the environment.  Sampling was performed in several phases including soil sampling, groundwater and seepage sampling, sediment sampling, and surface water sampling. Additional studies included geophysical and geotechnical surveys, digging a test pit, a tidal study, landfill gas study, chemical analyses, and an archaeology study.  Not surprisingly as this was a landfill for residential waste, the largest amount of waste identified was metallic waste like disposed washing machines, scrap metal, metal siding, and 55 gallon drums.  Concern was alleviated about potential contaminants in drums when further investigation found those excavated to be empty. More concerning is the fact that soil samples were found to exceed allowed levels for metal contaminants including arsenic, copper, manganese, zinc, nickel, strontium, mercury, and lead.  Other toxins identified include PCBs, volatile organic compounds, and dioxins. A “fingerprinting” analysis was performed to determine the origin of dioxins found in the soil and surrounding sediments to try and identify the source in the upland watershed.

A path of drainage from highway 20 was mapped out and identified as the source of much of the contamination in the nearshore sediments.  The results of bioassay, chemical, and bio-accumulative testing of sediments from around the site found that there was no impact on the sediments of the lagoon or Padilla Bay from the landfill. In the area labeled Unit B below, it was found that the bio-accumulative carcinogen, Dioxin, exceeds safe levels and is most likely coming from other off-site sources.


Armed with this information, Ecology developed a list of alternatives to evaluate as candidates for remediation of the site.  The alternatives that were investigated are listed below.

 #1: No action

#2: Renovate existing capping materials

#3: GCLL CAP – geosynthetic clay cap

#4: HDPE CAP – high density plastic cap over landfill area

#5: HDPE anchored into bay mud – high density plastic extended into bay

#6: PVC CAP – PVC plastic cap over landfill area

#7: Landfill (all solid waste) removal – complete excavation and backfill

Habitat restoration is one of the factors included in determining an acceptable alternative.  Ecology is considering re-contouring the site along the inner lagoon, removing invasive blackberry vines, and hydroseeding with native backshore vegetation.  Ecology has consulted with the Skagit Land Trust about the March Point Heronry, which is across the road from the site, to determine what types of habitat restoration might benefit the Great Blue Herons that have over 500 nests in their colony.

Ecology performed a detailed evaluation of the options to compare feasibility, performance, risk, and cost for each option.  Although people may jump to the conclusion that the landfill should be completely removed as their first reaction, cost for value provided as compared to the risk posed to human health and the environment must be considered. After all, “we” the taxpayers are ultimately paying a significant portion of the cleanup cost.  With many sites across the state that need to be addressed, funding is limited and cost/benefit analysis plays a key role in the decision process.

Ecology is preparing the March Point Landfill RI/FS documents, including identification of a preferred alternative, for release to the public in early spring 2016.  The public is encouraged to review these documents either online or at the Anacortes Public Library and submit questions or provide comments to Ecology.  Notices of the public comment period will be published in local media and through the Friends of Skagit Beaches Trail Tales mailing list.  We will also post information links on our “Trail Tales Fidalgo Bay” Facebook page.  A summary of the schedule for completing the project is shown below.

RI/FS Public Comment Period & Finalization                       Spring 2016

Draft Cleanup Action Plan out for public comment              Fall 2017

Permit development and approval                                     2017 – 2018

Cleanup Field Construction                                               2019

Site monitoring                                                               2020 +

For more information contact:  Arianne Fernandez, WA Ecology This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Local contact:  Betty Carteret, Friends of Skagit Beaches This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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