Cleaned Irondale Beach County Park reopens amid cheers
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Chimacum Elementary School student Fox Elder cuts the ribbon at the opening of Irondale Beach County Park on Thursday. -- Photo by Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

IRONDALE — Irondale Beach County Park was ceremoniously reopened Thursday after it had been closed for a cleanup of petroleum hydrocarbons and metals left by a steel plant that closed 94 years ago.

“We are forever indebted to the [state] Department of Ecology and the Puget Sound initiative for making this happen,” said Jefferson County Commissioner Phil Johnson as he addressed a crowd of about 70 people.

“There is no greater gift that we can leave the generations to come than a healthy and restored environment and the bonus of a beautiful county park.”

Fox Elder — a 9-year-old fourth-grader at Chimacum Elementary School who has done service projects at the park at 526 Moore St. since he was 4 years old — cut the ceremonial-opening ribbon at the park while bystanders cheered.

Elder and his parents are members of Friends of Chimacum Creek, a volunteer group that has adopted the park and will be responsible for its maintenance, according to Matt Tyler, Jefferson County Parks and Recreation manager.

The reopening ceremony capped a cleanup and restoration effort at the former site of the Irondale Iron and Steel plant that had been in the works in some form since 2007.

The ceremony took place in an open field that was once the site of the thriving iron-processing plant, which closed in 1919.

Kathleen Kler, a member of the Jefferson County Parks and Recreation Board, provided some history about the site.

The land was once considered of little value until the discovery of iron-oxide deposits up to 4 feet deep.

That discovery led to the creation of one of the two iron smelters on the Pacific Coast.

In its prime, Irondale had a population of 1,500 with three hotels, a mercantile, a post office and a hospital.

“It was thought that Irondale would become the Pittsburgh of the Pacific, and that was considered to be a good thing,” Kler said.

Ecology determined that the park, purchased by Jefferson County in 2001, contained contaminants left over from when the Irondale Iron and Steel mill operated on the property from 1881 to 1919.

Steel plant operations during those 38 years contaminated soil, sediment and ground water, and also left slag, a by-product of the steel smelting process.

The property changed hands several times from 1919 to 2001, but no further contamination was created, according to Ecology.

Most recently before Jefferson County bought the park, a nearby wood-chipping facility used the property as a log-storage yard.

Ecology officials initially determined the site was safe in 2001 after the county bought it but later decided cleanup was necessary after the 2005 discovery of the oily substance on the beach.

“This is only a small part of the Salish Sea but represents a significant success for its preservation,” said Sally Toteff, Ecology’s regional director.

“Each of these steps contributes to the restoration of Puget Sound.”

Jefferson County Sheriff Tony Hernandez provided a more pragmatic view.

“When I was a deputy, I would come down here and always find some kind of illegal activity, like drugs or drag racing,” Hernandez said.

“It’s nice to see that the natural beauty has been restored and it is now a safe place for young and old people alike.”

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Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 24. 2013 7:07PM
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