West Hill’s Concrete Mountain: Over Three Decades of Suffering Still Not Over for Local Residents

  Community Interest    Crime & Safety

by Brie Ripley (Originally published by the South Seattle Emerald)

A 30-year battle over the operations of an industrial company in West Hill is supposed to come to a court-ordered end on June 1, but despite environmental and health concerns alongside a bevy of complaints from the community and regulatory agencies, its mountain of concrete waste will continue to grow.

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Some community members refer to the mountain of concrete as “Mt. Anderson” after the owner who hasn’t cleaned it up, Joseph B. Anderson. It’s not certain how tall Mt. Anderson is, but it’s at least three times the height of a portable office module at it’s highest point. (Photo by Brie Ripley)

Community members say their air is unbreathable and city officials say the owner of Contractor’s Concrete Recycling (CCR) has been historically behind on annual registration and code violation payments to the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency and the King County Department of Permitting and Environmental Review (DPER).

Two years ago, King County Superior Court mandated a wind down plan that would effectively shut down CCR by June 2015 and clean up the lot. But according to Craig Mungas, that won’t happen anytime soon.

Mungas is the Receiver for CCR, the lawyer monitoring and controlling the company’s assets as CCR is still fully operational. Mungas says they’re still working out how CCR will afford the cleanup, noting that he doesn’t know how much it will cost.

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Aerial view of Contractor’s Concrete Recycling and the nearby mobile home communities, The Vue and Skyway Mobile Home Park (Source: Puget Sound Clean Air Agency)

“That’s kind of the big unknown,” said Mungas. “Removing piles will be one cost, and removing piles plus any fill will be substantially more expensive.”

Mungas doesn’t represent CCR’s owner, Joseph B. Anderson of Tukwila. Mungas’ role as the Receiver is to represent King County as a creditor involved with CCR. He says he’s there for the people within the community, and understands their concerns.

“I think if you stop operations and leave the property in the condition it is in, those perceived or actual harms will not be addressed any time soon,” said Mungas. “You’ll see this property sit there as various agencies and government entities battle it out to see what they want to do with it. I really want to see this push through to a new state where we see operations cease and this wind down in place. I certainly don’t want to do anything that harms anybody in the community. With the role I play in this, I’m trying to do everything within my power to mitigate these impacts.”

But the fact that CCR is still in operation is grinding the gears of many community members.

“That’s just more evidence by their behavior that they want to keep going indefinitely,” says Mark Johnston, a concerned Skyway resident and member of the West Hill Community Association.

The West Hill Community Association represents the King County unincorporated area comprised of the neighborhoods of Bryn Mawr, Campbell Hill, Earlington, Hilltop, Lakeridge, Panorama View, Skycrest and Skyway, collectively known as “West Hill”, which lies between Seattle and Renton.

(Source: Modified from King County geographic information system data)

West Hill (represented in the census as “Skyway-Bryn Mawr”) is the only majority-minority community recognized in the 2000 census within Washington State. If it were incorporated, it would be the second-largest city in King County.

Johnston said the unincorporated status leaves the community powerless.

“If we were part of a city, we would have a city council and a county council, two layers of government acting on our behalf in some way,” said Johnston.

He believes the community needs stronger government representation now more than ever because CCR’s air pollution poses a perpetual health risk and the company is getting away with continuing to operate when they should be fully shut down.

Decades of dust

Between 1992 and 2013, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (PSCAA) received 42 documented, anonymous complaints about CCR. The majority of complaints are related to dust and breathing issues experienced by nearby community members.

Concrete dust contains silica, which is a carcinogen, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In addition, concrete can sometimes contain asbestos.

Directly north and east from CCR are two mobile home communities established in Skyway over 50 years ago, Skyway Mobile Home Park and The Vue.

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Christina Blanken can’t open the windows in her home over the summer due to the dust coming from Contractor’s Concrete Recycling across the street. “It leaves a layer of film on everything,” said Blanken. (Photo by Brie Ripley)

“The air smells bad around here, it is just nasty,” said Christina Blanken, a mobile home owner in Skyway for 16 years. “There’s no such thing as fresh air around here anymore.”

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The smell is unbearable for Blanken, who says she can even taste it. She lives with her son, Michael, who suspects his asthma is worsening due to the dust coming from CCR across the street. One time, she says the men working at CCR burned a shed down. The fumes from that were noticeable from where she lives, which is in the center of the mobile home park.

But more than anything, it’s the dust that bothers her.

“It’s just a big dust bowl around here,” said Blanken. “Inches of dust and white stuff all over. It causes buildup and corrosion on the enamel of people’s cars, it’s awful. Everything is just covered.”

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Robert Nelson has lived in the Skyway Mobile Home Park for 25 years, and has been staring at the mound of concrete rubble across the street for just as long. “I’ve been living here and I’ll probably die here,” said Nelson, “but I’d like to see it gone before I go.” (Photo by Brie Ripley)

Robert Nelson is a 75-year-old retiree who has lived in the Skyway Mobile Home Park for 25 years. He loves living there because it’s a low crime neighborhood and his neighbors are kind, he says. Nelson owns a black car, and he said it’s impossible to keep it clean.

“You could probably clean real good today, and if you left the windows open, you’d probably see dust on any black surfaces for sure tomorrow. I have a black car, I can wash it, and one day later I can see a fine surface of dust all over that car. And I have to breathe that stuff, 24 hours, seven days per week,” said Nelson.

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Nelson says he and other community members have referred to the property as “Mt. Anderson” for as long as he can remember because of the giant pile of recycled concrete waste they stare at outside their windows.

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Home owners at the The Skyway Mobile Home Park, located directly across the street, are impacted by the screeching sounds of Contractor’s Concrete Recycling and the constant onslaught of dust that comes off the gravel mountains and the cement crushers. (Photo by Brie Ripley)

Since 1972, Mark Groenig, a cabinet maker who has lived in the Skyway Mobile Home Park, says the giant mound blocks his view. But what bothers Groenig most is the constant screeching noise emanating from the site. The company starts working as early as 6:30 a.m. sometimes, Groenig said, and the shrill sounds are unrelenting.

“It’s just nonstop, big, heavy machinery sounds, and conveyor belt sounds, and you name it. It’s just noisy, all the time they are working over there. Disturbing noise, all the time,” said Groenig.

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Groenig says the constant noise coming from CCR ruins any possibility of family time. Guests who come over to his nicely decorated home full of antique art deco lamps and extraordinarily comfortable couches can’t enjoy it for long before they are distracted by loud concrete pulverization.

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Mark Groenig is tired of the shrill shrieking sounds of the concrete crusher at Contractor’s Concrete Recycling that start as early as 6 a.m. some days, even on holidays. “It gets in the way of family time,” says Groenig. (Photo by Brie Ripley)

Recent compliance with regulatory agencies

Last August, PSCAA ordered CCR to conduct an opacity test, a manner of measuring particulates in the air, on all of their recently updated cement crushers. Kristina Schafer of Horizon Engineering was assigned to organize the opacity test at CCR which took place on October 1, 2014.

“If there’s a fireplace in a home and you see smoke coming out of a chimney, that is something we could measure,” said Schafer.

CCR was not to exceed greater than a 10 percent opacity reading. They scored 0.
Mungas, the receivership lawyer, says this outstanding opacity score has to do with CCR’s recent updates of dust suppression systems, which consist of sprayers and nozzles.

Part of the court’s wind-down strategy is to clean it all up and sell it for multifamily development purposes, like townhomes and apartments. CCR’s lot is currently zoned for multifamily use, not industrial. When the lot was rezoned for multifamily use by DPER in the 1990s, CCR’s industrial lot use was grandfathered in.

Randy Sandin of DPER has been involved with CCR since the 1970’s. He says that CCR slipped through the cracks of DPER’s zoning rules, a common occurrence for old companies like Anderson’s.

In 1984, there was a landslide and Sandin was the DPER associate who investigated the cause. Sandin says Mt. Anderson’s slide was caused by slope stability issues made more unstable by Anderson’s use of unpermitted fill on the lot. Fortunately for anyone commuting through the area, Mungas says the slope stability issues were resolved by contracted engineers in 2010 – twenty six years later.

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Equipment is oftentimes parked on top of the man made gravel mountain at Contractor’s Concrete Recycling. (Photo by Brie Ripley)

Potentially toxic

CCR has been part of the State of Washington Department of Ecology’s (DOE) Toxic Cleanup Program since March 2014, and on the Department of Ecology’s Confirmed and Suspected Contaminated Sites List since 2007.

Donna Mussa of the Site Hazard Assessments Toxic Cleanup Program sent a letter to Joseph Anderson on March 4, 2014, declaring DOE’s intention to test CCR for “potential or actual environmental hazard.”

DOE’s Toxic Cleanup Program page says that CCR is also suspected to have surface water and soil contaminated by arsenic and asbestos.

Anderson declined an interview in early April, despite six attempts to reach him over the phone. But in the three minutes of phone conversation he allowed, he expressed that he felt bullied by the community.

“When somebody is being picked on, and the community’s against somebody who has employed people over 30 years, and hasn’t been that big of a pain in the ass to the community, and they have no science in what they’re saying… I’m not the only person in the world creating some dust,” Anderson said.

The next hearing for CCR will be June 12 at the King County Superior Court in Kent.

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Contractor’s Concrete Recycling has been on the market for three years now, but nobody yet has expressed interest in purchasing a property requiring so much clean up. (Photo by Brie Ripley)