The Vancouver site during demolition
United States - 2012
Remediation Project Creates Portal to Job Creation in Washington
Alcoa’s US$55 million remediation and subsequent sale of a former integrated plant site in Vancouver, Washington (USA), paved the way for new industrial development and rail improvements at the Port of Vancouver that are projected to bring up to 1,000 permanent jobs to the region.
In 1940, Alcoa opened a 115,000 metric-tons-per-year smelter in Vancouver and later added separate cable and extrusion plants. During peak production in the 1950s, the company employed approximately 2,000 people at the more than 810-hectare (2,000-acre) site situated along the Columbia River.
Through the years, Alcoa sold parcels of its excess land to the Port of Vancouver and others. In 1985, the company sold the smelter to a private investment group that ran it as Vancouver Aluminum Company until going bankrupt in the late 1990s. Glencore International purchased the smelter assets in 2002 but did not restart the plant. Alcoa had discontinued operations at its cable and extrusion plants in the 1990s.
The combined Alcoa and Glencore land at this point totaled approximately 100 hectares (250 acres). The company had initiated remediation in the 1980s, first focusing on properly disposing of stockpiled spent pot lining. Classified as a hazardous waste, spent pot lining is generated when the lining of smelting pots reaches the end of its serviceable life.
In the 1990s, remediation efforts focused on removing PCBs from the extrusion building and onsite disposal areas. Alcoa collected the contaminated soils into a single landfill, which was capped in 2003. From 2006 through 2008, efforts focused on removing additional land-based soil and PCB-impacted sediment in the Columbia River. Alcoa and Glencore demolished all buildings, implemented a groundwater monitoring system, and sold the remediated land to the Port of Vancouver in 2009 for a combined US$48 million.
“When the PCB contamination of the Columbia River became a public issue, Alcoa stepped forward and handled the remediation quickly rather than sending the issue to its lawyers,” said Paul Skyllingstad, project manager at the Washington Department of Ecology. “The remediation was completed in two years, which was unheard of for a sediment cleanup site this large. The Alcoa team was even doing river cleanup in the middle of a snowstorm.”
He adds, “A good lesson for other companies is that it’s best to have the technical people handle cleanups rather than the legal staff. Things will happen much faster and will cost a lot less.”
Carol Kraege, industrial section manager for the Washington Department of Ecology, concurs with Skyllingstad’s assessment of Alcoa.
“Overall, Alcoa was a good partner in this remediation effort,” she said. “Although we weren’t always in agreement on approaches, we worked through our differences. As a result, that piece of property is now back in use and creating jobs.”
The Alcoa/Glencore land sat between existing developed properties and planned marine terminals at the Port of Vancouver. Its purchase allowed for all of the port’s 485 hectares (1,200 acres) to be contiguous and linked by a new rail line that will allow an expected tripling of annual rail capacity. The US$150 million in new rail infrastructure now permits port access by class-one rail carriers and assembled unit trains, both of which lower tenant costs and reduce greenhouse emissions.
New development on the acquired land includes laydown storage areas for massive wind energy components (the port handled more wind-energy components that any other U.S. port in 2009) and a rail-dependent liquid propane facility. BHP Billiton also plans to invest upwards of US$200 million to build an export facility to ship crop fertilizers. Scheduled for startup in 2015, the facility will create between 1,500 to 2,000 construction jobs and 40 permanent ones.
“BHP Billiton was definitely concerned about contamination on the site,” said Todd Coleman, deputy executive director for the Port of Vancouver. “The port took 95 drums of soil from the company’s soil borings for testing, and we were very pleased that all were found to be clean of contaminants. We were confident that Alcoa had done the remediation correctly, but it was nice to have that validated.”
The expansion and modernization of the port’s logistics infrastructure will fuel growth for decades. In the near term, the port estimates that nearly 4,000 construction jobs will be created through both the property’s development into the port’s new Terminal 5 and completion of the rail project.