Budd Inlet Cleanup and Restoration

Budd Inlet Cleanup and Restoration

Contaminated sediment from historical industrial activities in Budd Inlet presents a threat to human health, negatively impacts the ecology of south Puget Sound, and impairs maritime operations and recreational boating. The Port of Olympia is exploring a strategy to clean up and restore Budd Inlet in collaboration with local, state, federal, and Tribal partners. The cleanup will benefit the economy, environment, and the greater Olympia community.

What's Happening Now

The first phase of the Port’s strategy is focused on researching and identifying the best way to conduct and pay for cleanup and restoration of Budd Inlet. Recent activities lead by the Port Commission include:

Once a remedy has been selected, the Port will begin the process of designing the project and securing required permits. Project construction is planned to begin in 2026 and will take multiple years. For questions about the Budd Inlet Cleanup and Restoration project, please contact Budd Inlet Manager Jonathon Wolf at jonathonw@portolympia.com.

Estimated Timeline

2022 Evaluation, preliminary design, early public engagement
2023 Design, permitting, continued public engagement
2026 Potential start of construction (likely to include dredging)
2030 Approximate project completion

Budd Inlet in the Community

If you would like to schedule a presentation for your community group, please send an email to inquiries@portolympia.com

Past Outreach:

March 2024: Presentation to the East Bay Drive Neighborhood Association and Olympia Kiwanis Club

September 2023: Port of Olympia and Puget Sound Estuarium Partner to Provide Tours for Students

October 2023: Presentation to the Olympia Yacht Club

August 2023: Presentation to the Port of Olympia Citizens Advisory Committee (POCAC) and the Gateway Rotary

July 2023: Tumwater School District Forest and Stream Summer Ecology Field Course Tour

May 2023: Budd Inlet video presentation at the Chamber’s 118th Annual Meeting

October 2022: Port of Olympia and Puget Sound Estuarium bring hands-on Budd Inlet experience to fifth graders

Budd Inlet Cleanup and Restoration in the News

Frequently Asked Questions

About the Project

Under a legal agreement with Washington State Department of Ecology, the Port of Olympia is required to investigate contamination, evaluate possible cleanup actions, and propose a plan to clean up the contamination and restore habitat in Budd Inlet.

There is an urgent need to complete the cleanup of contaminated sediments and to conduct maintenance dredging in the west and east bays of Budd Inlet. Current conditions are unsustainable, and the situation is getting worse. Sediment buildup is restricting the movement of public and private vessels and creating unsafe conditions, including possible groundings, which could impact people’s livelihoods and interrupt the flow of goods and services. Habitat is already severely degraded and threatens fish and wildlife, including endangered orcas. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will not conduct routine, federally funded maintenance dredging in the federal navigation channel until the cleanup is complete.

“The role of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with respect to navigation is to provide safe, reliable, and efficient waterborne transportation systems (channels, harbors, and waterways) for movement of commerce, national security needs and recreation.”

(USACE Engineering Regulation 1105-2-100)

The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is responsible for maintaining and improving nearly 12,000 miles of shallow-draft inland and intracoastal waterways, 13,000 miles of deep-draft coastal channels, and 400 ports, harbors, and turning basins throughout the United States. Because these components of the national waterway network are considered assets to both US commerce and national security, they must be carefully managed to keep marine traffic operating safely and efficiently.

Yet only a few of these waterways, ports, and harbors are naturally deep. In most cases, channels must first be excavated to a Congressionally mandated depth and then dredged periodically so they will remain clear and safe for navigation. Without dredging, many waterways, ports, and harbors would become impassable to commercial and recreational vessels.

Congress authorizes and appropriates funds for federal channel construction and maintenance and USACE is responsible for performing the construction and maintenance. Previously, USACE was directed by Congress to perform maintenance dredging in the Olympia Harbor (Budd Inlet). However, contamination was found in 2004 and USACE determined that it cannot perform maintenance activities in Budd Inlet because it is an active state cleanup site and the state of Washington will not waive liability for damages. An objective of Budd Inlet Cleanup and Restoration is to restore the responsibility of USACE to dredge the Olympia Harbor. Learn more about USACE dredging here.

Contaminated sediment can harm aquatic animals, referred to as “benthic organisms,” such as shellfish that live on or in it. Other animals that eat these benthic organisms can also be harmed, including orcas, salmon, bald eagles and other birds, harbor seals, and people. 

Dioxins and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are classes of chemicals that have negative effects on living things. These chemicals are byproducts from manufacturing processes and other human activities including wood treating, burning coal and wood, combustion engines, and other materials. Dioxins and PAHs are also known to cause cancer and can affect reproduction in humans and other animals, and negatively impact children’s development.

PAHs and dioxins are dangerous at very low concentrations, they do not degrade in the environment, and as a result, are widespread in urban and industrialized areas. Most people are exposed to very small amounts as they go about their daily lives. The main way people can be exposed to these contaminants in sediment is by eating fish or shellfish from an area that is contaminated, or through skin contact.

The safety of swimming and fishing in Budd Inlet is monitored by the Washington State Department of Health in partnership with the Washington State Department of Ecology. 

Find current information through these links:

Department of Health: Swimming Beach Advisories 

Department of Health: Fish 

The contamination is the result of historical (1920-80s) industrial activities and practices that preceded modern environmental laws and regulations. Previously, there were many polluting industries on South Budd Inlet including a large wood treating plant, numerous forest products facilities with burners, and bulk petroleum-storage and handling facilities. The Port has been identified as one of the parties that is potentially responsible for contamination as they owned the underlying property that was leased to these industries. The City of Olympia has also been identified as potentially liable for the contamination. Other parties are being identified, though many industries that contributed to contamination no longer operate on the peninsula. Past and current stormwater runoff and sewage outfalls have also contributed to contamination.

Decades of industrial, urban, and municipal use have severely damaged the quality and ecology of Puget Sound, including Budd Inlet. The Washington State Department of Ecology launched an investigation of Budd Inlet dioxin contamination in April 2007. The Port of Olympia also found concentrations of dioxins and PAHs in an area scheduled for routine dredging during the same time. Results of this study confirmed that dioxin levels were well above levels considered to be safe in the environment.

There are many sites like Budd Inlet in Puget Sound and environmental cleanups like this are large, complex, and expensive projects. At sites like Budd Inlet, defining the problem can require multiple rounds of investigation and take a decade or more. Designing, permitting, and constructing the remedy can take equally long. Cleanups are essentially public works projects and building the funding package to address the need is also time consuming. The cleanup will require dredging a large volume of contaminated sediment—enough to fill a 20-story, football field-sized building. Normal methods for dredging the navigational channel into Budd Inlet are not available, which also adds to the time to implement the cleanup. For example, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will not perform routine, federally funded dredging because the area is designated as a state environmental cleanup site. Also, contaminated sediment removal requires specialized approaches that many agencies/entities aren’t normally equipped to implement. The Port’s approach is designed to work through these complex issues with the Washington State Department of Ecology and others, secure funding through a variety of sources including grants and partnerships, clean up the contamination, and restore navigability of Budd Inlet.

If contaminated sediment is not addressed, the environmental, economic and community value of the waterway will continue to diminish. Budd Inlet will no longer be navigable for cargo vessels and, ultimately, for many recreational boats. The Swantown marina and boat yard will no longer be accessible. Because the Port of Olympia is concerned about all of these issues, the Port has agreed to work with the Washington State Department of Ecology to investigate contamination, evaluate possible cleanup actions, and develop a plan for cleanup.

Working with the Washington State Department of Ecology, the Port has taken steps to eliminate sources of contamination from its operations. Other industries that contributed to pollution have either changed their practices or are no longer operating. There is ongoing monitoring of Budd Inlet to identify and prevent contamination in the future.

There are several options for managing contaminated sediment. One option is to transport the sediment to licensed commercial, municipal, or hazardous waste landfills. This is the most expensive option. Another option, under the right circumstances, is for contaminated sediments to be beneficially reused on adjacent or nearby upland property. Examples of beneficial reuse include sea level rise mitigation and creation of habitat areas. The beneficial reuse of contaminated sediment requires further testing and engineering controls, such as liners and caps, to ensure the material is safely handled and placed. Sediment can be disposed of in open water in designated areas, but only if the sediment is deemed to be clean. The Port will explore all options and may use a combination of methods, if appropriate, to achieve maximum safety and efficiency.

Yes, capping involves placing several feet of clean material on top of the contaminated sediment to isolate that material. It’s also possible to cap the contaminated sediment with an “armor” or habitat layer, or with caps that are amended with activated carbon. Other options include “enhanced natural recovery” which involves placing a layer of clean material over the contaminated sediment and allowing for natural deposits to create a barrier, or “monitored natural recovery” which involves allowing cleaner material to naturally deposit over the contaminated sediment. The Port will evaluate all methods of managing contaminated sediment, taking into consideration cost, effectiveness, environmental protection, and impacts to navigability.


Project Funding

The Port of Olympia is in the process of identifying the best way to clean up and restore Budd Inlet, which will determine the cost of the project. Preliminary, conceptual engineering estimates calculate the total cost of cleanup at more than $100 million.

The Port is actively looking to secure funding for the cleanup and restoration work through available grants, state and federal appropriations, and partnerships. Several potential sources of funding have already been identified. In addition, the Port has received a Remedial Grant from Ecology to conduct the investigation and studies needed to identify cleanup options. More information about potential funding sources is available in the September 19, 2022 agenda packet.

While the Port of Olympia is actively looking for outside funding sources, the Port does rely on tax levy dollars for some of the environmental cleanup and restoration costs. 

Deschutes Estuary Restoration Project

Deschutes Estuary Restoration is a project of the Washington State Department of Enterprise Services (DES) which manages Capitol Lake. Restoration of the estuary has been identified as the preferred method of long-term management of Capitol Lake. DES will remove the 5th Avenue Dam and tide gate built in 1951, which transformed the Deschutes Estuary into a freshwater reflecting pool for the Capitol Building on the Washington State Capitol Campus.

Removal of the Capitol Lake dam on the Deschutes River could happen as early as 2033. This will result in significant additional sediment coming into Budd Inlet’s West Bay. The increased sediment could further degrade habitat, complicate cleanup, and severely impact access to the marine terminal, the boatyard and to the many marinas in Budd Inlet. Learn more about the Deschutes Estuary Restoration Project here.

This is an important consideration as the Port of Olympia determines the remedy for contaminated sediment currently in Budd Inlet. Researching the potential impacts of removing the Capitol Lake dam is part of the Port’s first phase of work.

To identify a conceptual option for shared funding and governance for long-term management of the Capitol Lake-Deschutes Estuary, the Washington State Department of Enterprise Services (DES) organized a Funding and Governance Work Group (FGWG) comprised of taxing authorities/districts in the project area as well as the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. Since DES identified a preferred alternative in March 2022, the work group has been meeting to identify and review various models for funding and managing ongoing maintenance dredging needs that occur once the Capitol Lake dam is removed and the Deschutes River begins depositing sediment in the West Bay area of Budd Inlet.

A non-binding Memorandum of Understanding among the various members of the FGWG was included as part of the Final Environmental Impact Statement issued by DES.  In 2024, DES is working on completing a formal interlocal agreement between project partners that will govern long-term management of the restored estuary.  As a project partner, the Port is carefully considering the areas of agreement and commitments included in the interlocal agreement prior to approving the agreement.

Find additional documents and resources about the Deschutes Estuary Restoration project here.

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