switt creek

Many years’ buildup of sediment from Sumas Mountain in Swift Creek has caused flooding in the area and forced a raising of the Oat Coles Road bridge. (Calvin Bratt/Lynden Tribune)

State Ecology and Whatcom County to host Oct. 9 meeting at NVMS

  WHATCOM ­— Issues relating to a clogged Swift Creek east of Everson haven’t gone away, even if you haven’t heard about them in a while. 

  A fresh chance to talk and hear about the latest on “the slow slide into Swift Creek,” as the Washington State Department of Ecology labels it, is coming up.

  A public community meeting on a proposed new plan of action is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 9, in Nooksack Valley Middle School, 404 W. Columbia St., Nooksack. The event is co-hosted by Ecology and Whatcom County. And written public comment on the plan and related documents will be accepted Oct. 7 through Nov. 5.

  Mention “landslide” and it usually conjures an image of a sudden and violent collapse of a mountain slope or hillside. Insert “Sumas Mountain” before the word and residents of eastern Whatcom County will recognize the slow slide that for decades has been clogging up Swift Creek and creating problems for surrounding land.

  For many years the creek, which flows west to join the Sumas River, was dredged to manage the sediment and limit downstream flooding. But also years ago, the 225-acre slide area on Sumas Mountain was found to contain naturally-occurring asbestos and the metals chromium, cobalt and nickel.

  When the sediment dries, the asbestos can become airborne and present a risk to human health and the environment. The metals can affect plants on land and aquatic life.

  Ecology says it is eager now to work with Whatcom County to use a total of $6.4 million in state funding to begin a series of projects to address the complex Swift Creek situation. 

  “We and the county have developed a legal agreement to guide the work that will receive this funding, consistent with the county’s 2012 Swift Creek Sediment Management Action Plan,” says Ecology  spokesman Larry Altose in a press release.

  This is the action plan:

  • Dredge Swift Creek sediment as necessary before remedies start.

  • Stabilize sediment piles, and use current sediment piles and deposits to construct new levees.

  • Deposit any extra sediment not used in new construction in a repository and cover with clean soil.

  • Repair, stabilize and cap current levees along Swift Creek with rock and clean soil.

  • Capture any new sediment in a series of traps and sedimentation basins.

  • Monitor surface water and air during construction and active sediment management, and also monitor groundwater after stabilization.

  • Manage new sediment in traps and basins by periodically removing and placing in the repository.

  Ecology acknowledges that more sediment storage repositories will be needed. Repository site locations may have to change depending on property available. “We will amend the plan and prepare a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for future repositories.”

  • Inspect and repair the new facilities regularly.

  • Dredge Swift Creek periodically as needed and place this sediment in repository.

  Going forward, use of and access to Swift Creek levees will be restricted to prevent disturbance of, and exposure to, the sediment and airborne asbestos. Such controls may include fencing, placing legal restrictions on future use of properties, inspecting areas to ensure compliance and purchasing of some additional property or easements.


  Three documents are up for review:

  • Swift Creek Action Plan, which describes the flood control and sediment management work to take place in the Swift Creek watershed.

    • Consent Decree, the legal agreement between Whatcom County and Ecology under which the county will carry out the action plan.

    • A Public Participation Plan, which explains how Ecology and Whatcom County will keep people informed about the project and how people can provide input as it proceeds.

  The Whatcom County Swift Creek website is at: http://www.whatcomcounty.us/513/Swift-Creek.

  The state Ecology Swift Creek project website is at: https://ecology.wa.gov/Spills-Cleanup/Contamination-cleanup/Sediment-cleanups/SwiftCreek.