With a heave-ho, creosote will go

As the helicopter buzzes over head, the numbers fly upward almost as fast. The first 20 tons came in the first hour and a half. The second 10 took a little bit longer.

The helicopter deftly plucked 40-foot long, creosote-soaked logs off the beach and flew them to waiting crews who sawed them into six-foot lengths, clearing the beach of a chemical dangerous to humans and sea life.

“We could probably turn the beach upside down and start all over again,” said Lisa Kaufman, restoration manager for the Department of Natural Resources. “This island in general seems to have a good concentration all over.”

In a joint effort between the State Parks and the Department of Natural Resources, along with the Northwest Straits Commission, the cleanup will spread around Whidbey Island. Ebey’s Landing is next on the list, but due to the spring mating season for fish, that will have to wait until the fall.

Smiles adorned the faces of the crews that helped to rid the beach of pressure-treated wood over the course of the week. In all, they moved more than 72,000 pounds of the carcinogen-laden lumber from the tidelands underneath Fort Casey State Park.

“Creosote is deadly stuff, and gets deadlier the longer it’s in the water,” Commissioner of Public Lands Doug Sutherland said in a written statement. “The sooner we remove treated logs and get this toxic material off our beaches, the healthier we will be. The only way to restore the long-term health of the Puget Sound ecosystem is to create partnerships and tackle these problems one project at a time.”

Creosote, derived from coal tar, is a conglomeration of chemicals injected into wood used for structural supports as a means of keeping bugs and other destructive elements away. But the danger of the chemical is its infiltration of its surrounding environment.

Creosote can kill up to 95 percent of fish eggs laid next to a treated log. The remaining five percent of the eggs hatch with mutations.

As the chopper thumps away, miles of logs are placed neatly in rows, giving no indication of the long-term impacts they have had at Fort Casey. But for now, tons of the stuff are gone.

You can reach News-Times reporter Eric Berto at

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