Unexpected find delays mixed-use development on Washougal waterfront

Port says 10K cubic yards of buried wood chips must be removed before RKm Development can break ground

timestamp icon
category icon Latest News, News, Port of Camas-Washougal
A sign sits near the site of a future mixed-use development on the Washougal waterfront near the Washougal Waterfront Park and Trail, Tuesday, July 2, 2024. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record)

RKm Development, the Portland-based company hired by the Port of Camas-Washougal to build and construct the Hyas Point mixed-use development along the Washougal waterfront, is ready to put shovels into the ground.

The Port has to resolve one final unexpected situation, however, before the first phase of the construction project can begin.

The public agency has contracted with Washougal-based Swafford Excavating to remove 10,000 cubic yards of buried organic material from a portion of the development site.

“That’s basically our last hurdle before development can start on the property,” Port Commissioner John Spencer said during a Commission meeting held June 18. “We’re champing at the bit to have this done, and very, very excited.”

The material — consisting mainly of wood chips — was buried by employees at Hambleton’s Lumber sawmill, which closed in 2010, after the Port purchased the property.

“They’d have wood chips left over from cutting logs, and they didn’t haul them off,” Port Chief Executive Officer David Ripp explained. “They just pushed them over in a pile, put them in a hole, filled the hole in with dirt, and let them decay and rot.”

Ripp said the material has been there for up to 50 years, or “as long as the mill was there.”

“When we bought the property, we were aware of the material on the upside,” he added. “We weren’t aware of organic material being buried throughout the site.”

Structures cannot be built on top of the organic material, according to Ripp, who said the material is “not poisoning anything” and that the area is free of contamination.

“When that woody material rots and decays, the ground will shift, and you don’t have a solid base (to build on),” Ripp said. “We’re going to have huge buildings, and when that wood rots, combined with the) weight of the buildings, the ground will start to settle, and it could be structurally damaging to the building.”

RKm leaders discovered the organic material in 2023, under the future location of the development’s “Building B” after conducting some soil samples, according to Ripp.

“RKm came back to us and said, ‘Hey, this is going to cost us another $4 million-plus just for us to haul this out,’” Ripp said. “I said, ‘Well, let me see what I can do to try to be good partners.’”

The Port received a $2 million grant from Washington state in 2023, to pay for the organic-material removal project.

“I talked to our legislators,” Ripp said. “They help fund projects that we don’t have funding for; they do it for other ports and cities. I brought forth the importance of this project, (how it) would help keep the project moving forward so that it wouldn’t have to be delayed.”

Port commissioners approved a $907,971 contract with Swafford Excavating during a special meeting held June 25.

“They’ll come in with a big front-end loader,” Ripp said. “We have an area we know that will be, based on our civil maps, aligned. They’ll paint a line and basically go, ‘OK, this is an area (of material) we need to remove. We need to go this deep, based on our tests.’ Then they’re going to dig it up, put it in a dump truck, haul it off, come back and backfill it with structural material.”

Swafford Excavating will begin work July 8. The contract calls for the work to be complete in 45 days, but Ripp said he anticipates it will be done faster than that, allowing RKm to begin work on the waterfront mixed-use development in August.

“RKm will come in and start doing all their dirt work for phase one,” Ripp said. “They’ll start building the streets, putting in all the water, sewer and electricity — I call it the ‘civil work’ that needs to be done before they can start building buildings.”

This initial phase, consisting of four buildings with a mix of commercial and retail (56,100 square feet) and residential space (308,200 square feet), will feature ground-floor shops and eateries with a mix of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments on the upper floors.