Some Montesano residents are sounding the alarm over health concerns ostensibly related to a light industrial work site located near 10th Street and W. Pioneer Avenue. Whether or not cause for major alarm is warranted or the situation has been blown out of proportion (again) by a local blogger is open to question.
The site in question, lots on Wynoochee and Pioneer, is/are owned by KD&S Environmental. Neighbors within a two-block radius of the site are or have allegedly complained about a variety of mysterious illnesses. Symptoms include “Upper respiratory problems, severe congestion, spontaneous deep nose bleeding and more.” Also “Pets coming home with fur falling off and open sores.”
Concerned about neighbors seemingly suffering from mysterious illnesses, Montesano Today blogger Tom Frederiksen began asking about possible health and other hazards associated with the site around May 2017. As recently as December 2017, Frederiksen maintains that the neighborhood surrounding the site suffers from an “80% sickness rate.”
Concerns have also been raised related to the closure of a nearby day care center and the potential impact of industrial activities on children’s health. Questions swirl about what hazardous waste may have been brought into the neighborhood and potential long-term health effects on residents. Dating back to last May, questions have also been raised about potential city liability related to an industrial storage lot and possible hazardous waste run-off into Sylvia Creek, which feeds into the Wynoochee River. Complaints have been made to the city regarding running an industrial operation in a residential neighborhood and possible cover-ups by Montesano City Hall.
Much frustration and finger-pointing ensued, involving both the City of Montesano and the County. When brought to their attention, both entities looked into the matter.
City of Montesano Responds
According to well-placed sources, the City of Montesano responded by launching an investigation/review last summer per Frederiksen’s complaints/concerns. Mayor Vini Samuel recused herself from the matter, citing a close personal relationship with company owners. The ball was tossed to Montesano CFO Doug Streeter and Dan Wood, acting as Mayor Pro Tem.
The city’s investigation reportedly focused on land use and permitting/zoning. Questions were raised about whether or not KD&S obtained the proper local permits to run an “industrial” operation in a residential neighborhood.
A Cease and Vacate letter was consequently issued to KD&S on August 18, 2017:
In part, the letter reads:
As you are aware, the City has received complaints regarding land use on four parcels of property you own on Pioneer Avenue and West Wynooche… The zoning for the four parcels of land is R-1 Low Density Residential.
Acting in his capacity as Mayor Pro Tem due to Mayor Samuel’s recusal, Mr. Wood cites four “permitted uses within the R-1 district per the Montesano Municipal Code.” One is “on-site hazardous waste treatment and storage (consistent with a permitted use).”
He writes that “limited commercial use” of the “shop” parcel is allowed based on past use. However, a review of city files “has found nothing to support the commercial use” of the other three parcels. Thus, KD&S is “hereby notified to cease and vacate the non-conforming use on these three parcels within 10 days of receipt of this notice.”
KD&S appealed. An administrative hearing was held on the matter. “The final decision letter from the appeal is in draft status,” explained Streeter later by email. Release of that decision letter is imminent.
I spoke to Mr. Streeter in person around noon on January 4. He indicated that the main issue here is zoning. A portion of the property in question, located east of Mr. Frederiksen’s home at S. 10th Street and W. Pioneer Avenue, houses a mechanic shop. That area was reportedly “grandfathered” in for business/commercial use years ago. A trio of adjacent lots in question were residential lots. “Those three lots are zoned residential,” said Streeter. The question of commercial/industrial activity and conditional use permits is at the hub of the current hubbub.
First Frederiksen Approach
Streeter said Frederiksen first approached the city about the zoning issue “in February or March” of 2017. He’s not the first. Streeter explained that the “first instance” related to zoning was raised a few years ago by a retired county engineer during the waning days of the Estes administration. Then-Mayor Ken Estes directed then-Community Development Director Mike Wincewicz to look into the matter. Wincewicz did and subsequently issued KD&S a “clean up order,” according to Mr. Streeter.
Mr. Wincewicz is now retired.
“It’s been a long, drawn-out, years-and-years issue and I hope we’ll see the end of it soon,” said Streeter on January 4.
I visited the site around 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, January 4, 2018. See photos below:
I spoke with two KD&S employees who were working on a large truck on-site. (They were very nice. I have their names. If you want them, holler.) One man said they were working on getting the truck running so they could “get it out of here.” The other explained that he “didn’t come to work until ten o’clock today” to fix the truck rather than doing so earlier in the morning. “We didn’t want to bother any of the neighbors,” he said. (When traveling west on Pioneer Avenue some ninety minutes later – at about 12:06 p.m. – I noted that the truck was gone.)
I had a brief in-person conversation with Moraya Wilson, an owner of KD&S, just before 11:00 a.m. on January 4 in the Dennis Company parking lot. Wilson said, “It’s all legal.” She referred me to her lawyer, Mr. Eric Kupka, for additional comment. I left a voice mail for Mr. Kupka seeking comment at about 1:20 p.m. on January 4.
UPDATE: January 5, 4:07 p.m. Mr. Kupka commented by phone, saying:
KD&S emphatically and categorically denies any and all allegations asserted them.
Citing an old Chinese proverb, he added:
One dog barks at something; the rest are barking at him.
Some Residents Weigh In
Contacted by phone on January 2, 2018 for comment, nearby Woods at Sylvia Creek resident Emery Haggin said neither he nor any member of his family have been ill recently or evidenced the symptoms noted. He said that he was not aware of any of his neighbors coming down with any like illnesses or symptoms.
In an email dated December 27, 2017 to Montesano CFO Doug Streeter, however, Montesano resident Cory Genzberger asks Streeter “what is going on with the cease & desist ordered against KDS environmental?” Genzberger says he is “seeing doctors now because of my nose bleeds and upper respiratory issues” and is being “referred to a specialist.” He concludes:
“My only recourse, it seems, is (to) notify both OSHA and the EPA. When they find out the stream bed has been modified and the workers have no hazmat protection on. (sic) I’m sure the Feds will be happy investigating the mess which the city won’t.”
In an email to Grays Harbor County Commissioners Vickie Raines and Wes Cormier and others dated December 27, 2017, Frederiksen writes that he is “frankly tired of asking for help but in a situation that if I don’t someone is going to die.” He continues:
“People are in danger here and literally dieing (sic). The County Health Department is nowhere to be found and refuses to get involved. The city is so scared of us they won’t even return emails.”
Frederiksen says he has “formally asked the sheriff to begin an investigation into the city of Montesano personnel.” He adds:
Unless some light of day is shown on this and connected people are treated like the rest of us instead of their continuing protection, people will become sicker or die.
Responding same day by email to Frederiksen, Commissioner Raines writes that she’s been out of state since December 17 but will reach out to Jeff Nelson, the County’s Environmental Health Director, and “discuss this issue with him directly upon my return.” Notes Raines, “Unfortunately the County has no regulatory authority when it comes to issues within an incorporated municipal jurisdiction.” Continues Raines, “… This responsibility falls upon the city, or the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency (ORCAA).” She informs, “My plan is to contact you after speaking with Mr. Nelson.”
Where is County Health Department?
Per a January 3, 2018 phone call to Grays Harbor Public Health and Social Services, I was told that health concerns/investigations related to possible exposure to hazardous/toxic waste “are handled at the county by Environmental Health.”
I phoned Jeff Nelson’s office same day. He responded within the hour. Said Nelson via phone, “We take all those complaints seriously and went out as soon as we could” after receiving several email complaints about operations in the area last summer. He said that public health nurses and public health officers were also contacted regarding the matter.
Nelson explained that his office regulates waste handling under state rules: “We investigate with an eye toward that.” Because of the complaint and the nature of the complaint and the activities alleged, state agencies also investigated.
“Significant Amount of Time”
“We spent a significant amount of time doing what we could,” says Nelson. He said they also reached out to the state Department of Health “and other agencies” to see “what other resources were available.”
Nelson notes that the complainant, Frederiksen, also provided video. Nelson says that the Department of Health viewed the video footage provided and “didn’t see any correlation” between the activities on the site and the symptoms Frederiksen describes. Nelson said his office “exhausted our resources” investigating the concerns raised.
Investigation results were “benign.”
“No Egregious Violations”
Nelson added that his office reached out to ATSDR on the situation but it (the situation) “didn’t really get any traction” with ATSDR. Nelson also said County Environmental Health did not note “any obvious violations we can enforce or address” and that “no egregious violations” were found. He suggested contacting ORCAA. (The County also contacted ORCAA.)
ORCAA (the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency) “is a local government agency charged with regulatory and enforcement authority for air quality issues in Clallam, Grays Harbor, Jefferson, Mason, Pacific, and Thurston counties,” according to its web site.
ATSDR is the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Based in Atlanta, Georgia, the ATSDR is a federal public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
This writer contacted ORCAA on January 1, 2018.
Mr. Mike Shults, ORCAA Air Quality Specialist, responded via email the next day, January 2, 2018. “I went to the site (10th Street and Pioneer) on December 27th and did not see any asbestos activity at this location” writes Shults. In an additional email dated January 3, 2018, Mr. Shults confirms: “Yes, Mr. Frederiksen has contacted ORCAA in the past about this site.”
Schutz requested “copies of any and all documents, including but not limited to emails, letters, reports, notices, notes, telephone records and any other form of written or recorded documentation”:
- Sent to or received from KD&S Environmental Inc.:
- Between and among Grays Harbor County employees or elected officials that mentions either KD&S Environmental Inc. Or Dean R. Wilson;
- Concerning any complaints, reports or investigations regarding KD&S Environmental Inc.
“Nobody Said Anything”
Closer to home, Frederiksen asserts in a December 28, 2017 email to the editors of The Daily World and The Vidette:
“We are at above 80% sickness rate in our two neighborhoods, if that holds true to that day care center let alone the adjoining neighborhoods… you are going to have a lot of sick kids all over Montesano with their parents not knowing a thing about what is going on. …
Emphasizing that he’s notified local media, county commissioners and health officials, and Montesano police and fire chiefs (but not Interpol?), Frederiksen’s email concludes:
No ambiguity here, everybody knew… nobody said anything. Those parents are going to be pretty pissed off when they find out everybody knew and kept it from them.
In a subsequent email dated December 29, 2017, Frederiksen again claims “direct knowledge of children that may be sick and their parents have no idea.”
Reiterating the “80% sickness rate,” Frederiksen says he has “begged in writing all city staff and departments to notify the parents. They refuse and the mayor has recused herself and won’t explain why. (I know). I have been threatened in writing of retaliation if I tell anyone.
I have filed a police report on the matter.”
It’s not clear what “matter” Frederiksen is referring to specifically. Alleged retaliation threats? “80% sickness rate”? Failure of “all city staff and departments to notify the parents”?
In the same missive, Frederiksen goes on to say, “One investigative reporter I have worked with for years is Amy Clancy at KIRO.” He continues:
She is aware of what is going on with the city and… she is going to desend (sic) on the city like a bull dog…”
(If you want that portion of the email, holler.)
So. Guess who was responsible for TV trucks from Seattle “camped outside” city hall during the Estes administration? (In case you haven’t already figured it out.)
Curious, Yours Truly filed a public records request with the Montesano Police Department on January 2, 2018, asking for “a police report allegedly filed with the department by Montesano resident Tom Frederiksen related to illnesses in his neighborhood (10th Street/Pioneer) and a day care closure. The approximate time frame is 01 April to 29 December 2017.”
I received the following reply from MPD Records Clerk Cindy Bies on January 3, 2018:
“After checking our records for contacts with Mr. Frederiksen between the requested time frame, we did not locate any reports that pertained to illnesses. I also checked the address of Pioneer Avenue and 10th Street and found no reports of illnesses.
In regards to the daycare closure. The daycare closed because the owner moved to a bigger house. I have contacted the daycare owner and she advised me they only moved because they wanted a bigger house with property. The daycare owner stated neither her, her family or any of the children she watched had every (sic) experienced any out of the ordinary illnesses.”
Meanwhile, in yet another case of The Amazing Disappearing Web Site:
How’s the Montesano tin foil supply these days? (Askin’ for a friend.)