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WSDOT continues environmental cleanup of former Camp Hope site

Plastic sheeting covers mounds of dirt at the former site of Camp Hope in Spokane's East Central neighborhood.
Brandon Hollingsworth, SPR News
Plastic sheeting covers mounds of dirt at the former site of Camp Hope in Spokane's East Central neighborhood.

Environmental remediation work is underway at the East Central site formerly known as Camp Hope.

Mounds of dirt draped by thin plastic sheets mark the site east of downtown Spokane that once housed Washington’s largest homeless encampment. After the camp closed in early June, the property owner, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), began cleaning up the site.

The uppermost six to 12 inches of topsoil was scraped and placed into more than a dozen piles, according to WSDOT spokesman Ryan Overton. Chemical tests were run to find out whether the soil contained any contaminants.

“We kind of assumed there were contaminants,” Overton said. “There were several RVs on the site. We had our environmental team from Olympia come over, take samplings of the piles in various locations [and] different depths…and now that we have that information, we’re moving forward.”

Overton said only two of the thirteen soil mounds revealed traces of contaminants. The dirt from those piles will be removed from the site and taken to special landfills that specialize in handling contaminated soil.

The contaminants that could be identified were auto lubricants and oil, believed to have leaked onto the ground from RVs and other vehicles. Lead was also identified in the samples.

Well before it was an encampment, the Camp Hope site was residential. It’s possible the contaminants detected in the soil tests came from that period, Overton said, but unlikely.

“It really came back to the levels of contaminants in those piles, [so] that’s what we’re going off of,” Overton. “Most of the piles – in fact, the majority of them – came back with no need to remove [the soil] at all.”

WSDOT currently has no timeline for when the contaminated material will be removed. The agency is working with Moses Lake-based environmental cleanup contractor GrayMar.

“We’re kind of at their mercy right now, as to when they can get to it,” Overton said. “They contract throughout the Northwest. It’ll be up to them as to when they can get in there and get those [soil] piles out.”

Overton said weather conditions this winter could also influence when the soil can be trucked away.

After the contaminated topsoil is removed, the remainder will be spread back out across the former Camp Hope site, leveled and re-seeded. The lot sits in a long zone of WSDOT property that will eventually host the North Spokane Corridor project; the expressway isn’t slated to reach the property until late in this decade.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for fifteen years, primarily in reporting, hosting and interviewing. His previous ports-of-call were WUOT-FM in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alabama Public Radio. His work has been heard nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now and NPR’s top-of-the-hour newscasts.