Judging by the way it looked and sounded on TV today, the news that Boeing will restore fish and bird habitat along the polluted Duwamish River appears to be a marvelous act of humanity. But lost in the headline crawl at the bottom of the screen and the brief reporting of the plan was the fact Boeing is being forced to clean up the river as part of an ongoing Superfund enforcement action. It will pay $2 million to settle federal court allegations that toxin runoff from its airplane production helped turn the Duwamish into one of America's most-fouled rivers.
Boeing's press release yesterday was even less informative, failing to mention the money it must pay. Instead it said the settlement merely "fulfills significant federal and state requirements," whatever that means. Boeing's PR department framed the legal action as something of a public service announcement - "an environmental cleanup and habitat restoration project that will create nearly five acres of contiguous intertidal wetlands, restore more than half a mile of waterway and establish a resting area for migratory fish in and along the lower Duwamish Waterway."
Funny thing is, more significant news about the Boeing Duwamish cleanup came almost two months earlier. But hardly anyone seemed to notice.
Boeing agreed in February to pay city taxpayers $4.8 million as reimbursement of the Lazy B's share of past cleanup costs at Slip 4 on the Duwamish. That payment was also the result of a court settlement, in this case with City Hall, just weeks before the issue was to be publicly aired in open court, likely creating some headline pollution for the company.
Boeing has long been a reluctant partner in the Superfund cleanup; the city, King County and the Port of Seattle agree they've also contributed to the river's historic "toxic stew," as the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition calls it, which includes PCBs, oil and other hydrocarbons, mercury, lead, and other heavy metals, dioxin, pesticides, arsenic, and raw sewage within the river's sediment - and in those salmon passing by.
In yesterday's press release, Boeing official Mary Armstrong said, "We are committed to restoring habitat along the Duwamish and conducting environmental work that is vital to the ecosystem, nearby wetlands, the Puget Sound and to our community." Committed they are - by a court of law.