Creosote answer offered

Tony Franz demonstrates a model of a piling removal system he developed to legislators, Army Corps of Engineers personnel and other interested parties Thursday. - Matt Johnson
Tony Franz demonstrates a model of a piling removal system he developed to legislators, Army Corps of Engineers personnel and other interested parties Thursday.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

A device designed to remove creosote-treated pilings from water and land caught the attention of state legislators and the Army Corps of Engineers Thursday when its South Whidbey inventor demonstrated it in model form at a press conference.

Saying his invention could be a big part of removing toxic logs and pilings from Puget Sound, Tony Franz told the dozen people at the press conference at Freeland's Trinity Lutheran Church his piling extractor could be ready for use by early next year. A vocal environmentalist who has spent the past six months trying to attract attention to the creosote-treated wood that has washed ashore all around Whidbey Island, Franz said he wants the state to use his invention to remove all creosote-treated pilings from Puget Sound.

In July, Franz and a number of like-minded friends attached hundreds of red balloons to creosote-covered logs at Lake Hancock to draw attention to the huge amount of the material in the off-limits wildlife preserve. Pictures of the site, and of several other beaches around the island inundated by creosoted wood were on display at Thursday's press conference.

The pictures were enough to convince Rep. Kelly Barlean, R-Langley, that something needs to be done.

"This is clearly a huge problem," he said.

Using his own experiences with creosote to illustrate his talk, Franz said the chemical is killing aquatic life and could be doing damage to humans. A recreational diver, he said he has noticed a large fish and plant killoff in Lake Hancock over the years. He also said he has been poisoned by creosote. During the days he spent marking the wood at Lake Hancock, he began suffering headaches. Later, incessant vomiting and other illnesses sent him to the hospital.

Howard Garett, a member of the Orca Conservancy who attended the press conference, was not surprised. He said the chemicals in creosote -- polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons -- are probably responsible for deaths from the bottom to the top of the aquatic food chain.

"They're consistent organic toxins that do not metabolize," he said.

Franz said he believes his invention can stop damage creosote-treated logs and pilings can cause. Designed to work in conjunction with a commercially-available vibratory hammer built by Seattle's American Piledriving Equipment Inc., the device should both extract pilings and remove all the contaminated material around it. Essentially a large metal cylinder with a trap door at its base, it can -- according to Franz -- remove both intact pilings and brittle, rotted pilings. As pilings are pulled from the water or from land, the device backfills the hole with clean sand or soil.

Vic Yoshino, an emergency operations specialist from the Army Corps of Engineers, said Franz's device shows promise. The Corps already has a program to remove debris such as creosoted logs from Washington waterways. Having a working model of Franz's device could reduce the amount of debris from Puget Sound and fullfill the Corps' goal of improving water quality.

"It's becoming more and more important to pay attention to water quality," said Yoshino during Thursday's event.

According to Franz, the creosoted wood that washes onto Washington shores often originates from construction jobs where contractors let old pilings and wood float away.

Franz said he will be meeting with company officials at American Piledriving next week to discuss the design and production of his device. Richard Ploss, a friend of Franz's who works as a naval engineer, said he is confident the design will work.

Others attending the press conference included Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen (D-Camano) and Rich Johnson, a biologist from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

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