The Port of Olympia Tackles Budd Inlet Cleanup and Restoration Knowing ‘Our History is in Front of Us’


Many of Olympia’s most iconic sites, experiences, festivals and destinations fall under the Port of Olympia’s purview. The Hands On Children’s Museum, Olympia Farmers Market, Olympic Air Show, Capital City Pride, Summer Splash!, Olympia Harbor Days, Summer Nights at the Port, Movies at the Marina and Oly on Ice bring visitors to town and welcome local families to explore, play and enjoy our growing community.

But the Port of Olympia’s mission is threefold. They strive to create economic opportunity and build community through environmentally prudent, responsible resource use. With this goal, they are developing a plan to address Budd Inlet cleanup and restoration and welcome the public to follow their journey.

black and white aerial photo of the Port of Olympia in 1946
Well before this 1946 photo, the Port of Olympia’s bustling impact on our community was known and appreciated. Photo courtesy: Port of Olympia

Remediating the Aftereffects of a Long, Busy History in Budd Inlet

The Port intends to remove contaminated sediment resulting from Budd Inlet’s long, bustling history as a working port. Working with local, state, federal and Tribal entities, remediation will reduce impacts on local ecology, maritime operations, recreational boating and health threats. Evaluation, preliminary design and public engagement began in earnest in 2022 and the project is predicted to run through 2030 once dredging starts in 2025.

Jonathon Wolf is the Budd Inlet project manager. He explains that the Port discovered contaminated sediment back in 2007 during routine maintenance dredging. Byproducts from wood processing over the years were found in tested samples and the Department of Ecology awarded a grant in 2022 to assist in clean-up.

aerial of the Port of Olympia
Port officials are working with local, state, federal and Tribal entities on Budd Inlet cleanup and restoration. Photo courtesy: Port of Olympia

“The Port is tackling this project because it takes environmental stewardship seriously and recognizes the need to consider those implications in its effort to provide for the local economy,” says Wolf. “The federal navigation channels are being filled with sediment, but the Army Corps of Engineers will not dredge until the Port deals with the contamination. Keeping those channels open for vessels is a vital component of Port operations and key for all general commerce and recreational use.”

Budd Inlet: Removing Contamination from the Ground Up, Underwater

The team hopes to take new sediment samples in late 2023 or early 2024 to determine the extent of contamination, says Wolf. This step, which uses surface and core samples from approximately 100 locations, will cause no more impact than a passing pleasure craft.

 It’s important for work to begin, however, because build-up is impacting daily Port operations. “The channels are already barely deep enough to accommodate vessel traffic,” Wolf explains, “so this work needs to be done soon. This is especially true when you consider the massive influx of sediment we expect when the Deschutes Estuary restoration is complete, and the dam is removed in about 2033. However, the Port also strives to implement environmentally and sustainable practices in providing economic benefits to the citizens of Thurston County. Cleaning up the contamination is simply something the Port recognizes as vital to its role.”

aerial of the Port of Olympia
The restoration project works to remove hazardous sediments that have built up from former wood processing and contamination from street run-off, yardwork chemicals, boat waste and other pollutants. Photo courtesy: Port of Olympia

Follow the Port of Olympia’s Budd Inlet Project Towards a Cleaner Future

Port officials like to remind visitors that “Our History is in Front of Us.” Projects like this vibrantly illustrate that truth. To follow along their journey, visit the Port of Olympia’s website for videos, reports and links to the Department of Ecology’s project updates. You can read an informative blog, sign up for project update emails or even request a presentation on this topic for your community group or club. There is a list of frequently asked questions, compiled news articles and funding details.

For example, says Wolf, “this project is focusing on legacy chemical contamination from previous industrial use on the peninsula and along West Bay. However, ongoing contamination needs to be addressed.” This includes contaminants from yard waste and fertilizer run-off, fecal coliform from boats and pet waste, temperature changes, bacteria and roadway chemicals via storm drains.

The Port is dedicated to improvements that maintain a healthy environment, public shoreline access and remediation for lost treaty rights, Wolf explains. To that end, he says, “the Port is dedicated to cleaning up the sediment and is eager to take on other projects that will lead to the prosperity of the area and the people.”

Each life that has graced Olympia’s shoreline leaves their mark. From tribal communities to 21st century businesses, everyone who visits or calls this home does so out of love. But like the Port’s mission says, economic opportunity and community require responsible use of resources. Taking care of what’s around us makes sure future generations can enjoy Budd Inlet too.


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