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Simpson Tacoma – a long way from the Big Stink

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on June 23, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
June 22, 2012 6:00 pm

For a big, steaming chemical cauldron on a sensitive body of water, the Simpson Tacoma Kraft pulp mill gets some pretty good environmental reviews.

The Simpson Tacoma Kraft Company has spend fortunes cleaning up its heavily polluted corner of the Tideflats, reversing more than 50 years of contamination by the plant’s previous owner, the St. Regis Kraft Company. On Thursday, the U.S. deputy secretary of energy, Daniel Poneman, visited the plant to get a look at the mill’s renewable-energy plant, which burns biomass to generate enough electricity for thousands of homes.

Twenty-plus years ago, things weren’t so green. The mill then was a massive stinkpot that perpetuated Tacoma’s image as a post-apocalyptic urban armpit. It was the city’s misfortune to have a name that rhymed with “aroma,” hence the “aroma of Tacoma” sobriquet that lingers – inaccurately – to this day.

I looked up a few of the reviews we were giving the mill back then.

In 1993, for example, we editorialized:

The Simpson mill – and several other Tideflats plants, to a lesser extent – continue to spew malodorous chemicals into the atmosphere, perpetuating Tacoma’s image as a smelly, decrepit old mill town. … Noxious odors that foul entire communities are a form of air pollution and ought to be defined as such under state law.

In 1994:

The mill – which Simpson purchased in 1985 – is an offense to the eye as well as the nose. Its huge, ramshackle smokestacks and plumes of steam dominate the skyline of the Tideflats and cast a pall over efforts to rehabilitate the city’s blighted waterfront. Thea Foss Waterway will have a hard time blossoming with parks, promenades and condominiums as long as it stands in the shadow of a monstrosity that resembles a giant pressure cooker on the verge of explosion.

By May of 1996, after Simpson spent something like $100 million rehabbing the mill, we noted a distinct whiff of progress:

The proof, they say, is in the pudding. As for Simpson Kraft Tacoma’s claims that it is significantly reducing aroma levels, the proof is in the sniffing.

Days go by with nary a hint of that familiar pulp smell, once pithily described by visiting actress Tracey Ullman as reminding her of one of the human body’s less pleasant processes.

To our delight, Simpson, unlike its predecessor, turned out to be a responsible corporate citizen – a company that didn’t mind buying some big, expensive sticks of deodorant.

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