When the city of Boise started construction on Esther Simplot Park, no money was allocated for cleaning up the site. Once construction crews started digging to create new ponds, they found a surprise.
"Everything from drums with petroleum, concrete, machinery, a tractor," said city of Boise spokesman Mike Journee. "We're talking about a lot of material here. Because it contained petroleum, it contaminated the soil, too. This was not expected at all."
To help clean up the site, located near the Boise River Park, the Boise City Council had to arrange for $4 million to come from the General and Solid Waste funds. The Simplot family donated another $1.5 million to help.
It's not that the city started building a park on this location blindly. There were soil samples taken from a depth of 15 feet, but nothing tipped off the city to what lay below the surface.
"This is an unfortunate legacy," Journee said. "It was not seen as a natural resource to be protected for many generations, and this is where we are now. We're committed to cleaning it up, working with the Simplot family and building an amazing park there."
Aaron Scheff, with the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, echoed Journee's observations, adding that the mentality in the 1950s and 1960s was simple: Want to get rid of it? Bury it.
"You never quite know what you're going to get," Scheff said. "Things could have been a lot worse. If those piles were full of hazardous materials, $4 million wouldn't have even come close."
The DEQ has been working with the city to take 140 tests of the soil samples in order to determine if the dirt can be taken to the Ada County Landfill or if it needs to be taken to the U.S. Ecology site in the Owyhee desert. It's been approved for the lined section of the city dump and now there's almost 70,000 yards of materials to move.
"That's 70,000 small pickup beds stacked on top of each other," Scheff said. "It's like moving a big building."
Each truck carries 20 yards—meaning there will be about 3,500 trips made from Whitewater Park Boulevard to the landfill this summer.