Links home
widthspacer.gif - 1kb

Site 22: Tatoosh Island

Tatoosh Island
Tatoosh Island
(Ecology, 1994)

Tatoosh Island is 0.5 mile northwest of Cape Flattery, at the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  The island is about 0.2 mile in diameter and 108 feet in height, and consists of 21 acres of relatively flat terrain surrounded by nearly vertical cliffs that drop to sea level along the outskirts of the island.  The cliffs range in height from 50 to 100 feet.  Smaller islets, rocks, and reefs surround the main island.  A small beach is located at the base of the cliffs in a cove along the northern portion of the island.

The passage between Tatoosh Island and Cape Flattery ("The Gut") is constricted by rocks.  Although the passage is sometimes used by local small craft, the currents are strong and often treacherous and making the passage is dangerous.

Gales occur frequently in the vicinity of Tatoosh Island, particularly in December and January.  Rainfall is moderate, averaging nearly 80 inches each year.  The average maximum temperature is 53° Fahrenheit (F); the average minimum temperature is 45°F.

Site History and Background

Tatoosh Island: Potlach (Ellis, 1895)
Bird's-eye view of Makah potlatch gathering on Tatoosh Island, Washington, 1895 (Samuel Gay Morse Collection, University of Washington Libraries)

Tatoosh Island features prominently in many Makah myths and legends (Clark, 1953).  James G. Swan (1818-1900), a 19th century ethnographer who lived among the Makah for three years, recorded the Makah's name for the island as Chadi.  Tatoosh was the name of a prominent Makah chief, and English explorers started using his name to refer to the island (Elyea, 1929; Hanable, 2004).

Tatoosh Island is a wildlife haven and a prime nesting site for one of the largest seabird colonies off the coast of Washington; approximately 5,000 common murres (Uria aalge) nest and breed there.

Tatoosh Island installations (1939)
Tatoosh Island installations

Prior to the arrival of federal agencies on the island, the Makah Tribe occupied a large Tribal village on Tatoosh Island.  The island village served as a base for processing whale, seal, and fish caught in the nearby ocean waters.  Tribal members from the mainland villages congregated at the island village every year and remained there during the summer months, from March through August.  Houses were constructed on the island, as were halibut drying racks (Elyea, 1929; Lane, 1982; Hanable, 2004). The Tribe also grew potatoes on the island.

The island was not included by name in the Treaty of 1855.  In 1857, the U.S. Lighthouse Service, an agency under the Bureau of Lighthouses within the Department of Commerce, constructed and began operating a lighthouse on Tatoosh Island.  In 1939, responsibility for the lighthouse changed hands when the Bureau of Lighthouses was transferred to the authority of the USCG.  The lighthouse was automated in 1977 (light and fog signal) and renovated in 1999 (Gibbs, 1974; Nelson and Nelson, 1998; Leffingwell and Welty, 2000).

In 1883, the U.S. Army Signal Corps established a weather station on the island (U.S. Army Signal Corps, 1884; Gibbs, 1974).  In 1891, the U.S. Army Signal Corps' weather service duties were transferred to the Department of Agriculture in an act of Congress that formed the Weather Bureau.  In 1940, the Weather Bureau was transferred to the Department of Commerce.  In 1965, the Weather Bureau was reorganized within the Environmental Science Services Administration, a new agency under the Department of Commerce.  In 1966, the Weather Bureau left the island and several of the buildings were demolished (Nelson and Nelson, 1998).  The Weather Bureau's responsibilities were transferred to the USCG.

Fuel distribution system, 1947
Fuel distribution system (1947)

From 1919 to 1941, the U.S. Navy leased a portion of Tatoosh Island for the operation of a radio direction finder station.  In 1941, the USCG took over the lease and operation of the radio station (USACE, 1996b).  The Navy also had associated facilities on nearby North Island as early as 1920 (Lane, 1982).

In 1977, Tatoosh Island (along with Waadah Island) was returned to the Makah Tribe as part of the settlement of a claim filed by the Tribe with the Indian Claims Commission; the claim was for lands ceded by the Tribe under the 1855 Treaty and for deprivation of fishing and hunting rights guaranteed under Article 1 of the Treaty (Governor's Office of Indian Affairs, 2000).  The land used for the lighthouse is currently leased from the Tribe by the federal government.

Several structures were built on the island when the Navy operated the radio station.  These structures included a large radio mast, wood-framed living quarters, a concrete power building, aboveground storage tanks, a supply tramway, and concrete water storage cisterns.  Several of these structures, including the concrete power building and the concrete water storage cisterns, are still present at the site.  The main weather station building was reportedly demolished by the U.S. Navy SEALs during a training exercise in the late 1960s.

The facility is listed as FUDS property #F10WA0128 (USACE, 2002).  As of November 15, 2004, the facility appeared in the USEPA CERCLIS database under identification number WAN001002533, and its status was listed as "preliminary assessment on-going."  However, as of July 24, 2006, the facility no longer appeared in the CERCLIS database (USEPA, 2004, 2006).

Activities to Date

Fuel Storage Tank and Petroleum-Contaminated Soil Removals

In September 1998, the USCG contracted with Glacier Environmental Services, Inc. (Glacier), of Mukilteo, Washington, for the removal of one underground storage tank and two aboveground storage tanks on the island (Glacier, 1998).  Two other underground storage tanks believed to be on the island were not found.  Approximately 52 cy of soil were excavated to bedrock (2.75 to 4 feet below ground surface) and removed from the island.

Phase 1 Site Assessment

Keres Consulting, Inc. performed a Phase I site assessment in 2000, conducted a Phase II site investigation in 2002, and prepared a draft Phase III site assessment report on behalf of the DoD (Keres, 2002c).  In September 2002, individuals from the Tribe, Ridolfi, and subcontractors for the DoD visited Tatoosh Island.  The purpose of the visit was to document remaining structures and to obtain information for developing a sampling plan for the site.  Structures encountered during the site visit were photographed and measured (Ridolfi, 2002).

Limited Remedial Investigation

Sampling for potential asbestos-containing materials
Sampling for potential asbestos
(Ridolfi, 2004b)

The Makah Environmental Restoration Team completed the field work for a limited remedial investigation in September 2003.  The field team collected 24 samples of potential asbestos-containing materials, 21 samples of potential lead-based paint, and 24 samples of subsurface soil at depths ranging from 0.2 foot to 2.5 feet.  Test results for several of the potential asbestos-containing materials and most paint samples exceeded screening levels (Ridolfi, 2004b).


Asbestos was found at a concentration above the screening level in some building materials, including:

  • in exterior Transite (asbestos-cement) wallboard collected from a storage shed situated between the lighthouse and the Fog Signal Building;
  • in the pipe insulation and flooring tile from the demolished weather station building;
  • in the window caulking from the New Powerhouse; and
  • in the insulation on the power cable on the floor inside the New Powerhouse.

Lead-Based Paint

Lead-based paint was identified at concentrations above the screening level on the majority of structures at the island, including:

  • in white exterior paints on the lighthouse;
  • in white exterior paints on the storage shed between the lighthouse and the Fog Signal Building;
  • in white and gray interior paints on the storage shed near the southeast corner of the lighthouse;
  • in white and blue-gray exterior paints on the derrick hoist building;
  • in blue and red interior paints in the derrick hoist building;
  • in white exterior paints on the small generator building;
  • in white exterior paints on the demolished weather station building;
  • in white exterior and interior paints on the storage building east of the demolished weather station building; and
  • in white, pink, and gray interior paints inside the New Powerhouse.


Results for many of the soil samples indicated contamination from petroleum and lead-based paint.  Diesel-range and lubricating oil-range hydrocarbons were detected in several soil samples at concentrations above screening levels; these samples were collected at locations near former underground storage tanks and aboveground storage tanks, near pipelines, and from sumps associated with powerhouses.

Lead concentrations also exceeded screening levels in several soil samples, most of which were collected near building perimeters, which suggests that lead-based paint weathered from buildings is a source.  Lead also exceeded screening levels in soil samples from three sumps that appear to have received waste lubricating oils from generator motors.  Screening-level exceedances for 11 other metals may be associated with coal at a former coal shed.  Concentrations of copper, mercury, and zinc were significantly above regional background levels for these metals.  Concentrations of most of the other metals that exceeded screening levels were in the range of Puget Sound natural background concentrations in soil (Ecology, 1994).

On the basis of these results, the site investigation report recommended removing petroleum-contaminated soil from locations near the former aboveground and underground storage tanks, pipelines, and sumps associated with powerhouses, as well as removing lead-impacted soil near building perimeters.  A more detailed assessment of the elevated metals concentrations in soil near the former coal shed was also recommended.  Because lead-based paint was identified on the majority of structures at the island, the report recommended that demolition and removal of structures be conducted by a contractor certified for removal of lead-based paint.

Finally, the report recommended that all asbestos-containing materials be removed from the structures by a certified asbestos abatement contractor prior to demolition of the buildings.

2005 Removal Action

Soil removal
Soil Removal (2005)
Soil removal and sampling locations
Sampling Locations
(2003 and 2005)

In October 2005, the Makah Environmental Restoration Team performed waste material characterization, soil removal, and confirmation sampling at various locations on Tatoosh Island.  Approximately 100 cubic yards of petroleum-contaminated soil were removed from near the former 45,000-gallon aboveground storage tank, and 6 cubic yards of soil were removed from near the sump near the New Powerhouse.  The contaminated materials were airlifted from the island and taken to an appropriate disposal site.

Soil samples were obtained near three former aboveground storage tanks; in the area of the former weather station; near the former Navy radio station; along a pipeline associated with the former fuel distribution system; in the derrick area; and at one reference (uncontaminated) location on the island (Ridolfi, 2006b).

Laboratory results for the confirmation samples collected from the excavation sidewalls indicate that petroleum contamination is still present on each wall of the powerhouse sump and along the southern and eastern walls of the 45,000-gallon tank excavation (Ridolfi, 2006b).

Characterization sampling of soils at former fuel storage and distribution locations identified new areas of petroleum contamination from diesel, Bunker C, and lubricating oil.  Several of the samples contained concentrations of contaminants that exceeded screening levels.  Lead was detected in soil from nearly every location sampled during the 2005 effort at concentrations that exceeded the screening level. By comparison, petroleum compounds and lead were well below screening levels at the background location (Ridolfi, 2006b).

Planned Activities

The Tribe considers this site a high priority (Priority A) . The following activities are planned for 2006 to 2010:

  • Inventory asbestos-containing materials and lead-based paint.
  • Remove asbestos-containing materials, if present.
  • Remove underground storage tanks and associated contaminated soil.
  • Remove abandoned structures.

Asbestos and Lead-Based Paint Investigation: In preparation for building deconstruction and removal, inspections will be conducted to identify possible asbestos-containing materials and lead-based paint, and sampling will be conducted.  The objective of this inspection will be to develop an inventory of asbestos-containing materials and lead-based paint at the site, including the identification of functional spaces, material characteristics, condition, degree of damage, quantity, accessibility, and potential for disturbance.

Underground Storage Tank Removal: The abandoned underground storage tank on North Island will be removed and transported off site for proper disposal.  Contaminated soil near former underground storage tanks will be removed only from Tatoosh Island.  Because of archaeological concerns, soil will not be excavated from the former underground storage tank on North Island.  That tank is only partly underground and sits in a concrete cradle; the cleanup plan calls only for removing the tank (without excavation), leaving the cradle in place, and backfilling with sand.

Contaminated Soil Removal: Petroleum- and metals-contaminated soil will be excavated, removed, and transported off site for proper disposal.  Sampling will be conducted during the excavation to determine the nature and extent of the contamination.  The cleanup efforts will continue until the site meets the required cleanup standards.  Voids left by the excavation will be backfilled with clean materials and compacted to the desired density to match the surrounding surface.

Building Deconstruction and Removal: The buildings will be deconstructed and removed by a contractor certified to remove and handle lead-based paint.  Prior to building deconstruction, asbestos-containing materials will be removed from the structures by a certified asbestos abatement contractor.  The deconstruction may involve building structures, foundations, driveways and walkways, and underground and aboveground plumbing and electrical lines.  The construction debris will be shipped off site for proper disposal.

Additional Information: