Everett considers alternatives for its waterfront as the former Kimberly-Clark pulp and paper mill site goes on the market.

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When the Kimberly-Clark pulp and paper mill in Everett closed last month, it was an end of an era — the last plant of its kind in a milltown once known for forest-product jobs. But now that the jobs are gone, the legacy of those days when manufacturing flourished are empty lots and costly bills to clean up the toxic waste left behind.

For Kimberly-Clark, the cleanup price hasn’t been calculated yet, but it will be in the millions and it caused one prospective buyer to back off, a company spokesman said.

Last week, the company began marketing the 55-acre site along the Everett waterfront that’s been home to paper-product manufacturing since 1931. While potential buyers are checking out the property for industrial use, state Department of Ecology scientists, city planners and the public are looking it over, too.

Because there’s a long history of industrial use at the site, Ecology is requiring a full cleanup, said Andy Kallus, project manager for the state toxic cleanup program in Everett.

“If you are an operator or an owner you are liable for the cleanup of contaminants wherever they come to be located,” Kallus said.

In this case, Kimberly-Clark, which produced paper towels and disposable diapers there, was both the property owner and the operator and has to clean up the contamination both in the upland area, as well as in Everett’s East Waterway, he said.

He added there are other parties who have contributed to East Waterway pollution who still have to be named, and likely will be by the end of the year.

The Kimberly-Clark site, and nine others along the Snohomish River or East Waterway are part of the Puget Sound Initiative (PSI), a collaborative effort to restore the Sound from the results of what were once primarily our employment mainstays — wood products, and in some cases, the marine or copper-smelter industries. Those listed by the PSI need significant environmental cleanup, Kallus said.

Today, according to the Northwest Pulp & Paper Association, only two paper mills remain in the area, Nippon Paper Industries in Port Angeles and Port Townsend Paper in Port Townsend.

Whenever industrial property is put on the market, the owner is required to do an environmental assessment and testing, Kallus said. Recent samples of sediment in some areas at Kimberly-Clark showed the presence of dioxins 15 times greater than the level considered safe for humans, he said.

Dioxins are byproducts of industrial uses that involve chlorine — used to bleach paper pulp and break it down — and are produced by burning wood, coal or oil.

The Kimberly-Clark mill was famous for its smokestacks, in a city that once was full of them.

Seth Preston, Department of Ecology spokesman, said there’s no immediate health risk from the site.

The World Health Organization considers dioxins among a “dirty dozen” of persistent and dangerous chemicals, capable of causing cancer, immune-system disorders and reproductive and developmental issues.

Where toxins are concerned, Everett’s former Weyerhaeuser Mill A, which closed in the mid 1980s, is another site targeted by Ecology for cleanup under the Puget Sound Initiative. That mill, on the East Waterway, is joined on the Ecology cleanup list by Port Gamble’s Pope & Talbot sawmill, which closed in 1995 after 142 years of operation, the lumber mill at Olympia’s Budd Inlet and Bellingham’s Georgia-Pacific West paper mill, which closed in 2007.

Kimberly-Clark, which closed the Everett plant last month, bought the site in 1995 with pollution already there, said a company spokesman.

“Environment issues” were the reason one attempt at selling the mill fell through, said the spokesman, Bob Brand.

Kimberly-Clark has been “very transparent” about possible cleanup the site may need, Brand wrote in an email. “The Everett Mill site has had industrial activity since the beginning of the 20th century… Kimberly-Clark has not identified significant contamination.”

Despite all the discussion of toxic waste, the sale of the waterfront property represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the city, said Mayor Ray Stephanson.

“We have a unique opportunity to plan for the redevelopment of our central waterfront,” he said. “We were disappointed that Kimberly-Clark closed the mill, and our focus for that portion of our waterfront has continued to be about jobs.”

The pollution at the site doesn’t change anything at all, said city spokeswoman Kate Reardon. “Our understanding is that it will be left in a clean condition so future uses will not be impacted by the current contamination.”

Stephanson told those gathered at a Feb. 27 Council of Neighborhoods meeting that a fish-processing company was among those interested in the property, which is sandwiched between the U.S. Naval Station Everett and the Port of Everett main terminal.

In February, the Everett City Council passed an ordinance restricting any development on the property for six months so planners can evaluate the site, which has been a “critical economic engine for North Everett, downtown and the greater community.”

It’s not that the city has decided the current industrial zoning is inappropriate, only that the site should be evaluated for possible other alternatives, Reardon said.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Everett Planning Commission will hold a hearing at 2930 Wetmore Ave. The results of several months of citizen comments about the Kimberly-Clark site and several other industrial-zoned smaller parcels in the area, will be brought before the commission.

The Kimberly-Clark mill site “is a great piece of property, very unique,” and an ideal home for a company that wants to export or import and ship products by rail, said Matt Henn, a Kidder Mathews senior vice president, one of the brokers handling the sale.

In 2011, Kimberly-Clark decided to sell off its remaining pulp and paper manufacturing plants to improve profits, according to Brand.

When a buyer for the Everett operation couldn’t be found, the company began to wind down in December, with most of the 700 employees losing their jobs at that time. The mill closed April 15.

In the meantime, marketing the site has just begun and already there have been interested buyers, say the brokers.

Kidder Mathews is advertising the property to prospective buyers internationally at an unlisted price. The plan is to call for offers in the next three or four weeks and then select some for consideration, said Dave Speers, one of the brokers.

The site also has a submerged 11 acres that’s 2,500 lineal feet deep, an on-site wastewater treatment plant and access to a BNSF freight line.

“It would be very attractive to a container company,” Henn said.

According to Brand, demolition of the existing buildings will start as soon as Everett grants the necessary permits.

Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or nbartley@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @BartleyNews.