Puyallup dam faces ‘biggest environmental crime’ fine of $1M

May 8, 2023, 3:49 PM

puyallup dam...

Pieces of rubber from Astroturf used in a retrofit of Electron Hydropower Project are found on the banks of the Puyallup River 14 miles down from the dam. Electron Hydropower Project on the Puyallup River coming from Mt. Rainier in the backround. It's killing fish and polluting Puget Sound with rubber and plastic debris from a recent retrofit in which old Astroturf was used as a liner for the project. (Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times via AP)

(Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times via AP)

The Washington Attorney General’s office just issued the largest fine for an environmental crime in state history after the Pierce County Superior Court ordered a hydroelectric dam on the Puyallup River pay $1 million to restore the river.

Electron Hydro, LLC operates a hydroelectric dam on the Puyallup River, and while working on the construction of a temporary bypass channel, the dam placed artificial field turf onto the riverbed. The artificial turf contained toxic chemicals in the rubber crumbs, which ended up in the river.

As lawsuits mount, government looks into removing Electron Dam

Workers were directed by COO Thom Fischer to place artificial turf and crumb rubber that contain toxic chemicals into the riverbed. Workers then diverted the river, which ripped the liner and caused toxic debris to flow into the Puyallup River for approximately 10 days before agencies ordered them to stop work at the site.

Electron Hydro estimated it placed approximately 2,400 square yards of turf material.

In late October, Lisa Anderson, environmental attorney for the Puyallup Tribe, said broken pieces of the turf can still be seen in the river today.

The crumb rubber in the turf that Electron Hydro placed in the river contained 6PPD-Quinone, which is highly toxic to Coho Salmon, an important salmon population in the river which Puyallup Tribal Fisheries helps maintain with acclimation pods upstream of the site.

Charges against the company included violations of the state’s Water Pollution Control Act, Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Code, Shoreline Management Act, and Pierce County Code.

The company and Fischer pleaded guilty in February to a gross misdemeanor violation for the unlawful hydraulic project. On May 5, Pierce County Superior Court Judge Philip Sorenson sentenced Electron Hydro to pay $250,000 in penalties, the corporate maximum sentence, and Fischer to pay $5,000 in penalties. Fischer was also sentenced to 364 days in jail, suspended as long as he complies with his sentence and does not violate the law again.

Electron Hydro will also pay $745,000 in restitution to the Puyallup Tribal Fisheries to clean up the environmental damage done to the rivers.

“This outcome directs critical resources towards restoring the Puyallup River from the damage caused by Electron Hydro’s criminal conduct,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement. “The Puyallup Tribe has been a steward of the Puyallup River for generations, and the Puyallup Tribal Fisheries is best positioned to preserve, restore and enhance the river.”

The artificial turf pollution prompted Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier to call for the dam’s removal in September 2020.

“There are a lot of different people who have looked at this and said, ‘We need to finish this, we need to shut this down and move on, and start restoring the fish run and letting the river recover,’” Dammeier said.

“It’s just time, this dam has outlived its purpose.”

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Puyallup dam faces ‘biggest environmental crime’ fine of $1M