The Port of Tacoma and two of its contractors have agreed to pay a $500,000 penalty for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act that damaged Puget Sound wetlands, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced on Monday (Aug. 5).
The port has also agreed to spend an estimated $3 million on restoration projects to nearly 10 acres of Port property wetlands, including stream ecosystem restoration, as well as restoring or improving 28 acres of wetlands as part of a larger project on the nearby Upper Clear Creek.
EPA did not say how the fine was apportioned among the port and the contractors, Scarsella Brothers Inc., of Kent, WA, and WAKA Group Inc., of Tacoma.
6 Acres Damaged
In 2008, EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found that the Port of Tacoma had hired a contractor to raze vegetation. The work destroyed more than four acres of wetlands in Hylebos Marsh, an area that "provided important wildlife habitat and enhanced Puget Sound water quality," according to EPA.
J. Steger / National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
The Port of Tacoma will spend $3 million to clean up wetland areas after two of its contractors ruined several acres of wetlands by dumping concrete and asphalt into them and razing vegetation.
The port had been working to abolish vineyard snails, an invasive species that destroys grain crops. An order from the U.S. Department of Agriculture stated that plowing and grading to deal with the snails was acceptable in non-wetland areas only.
At the same time the destroyed wetlands were discovered, the port also divulged that it had directed a contractor to dump over 4,000 yards of "urban fill materials"—including concrete, asphalt pieces and soil—into two acres of wetlands in 2006.
Unless authorized by a permit, which the Port of Tacoma did not have, the Clean Water Act prohibits discharging of pollutants into U.S. waters, including certain wetlands.
"We are disappointed to find ourselves in this situation and to have EPA demand such a high settlement—especially given the orders by state and federal agencies involving invasive snails," Tacoma Port Commission president Don Meyer said in an earlier statement.
"[B]ut we are thankful we could invest most of it locally in a valuable salmon stream enhancement that benefits the environment and the community," Meyer said.
"We can't afford to lose Puget Sound wetlands, especially where they are so scare. Wetlands provide important water quality protection for Puget Sound and valuable habitat for fish and resident birds," said Dennis McLerran, Regional Administrator for EPA Region 10.
"The permitting process exists to allow responsible development that also protects the environment," McLerran said.
The wetlands impacted by the activity were located near Commencement Bay, which has undergone a major EPA Superfund cleanup and is an area that has lost most of its historic streams and wetlands, EPA says.