Dam Operator Sued After Turf Released In Puyallup River

March 16, 2021

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — Environmental groups in Washington state have sued an electric utility company, alleging the company violated the Clean Water Act after turf polluted the Puyallup River during a construction project last year.

Citizens for a Healthy Bay and Seattle-based Puget Soundkeeper Alliance filed a lawsuit last week against Electron Hydro LLC after crews placed a layer of turf in the bed of the river while working on the Orting hydropower dam built, The News Tribune reported. Portions of the turf escaped and flowed downstream.

This is the third lawsuit filed against the dam in recent months, which also alleges daily operation of the dam pollutes the river by discharging heat. Electron Hydro Chief Operating Officer Thom Fischer said crews have recovered almost all of the synthetic turf but argued against the allegations that the dam itself pollutes.

“We are in the renewable energy business,” he told The Puyallup Herald. “We are trying to find solutions that don’t pollute the land, the air and the water.”

The hydropower dam company began construction in July in Pierce County, which includes Tacoma, to upgrade its diversion system intended to divert water from the river into a wooden flume that travels down to the dam and creates power. The upgrade was designed to make sure no fish got trapped in the system and ultimately in the dam, Fischer said.

The U.S. Justice Department filed the first lawsuit in November claiming the company broke work permits and polluted the river with turf pellets. The Puyallup Tribe filed the second lawsuit in December claiming the dam killed thousands of fish. Neither lawsuit has been settled.

Citizens for a Healthy Bay Executive Director Melissa Malott said the third separate lawsuit focuses on Clean Water Act violations and pollution from daily operations. The groups also filed to intervene in the first case.

“They cause a lot of fish kill and pollution in the river, and they have to be held liable for that,” Malott said.

The environmental groups are seeking fines, attorney and expert fees and other costs of litigation. The lawsuit also asks for Electron Hydro to provide reports and other documents that are provided to federal and state agencies regarding the facility, and remediate the harm caused by any of its violations.

Fischer has encouraged any environmental group to visit the dam, saying he wants the company to be “good stewards” of the river and land. He also noted that 320,000 chinook salmon were released into the river with the help of the Puyallup Tribe last year.

“I welcome local concerns from people who care about the environment here. So do we,” he said.

Several organizations have since called for the dam’s closure.

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