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Jan. 24, 2021

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U.S. Justice Department suing over Puyallup River pollution

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SEATTLE — The U.S. Justice Department is suing the owners of the Electron dam for violating the Clean Water Act by polluting the Puyallup River.

The civil suit was filed against Electron Hydro, LLC, Wednesday at the request of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. District Court for the Western District, The Seattle Times reported.

A spill in the Puyallup River was caused when Electron Hydro in July without authorization used old field turf from a dump as an underlayment for a plastic liner placed in a channel. As part of a construction project, the river was diverted into the channel.

The river tore off pieces of the turf into the river, according to the suit. The material was plastic “grass” yarn and loose granular infill material composed of silica sand and crumb rubber. About six cubic yards became loose in the river, according to the suit.

Hunks of plastic liner and waste field turf material were found throughout the Puyallup River, and the crumb rubber rapidly and widely dispersed into the river, traveling at least 19 miles (31 kilometers) downstream, according to the suit.

The Puyallup flows to Commencement Bay and Puget Sound.

Officials at Electron Hydro could not immediately be reached for comment.

The State Department of Ecology in its own inspections of the spill, according to the suit, also found Electron Hydro had disturbed over 4.5 acres more than was authorized under its state construction storm water permit, did not stabilize exposed soils and did not provide required containment for equipment containing fuel to prevent spills.

The Clean Water Act violations continued from July 20 until the company removed what turf remained on Oct. 28, according to the suit. Field turf can break down in the river and potentially discharge toxins and other pollutants in the river.

The department is seeking a fine of $55,800 per day for each violation of the Clean Water Act happening under various sections. The department also demands that Electron Hydro remove all remaining fill and pollutants from its spill.

The dam is located in the upper Puyallup watershed and generates power for about 20,000 electricity customers. The river is home to spring chinook and other fish protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The spill first came to light because of a social-media post by an employee of Electron Hydro who was outraged by the placement of the turf in a river he had fished all his life.

Pierce County is taking steps to remove the Electron Dam on the Puyallup River because of environmental harm caused by the dam and its operations.

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