Port of Port Angeles Likely to Pay to Settle Environmental Lawsuit

By Paul Gottlieb, June 9, 2014, Peninsula Daily News

Port of Port Angeles commissioners are expected today to approve paying $26,500 to settle a complaint by an environmental group that claims the port is violating a state stormwater discharge permit at the Boat Haven.


Their approval would settle a complaint in Tacoma U.S. District Court by Seattle-based Waste Action Project against the port.


Port commissioners meet at 9 a.m. today in the public meeting room of the port administrative building, 338 W. First St., to consider signing a consent decree to settle the complaint.


The agreement consists of $10,000 to be given to the Feiro Marine Life Center’s Peabody Creek restoration project in lieu of a civil penalty and $16,500 in legal fees to Waste Action Project, all of which would be drawn from the port’s general fund.


The port’s legal counsel, Platt Irwin of Port Angeles, has billed the port $12,188 in legal fees related to the case, Deputy Executive Director-Finance Director Karen Goshen said Monday.


The agreement would settle a complaint that alleges that the port violated the federal Clean Water Act by exceeding allowable levels of pollutants, mainly zinc and copper, during rain events at the Boat Haven, Port Director of Engineering Chris Hartman said.


For copper, the seasonal allowable average is 50 micrograms per liter, and the daily allowable average is 147 micrograms per liter.


For zinc, the seasonal allowable average is 85 micrograms per liter, and the daily allowable average is 90 micrograms per liter.


The port takes samples of stormwater discharges during severe weather but does not determine the volume of those discharges that flow into the Boat Haven marina, Hartman said.


The port had budgeted $100,000 in 2014 to address the problem of stormwater discharges at the marina.


The port has since abandoned attempts to build a new treatment system.


Instead, it will employ a “rain garden” approach in which stormwater flows through plants and into the soil, a biofiltration technique that removes pollutants before they reach the marina or groundwater, Hartman said.


With the biofiltration approach, the daily allowable amount of copper increases to 1,000 micrograms per liter instead of 147.


The daily allowable amount of zinc increases to 1,020 micrograms per liter instead of 90.


“They were struggling with meeting the benchmarks with a stormwater-treatment system,” Hartman said.


But by using the swale system, the cost should be about $50,000, Hartman predicted.


“Bioretention is a much more natural working system,” he said.


“It’s fairly simple, really.


“I feel fortunate that we’ve be able to come up with what is, in my opinion, a better solution.”


In separate interviews, Commissioners Colleen McAleer and John Calhoun said they intend to vote in favor of the settlement.


“It’s kind of a mixed bag for me and maybe others,” Calhoun said.


“We want to make sure we have compliance with [state Department of Ecology] discharge rules and meet all the standards, and we have been striving to do that.


“Nobody can meet the standards, but we all have to make reports and progress toward meeting the standards.”


McAleer said she intended to vote for the decree provided no new information changes her mind.


“The solution that we are coming up with now is better than the design we paid for years ago,” she said.


She also faulted the state Department of Ecology for not acting in a timely manner.


“The port bears responsibility as well,” McAleer said.


“That’s why we are settling.”


Board President Jim Hallett said Monday he had not reviewed the agenda packet for today’s meeting and was not prepared to comment on the proposal.


Greg Wingard, executive director of Waste Action Project, lauded the settlement.


“It serves the public’s interest that the port is moving in a good direction,” Wingard said Monday.


“They are removing surface water discharge and using treatment and filtration instead, which puts them in a much better position to basically not only comply with the permit, but not to be in violation again of the Clean Water Act.”


The port has exceeded the benchmark limits since at least 2011, when the permit was issued, Hartman said.


Waste Action Project notified the port Sept. 6, 2013, that the group intended to file suit.


On Jan. 6, 2014, the group filed a federal complaint seeking injunctive relief, consultants’ fees and costs and civil penalties that could have reached as high as $37,500 daily for each test in violation.


The port initiated settlement discussions with Waste Action Project.


The agreement includes the provision that the port provide copies of stormwater sampling records and other permit-related correspondence to Waste Action Project for two years.


The consent decree will stay in effect for two years, the same length of time that the court retains jurisdiction for compliance and enforcement purposes.


The port offered to make the $10,000 payment in lieu of penalty to the Feiro Marine Life Center for the Peabody Creek restoration project, which includes tree planting, invasive species control and trash removal.


The city of Port Angeles and the North Olympic Salmon Coalition are participants in the project.


Feiro Development Director Deborah Moriarty and Executive Director Melissa Williams did not return calls Monday for comment.

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