Pierce County is taking steps to remove the Electron Dam on the Puyallup River following a spew of crumb rubber and plastic debris into the river by the dam’s owners, Electron Hydro.
Citing “inexcusable environmental harm” and “irresponsible management” by dam owner Electron Hydro, Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier Monday issued a letter imposing a series of steps the owners must take to clean up the mess and secure the dam site for the winter.
Working with the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, Dammeier said his ultimate goal is to remove the 12-foot-tall wooden dam from the Puyallup River “as soon as possible.”
“The harm caused by this obsolete, 116-year-old dam in a river that supports threatened salmon runs far exceeds any possible benefit the owners might claim,” Dammeier said in the statement. “Electron Hydro deliberately placed artificial turf full of crumb rubber into the river, and that’s simply unacceptable. The damage to future salmon runs is impossible to measure.”
The dam is located in the upper Puyallup watershed and generates power for about 20,000 electricity customers. The dam is a known fish killer on a river that is home to spring chinook, and other fish protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Chinook salmon also are a critical food source for endangered southern resident orca whales.
Chris Spens, head of regulatory affairs for the project, has argued for a chance to finish repairs to the dam to make it safer for fish. He issued a statement Monday emphasizing the project’s capacity to provide carbon free energy, and the company’s work to clean up and repair the dam.
“Electron is dedicated to river clean-up and restoration as should be expected,” Spens said in the statement.
He said the project “provides renewable resources to the community in addition to substantial economic benefits. Electron intends to be a renewable resource community partner well into the future.”
But the stop-work order placed by Pierce County on the dam repairs will remain in effect, Dammeier wrote in his letter to the dam’s owners.
Dammeier also specified a long list of things owners must do to remove the artificial turf, clean up the site and secure it before high winter flows.
According to a consultant’s report on the spill, the company, as part of its work on a bypass channel at the dam, placed 2,409 square yards of FieldTurf on the channel between July 20 and 27. The turf was intended to function as an underlayment for a plastic liner put on top of it.
The river quickly tore pieces of the turf apart and an estimated 4 to 6 cubic yards of crumb rubber went into the river, which distributed the fine, light pollutant all along its length, eventually carrying it more than 40 miles to Puget Sound. Tiny black crumbs of rubber were visible washed up on the river’s banks. In some places, hunks of green plastic turf hung up in branches along the shore.
The spill first came to light because of a social-media post by an employee outraged by the placement of the turf in a river he had fished all his life.
Investigation of the event is ongoing and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Pierce County stopped work on the project.
Chairman Bill Sterud of the Puyallup Tribe expressed his gratitude for the county’s actions Monday.
“The Puyallup Tribal Council on behalf of our membership and all the residents of Pierce County thanks County Executive Bruce Dammeier for taking steps to remove the 116-year old Electron Dam from the Puyallup River,” Sterud said in a prepared statement.
The tribe will not rest “until the fish-killing nightmare called Electron Dam is a distant memory,” Sterud said in the statement.
Puget Sound Energy also recently alerted Electron Hydro it would cancel its power-purchase contract with Election Hydro if it does not bring the dam into regulatory compliance.