The Puyallup Tribe today notified Electron Hydro that the tribe intends to sue within 60 days over ongoing violations of the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act because of fish-killing operations of the Electron Dam and pollution of the Puyallup River.
The Puyallup Tribe of Indians has long opposed the Electron Dam, a known killer of salmon, including chinook.
The issue boiled over in August when it came to light that owners of the dam in July used artificial turf in a construction project at the dam without a permit. The river promptly shredded pieces of the turf, carrying it and an estimated six cubic yards of crumb rubber downriver more than 40 miles to Commencement Bay.
Now the owners of the dam also intend to place a new rock dam in the river, which the tribe also has notified the company it will go to court to stop — on an emergency basis if needed.
Sylvia Miller, vice chairperson of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, said the tribe is outraged by the pollution caused by the turf spill and is concerned for the salmon, the animals and the spiritual cleansing sought by people in the high mountain waters of the river. The Puyallup flows from the glaciered slopes of Mount Rainier.
“They should know better than to put anything in that water,” she said of the owners and operators of Electron Hydro. “This is irritating, that they think they can get away with this.
“The tribe is at a point where we will do whatever we have to, to protect those lands and waters; we will take every dime if we have to.”
Chris Spens, director of regulatory and environmental affairs for Electron Hydro LLC, declined to comment on the tribe’s notices of intent to sue.
Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier has called for working with the Puyallup Tribe to get the dam taken out because of the environmental damage it causes to fish, even before the spill.
The dam has the capacity at full utilization to power 20,000 homes but its actual generation varies. It is located high in the watershed, not far from the boundary of Mount Rainier National Park.
Puget Sound Energy, which owned the 116-year old dam for decades before selling it in 2014, in September put the company on notice of its intent to sue to cancel its power sales agreement if Electron Hydro can’t meet legal and environmental standards at the project.
Spens has stated the company wants to continue to operate the facility and complete repairs to bring the dam into environmental compliance.
Reconstruction at the dam is intended, along with screens and other equipment to prevent fish and sediment from entering the flume that carries water to the dam’s powerhouse.
The company has filled more than two pickup truck beds with turf and other debris removed from the river since the spill, Spens stated in a company report he emailed to the The Seattle Times that detailed cleanup efforts. Some areas of the river were too dangerous to work in and the water too cloudy to know what debris was missed by cleanup crews, according to the report.
About 617 square yards of turf that was installed has washed into the river, Spens said, along with pieces of plastic from a liner placed atop it. The remaining 75% of the turf is still in place at the construction site.
The tribe is very concerned that winter storms will continue to wash more plastic turf and rubber debris downstream.
The tribe also intends to sue over fish kills that occurred during separate maintenance work at the dam last July that — according to a report by a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife observer — killed thousands of salmon and bull trout.
Workers were also endangered in the operation, which sank them in mud up to the waist.
The damage to fish continues because the fish ladder at the dam is inoperable. This year’s runs of chinook, coho and steelhead are at risk of being wiped out, the tribe warned in its letters to Electron Hydro and other entities that finance and control the dam.
Spens said in an email the company is continuing its cleanup work and wants to address all the environmental impacts of the spill.