After killing fish, endangering two workers and dumping up to six cubic yards of crumb rubber in the Puyallup River, Electron Hydro now is on notice that Puget Sound Energy intends to sue within 60 days and cancel its power purchase agreement with Electron if the company doesn’t bring its hydroelectric project into legal and regulatory compliance.
When Puget Sound Energy sold the more than 100-year old Electron dam to Tollhouse Energy Company of Bellingham and Electron Hydro LLC, it did so under requirement that the company operate the dam in a safe manner, and within compliance of all applicable permits and laws, PSE wrote in its notice of intent to sue, sent Sept. 3. PSE also signed a power purchase agreement with Electron under similar terms.
But instead, Electron Hydro installed artificial field turf under a bypass channel of the river during a reconstruction project, without a permit. The river the night of July 29-30 subsequently ripped parts of it apart, spewing crumb rubber and other debris miles downstream.
The company also killed likely thousands of salmon — including federally protected chinook salmon and other listed species — when on July 29 it dewatered a channel at its dam. The fish were killed because the company didn’t use proper procedures or methods. Two employees’ lives were endangered when they sank up to their waist in mud, according to a fish kill report filed by a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist who was at the scene.
PSE filed a notice of intent to sue Electron Hydro under the Clean Water Act within 60 days if the company doesn’t clean up the mess in the river. PSE also put Electron on notice of default in a letter, giving the company 60 days to cure its deficient performance, or Puget will terminate its power purchase agreement.
“We were deeply disturbed to learn about the rubber debris that has been spilled into the Puyallup River during reconstruction of the Electron Dam and we are concerned about the short- and long-term impacts it will have on the fish and the environment,” the company stated in an email to The Seattle Times Friday.
The company has not been purchasing electricity from Electron since July. But “we have notified Electron that we seek to terminate our contract unless the spill is immediately stopped and the damage caused is addressed,” the company also stated in the email.
The spill occurred when the company was working to rebuild the dam, work it has asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to allow it to resume before all in-river work must stop by Sept. 15, when chinook and other fish begin their return journey to the river.
The Corps and Pierce County each issued stop-work orders on the reconstruction project Aug. 7, after the spill was revealed, first by a post put up on social media by a worker at the dam.
The Corps has not yet ruled on the company’s request to get back to work, which is opposed by the Puyallup Tribe.
The tribe wants the company to fix its fish ladder, get the rest of the artificial turf out of site, and button the work site up until next year, before high flows come.
The company is working on cleanup. In an email to The Seattle Times on Friday, Chris Spens, head of regulatory affairs for Tollhouse Energy Company, detailed dozens of locations along the river where the company had removed artificial turf and other debris associated with the spill.
The company maintains that the safest course for river is to allow the company to complete its repairs to the dam, rather than wait to finish the project until next year.