Tacoma wetlands must be restored, says EPA

Sept. 2, 2010
SEATTLE, WA, Sept. 2, 2010 -- The U.S. EPA has ordered the Port of Tacoma to restore wetlands destroyed by unauthorized work at two locations in the Commencement Bay area...

• Port of Tacoma ordered to restore wetlands destroyed by unauthorized work in Commencement Bay

SEATTLE, WA, Sept. 2, 2010 -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered the Port of Tacoma to restore wetlands destroyed by unauthorized work at two locations in the Commencement Bay area.

An EPA investigation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers uncovered the destroyed wetlands on property the port planned to develop. The damage occurred on the Hylebos Peninsula at the former Hylebos Marsh Wildlife Restoration Project site. The work was done without a Clean Water Act permit in violation of federal law.

The violations occurred in wetlands that provided wildlife habitat and prevented contaminants from entering Puget Sound. Hylebos Marsh contained mature forested wetlands prior to the damage.

In 2008, the port and its contractors cleared and graded over four acres of wetlands at Hylebos Marsh. The port was attempting to eradicate an invasive snail infestation on its property at the request of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Washington State Department of Agriculture. However, the USDA order stated that plowing and grading was only acceptable in non-wetland areas.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers informed the port that mechanized land clearing for snail eradication in wetlands would require a permit under the Clean Water Act. The port proceeded with excavating and grading without a permit.

The investigation also uncovered over an acre of destroyed wetlands the port filled in 2006 adjacent to the former Kaiser Aluminum Smelter. The port and its contractors used heavy equipment to dump soil, concrete, asphalt and other materials into the wetlands.

Both the affected wetlands drain directly into Commencement Bay, a major South Puget Sound waterway. Puget Sound is an environmental priority for EPA in the Pacific Northwest. EPA has provided millions of dollars towards the protection and restoration of the Sound in recent years. Commencement Bay is also designated a Superfund site. Wetlands like Hylebos Marsh play a critical role in preventing dangerous contaminants from entering Puget Sound.

The order requires the port to restore the wetlands to their original condition. If the port fails to comply, it could face penalties of up to $37,500 per day.

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