Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tacoma Port Faces EPA Order to Restore Damaged Wetlands

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has ordered the Port of Tacoma to restore wetlands destroyed by un-permitted port work at two locations in the Commencement Bay area.

The EPA announced last week that an investigation by the agency, conducted with the Army Corps of Engineers, uncovered the destroyed wetlands.

The area in question is located on the Hylebos Peninsula at the former Hylebos Marsh Wildlife Restoration Project site. In 2008, the port and a port contractor cleared and graded over four acres of wetlands at Hylebos Marsh in an attempt to eradicate an invasive snail infestation at the request of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Washington State Department of Agriculture.

However, the USDA order to deal with the snail only provided for clearing and grading in non-wetland areas. The USDA also informed the port that any "mechanized land clearing" in the wetland areas would require a Clean Water Act permit. According to the EPA's Region 10 office, the port never obtained the proper Clean Water Act permit – a violation of federal law.

Prior to the damage caused by the port, the Hylebos Marsh contained mature forested wetlands.

The investigation also uncovered a prior violation, when the port filled in just over an acre of destroyed wetlands near the former Kaiser Aluminum Smelter site in 2006. According to the EPA's Region 10 office, "the port and its contractors used heavy equipment to dump soil, concrete, asphalt and other materials into the wetlands."

Both of the port-damaged wetland areas drain directly into Commencement Bay, a major South Puget Sound waterway and also an environmental priority area for the EPA.

The EPA has ordered that the port restore the two damaged wetland areas to their original condition. If the port fails to comply, it could face penalties of up to $37,500 per day.

Tacoma port officials have not publicly addressed the EPA order.