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Friday, July 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Electron Hydro, exec plead guilty to polluting Washington state river with field turf

The $1 million sentence is believed to be the largest fine and restitution paid for an environmental crime in Washington state history.

(CN) — A Washington state dam operator pleaded guilty Monday to operating an unlawful hydraulic project on the Puyallup River, and now faces $1 million in fines and restitution and two years of probation at the recommendation of the state’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

In January 2022, Ferguson filed 36 misdemeanor charges against Electron Hydro and Chief Operating Officer Thom Fischer in Pierce County Superior Court over pollution of bits of plastic yarn and crumb rubber from a faulty construction project in the Puyallup River in Washington state.

Ferguson’s charges came in the wake of two federal lawsuits against Electron Hydro involving the same incident, the first of which came from the U.S. Department of Justice in November 2020 at the request of the Environmental Protection Agency.

While repairing its diversion dam structure and spillway in July 2020, Electron Hydro created a bypass channel within a portion of the Puyallup river and, in violation of its permits, lined the channel with plastic field turf taken from a nearby disposal area.

When Electron Hydro routed the river back into the channel, the river tore through the liner, releasing “at least 600 square yards of waste field turf and at least four to six cubic yards of crumb rubber into the Puyallup River,” according to the Justice Department complaint.

The same river flows into the Puget Sound and serves as critical habitat to species protected under the Endangered Species Act and a treaty with the Puyallup Tribe, who also sued Electron Hydro in December 2020. Bench trial for the Puyallup Tribe’s lawsuit — which accuses Electron Hydro of the taking of endangered fish — is scheduled for March 2024 before U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour.

Bench trial for the Department of Justice’s case against Electron Hydro is set for Oct. 10, 2023, with Judge Coughenour presiding as well.

According to the Ferguson’s office on Monday, Fischer has accepted Ferguson’s sentencing recommendations of $1 million — including restitution of $745,000 to protect the river and a $255,000 fine to Pierce County — and to serve two years of probation in lieu of 364 days in jail.

Representatives for Electron Hydro did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

If approved by Pierce County Superior Judge Philip Sorensen, Ferguson believes the $1 million sentence would be the largest fine and restitution paid for an environmental crime in Washington state history. Fischer’s sentencing hearing is set for May 5, 2023.

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Categories / Criminal, Environment

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