Council fights for removal of century-old Electron Dam after catastrophic spill pollutes Puyallup River
By Lisa Pemberton, Puyallup Tribal News Editor
Outraged, but not surprised.
That was the reaction of the Puyallup Tribal Council to news that Electron Hydro LLC polluted the Puyallup River with tiny bits of potentially toxic rubber and plastic during a recent construction project.
“The action was consistent with the company’s past actions, which have regularly undermined our efforts to protect the river,” Tribal Chairman Bill Sterud said in a statement. “Every year, we release millions of fish only to see this facility kill them.”
During the summer, Electron Hydro used rolls of artificial turf in a liner as a retrofit to the 116-year-old dam. The company has since admitted that pieces of the turf broke off, issued an apology and vowed to clean it up.
But the damage is done, according to Tribal Resource Protection Manager Russ Ladley. The material has already contaminated the Puyallup Watershed. Much of it is believed to have been swept into Commencement Bay.
“Essentially everywhere we look, we now find AstroTurf material: either the green plastic grass, or the fine bits of rubber in the sand,” Ladley told KNKX radio. “So it’s really a calamity of horrors, when you look at the big picture.”
The Tribe’s Legal Department and Fisheries staff worked closely with the Tribal Council to get Electron’s construction project halted, and the contamination cleaned up.
In addition to legal actions taken by the Tribe, the company came under fire from numerous other regulatory agencies including Pierce County, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the state Department of Ecology.
“I feel anger, so much anger,” Tribal Council Vice Chairwoman Sylvia Miller told The Seattle Times. “It hurts to see how much damage they are doing to our lands and waters, everyone’s lands and waters.”
Sterud said he’s been fighting the dam since the 1970s because it kills fish. The river is home to the only spring Chinook salmon run in the region, which are a critical food source for orca whales.
On Sept. 14, Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier announced he was working with the Tribe to halt the construction project, with the ultimate goal of removing the 12-foot-tall wooden dam from the river.
“There is no excuse or apology that can right this wrong, but Executive Dammeier’s actions will go a long way toward protecting the Puyallup River, which is the lifeblood of our people and the residents of Pierce County,” Sterud said in his statement. “We should all work together to bring back fishing. … We will not celebrate, however, until the fish-killing nightmare called Electron Dam is a distant memory.”