Judge orders polluter to pay Puyallup Tribe Fisheries Department $745,000, gives C.O.O. probation

By Ernest A. Jasmin, Puyallup Tribal news

Today, Pierce County Superior Court Judge Philip K. Sorensen ordered Electron Hydro to pay the Puyallup Tribe’s Fisheries Department $745,000 to be used to mitigate damage from the company’s release of crumb rubber and other toxic pollutants into the Puyallup River in 2020. 

Electron Hydro was also ordered to pay a separate $250,000 fine to Pierce County, and Chief Operating Officer Thom Fischer received two years’ probation. Fischer and his company agreed to plead guilty to a single criminal count and to pay fines in February.

Puyallup Tribal Council Vice Chairwoman Sylvia Miller made a statement before Sorensen handed out his judgment, insisting that fines were not enough to make up for the damage done to the river’s ecosystem.

“I come here before you today with a heavy heart, a heart filled with anger, disappointment, disbelief and distrust,” Miller said, “angry that anyone would be so careless as to put anything in our waters that would cause harm to our habitat, cause harm to our human lives.”

She later added, “I hope that that justice is done and Mr. Fisher is never allowed to work near any project of this kind ever again.”

Fischer made his own statement, turning to address Tribal members in attendance with an apology. “I’m truly sorry and sad,” he said. Electron Hydro’s attorney, David Angeli, and Fischer’s personal attorney, Harold Malkin, insisted that their clients had acted in good faith.

Tribal Council members James Rideout and Monica Miller were also present, along with more than a dozen members of the Puyallup Tribe. Most wore dour expressions as they filed out of the courtroom following Sorensen’s ruling.

Today’s proceedings concluded a case brought by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson that relied on evidence gathered by the Puyallup Tribe in its efforts to document the impact of illegally dumped artificial turf at the site of Electron Hydro’s 120-year-old dam near Mount Rainier National Park.

The Puyallup River was polluted after Electron Hydro placed old turf into a temporary flow bypass channel during the summer of 2020, topping it with a plastic liner for a construction project; but the liner was torn, releasing large amounts of polyethylene and rubber debris into the current.

The Tribe is also co-party with the Environmental Protection Agency in ongoing litigation for violations of the Clean Water Act and has ongoing federal civil litigation case against the dam for violating the Endangered Species Act. Those cases are expected to go to trial in the fall and in spring 2024, respectively.