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Pierce County executive pushes for dam removal after owner’s use of harmful AstroTurf

Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier says he wants to see the obsolete Electron Dam removed from the Puyallup River. This comes after an employee revealed that the private owner of the dam was illegally using discarded AstroTurf in the river during work on upgrades this summer.

The 116-year-old dam was sold by Puget Sound Energy to the private company, Electron Hydro, in 2014, against the objections of the Puyallup Tribe. The dam is old enough that it was not subject to requirements to protect fish listed under the Endangered Species Act. It provides electricity for about 20,000 homes, and the sale agreement included modernization work that promised to improve fish passage. Despite these measures, the tribe litigated against the sale, but lost.

Late last week, Dammeier issued a letter to the head of Electron Hydro, extending the county’s stop-work order because of the AstroTurf and requiring a list of 14 steps to be carried out immediately. These include detailed instructions on how to remove any remaining artificial turf and stabilize the site, commissioning an independent site monitor (who must oversee all work and be approved by Pierce County) and allowing the Puyallup Tribe access to the site for monitoring at any time.

In the letter, Dammeier called the deposit of FieldTurf and its crumb rubber component in the Puyallup River "tragic," saying it “demonstrated inexcusable decision making."

After cleanup is done, the letter says the company must submit a new plan and get new permits if any work is to continue.

In a news release issued Monday, Dammeier said the resulting "damage to future salmon runs is impossible to measure.” His office distributed the letter to media with a statement saying that his ultimate goal, in partnership with the Puyallup Tribe, is to remove the 12-foot-tall wooden dam from the Puyallup River.

In a statement, the Puyallup Tribe thanked the executive for his decisive action, but says tribal members “will not celebrate … until the fish-killing nightmare called Electron Dam is a distant memory.”

Electron Hydro said in a statement Monday that the "recent industrial accident" that resulted in the materials in the river is "of grave concern" to the company. 

"Electron crews have been working over the past several weeks to recover these materials," said Chris Spens, director of regulatory and environmental affairs for Electron Hydro's parent company, Tollhouse Energy. "Electron is dedicated to river cleanup and restoration as should be expected. Electron will also endeavor to complete the project upgrades to bring the facility into the best form and function for the future." 

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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