An attempt to get rid of tiny pests has proven costly for the Port of Tacoma.
The Port and two contractors have agreed to pay a half-million dollar fine and spend more than $4 million to restore and enhance wetlands under a settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The wetlands at Hylebos Marsh were damaged during attempts by the Port to eradicate an invasive snail. The dime-sized vineyard snail comes from the Mediterranean and can destroy grain crops.
Under orders from the state and federal departments of Agriculture, the Port first tried to remove them using goats and other manual methods.
But after those attempts failed, the Port obtained an emergency exemption from the city of Tacoma to use mechanical equipment in the wetlands. But the Port failed to consult state or federal authorities.
“That’s the kind of work that would require a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a Clean Water Act permit. And they did not have the proper permits for that kind of work,” said Hanady Kader, an EPA spokeswoman.
She says the order from agricultural authorities was clear: plowing and grading to deal with the snail could not be done in wetlands because they are valuable parts of the ecosystem, especially in urban areas.
“They act as almost filters from runoff from the uplands. Things like stormwater runoff, things that just end up on our streets. All of that washes into Puget Sound eventually wetlands act as a barrier between that pollution and Puget Sound,” Kader said.
Under the settlement, the Port of Tacoma will restore nearly ten acres of Port–owned wetlands and enhance habitat on a nearby stream.
Meantime, the Port continues to try to eradicate the snails on land adjacent to the wetlands. They’ve been using poison and mowing the grass the snails like to live in.