Electron Hydro dam owner ordered to pay largest financial penalty in an environmental criminal case in state history

TACOMA — A Pierce County Superior Court judge has ordered Electron Hydro, LLC and its Chief Operating Officer Thom Fischer to pay a total of $1 million in fines and restitution as a result of Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s Environmental Protection Division’s prosecution. As part of the sentence, the company will pay $745,000 to the Puyallup Tribal Fisheries to help restore the Puyallup River.

The Attorney General’s Office believes the $1 million is the largest fine and restitution paid for an environmental crime in Washington state law history.

“This outcome directs critical resources towards restoring the Puyallup River from the damage cause by Electron Hydro’s criminal conduct,” Ferguson said. “The Puyallup Tribe has been a steward of the Puyallup River for generations, and the Puyallup Tribal Fisheries is best positioned to preserve, restore and enhance the river.”

Electron Hydro operates a hydroelectric dam on the Puyallup River. In late July 2020, Fischer allowed its workers to place artificial turf and crumb rubber that contain toxic chemicals into the riverbed. Workers then diverted the river, which ripped the liner and caused toxic debris to flow into the Puyallup River for approximately ten days before agencies ordered them to stop work at the site. Charges against the company included violations of the state’s Water Pollution Control Act, Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Code, Shoreline Management Act and Pierce County Code.

In order to avoid a trial, Electron Hydro and Fischer previously pleaded guilty to a gross misdemeanor violation of operating an unlawful hydraulic project. On May 5, Pierce County Superior Court Judge Philip Sorenson sentenced Electron Hydro to pay $250,000 in penalties, the corporate maximum sentence, and Fischer to pay $5,000 in penalties, the individual maximum. Fisher was also sentenced to 364 days in jail, suspended as long as he complies with his sentence and does not violate the law again. The penalties will be paid to Pierce County.

In addition, Electron Hydro will pay $745,000 in restitution to the Puyallup Tribal Fisheries. The Attorney General’s Office determined the Puyallup Tribal Fisheries is in the best position to preserve, restore, and enhance the Puyallup River.

In addition to the long historical tradition of river stewardship by the Puyallup Tribe, the tribal fisheries department does extensive work on the river, including preparing and issuing biannual reports on the fish in the river.

Importantly, the Tribe operates a number of fish hatcheries in the Puyallup River watershed that helps restore the salmon population, including two acclimation ponds upstream of the Electron Dam site where Chinook and Coho salmon are released. The release of Coho salmon upstream of the dam is significant because the crumb rubber in the turf that Electron Hydro placed in the river contained 6PPD-Quinone, which is highly toxic to Coho Salmon.

The fisheries department has been consistently engaged in removing artificial turf since the release. Tribal personnel found and removed more turf in March of this year — approximately 2 1/2 years after the release took place.

This case resolution does not resolve ongoing civil cases against Electron Hydro Dam, LLC

Case background

The criminal charges stemmed from a construction project updating the Electron Dam during the summer of 2020. Electron Hydro, under Fischer’s supervision, placed artificial field turf containing crumb rubber onto the riverbed and dam as part of a temporary bypass channel during the construction.

By its own admission, Electron Hydro estimated it placed approximately 2,400 square yards of turf material that contained 16 to 18 cubic yards of crumb rubber in the bypass channel. The company then covered the field turf with a plastic liner and diverted the Puyallup River over it. The company did not receive permission to use the field turf or crumb rubber on the project.

Days later, the liner ruptured and artificial turf and crumb rubber were discharged into the Puyallup River. In early August 2020, the company received a stop work order from Pierce County and the Army Corps of Engineers. The river remained diverted until the end of October 2020.

The court filing notes University of Washington-Tacoma Center for Urban Waters researchers tested samples of recovered field turf and crumb rubber and discovered that it contained chemicals found in tires, including one that is “extremely toxic” to coho salmon.

Assistant Attorneys General Robert Grant and Brad Roberts handled the case for the Attorney General’s Office, with support from Senior Investigator Matthew Stratton, paralegal Nerissa Tigner, and Legal Assistant Julie Dolloff.

The Attorney General’s Environmental Protection Division prosecuted the case. The Attorney General’s Office filed these charges in Pierce County Superior Court. The Attorney General’s Office does not have authority to initiate criminal investigations, unless it receives and accepts a referral from a county prosecutor or the governor. The Attorney General’s Office accepted a referral from the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney in this case.

– WA State Attorney General