Port of Tacoma settles EPA dispute

The Port of Tacoma has agreed to pay $137,000 to settle a dispute with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over paperwork related to the former Kaiser Aluminum smelter site.

The dispute focused on a half-acre former waste-handling area cleaned up by Kaiser in 2002 before the Port purchased the Tacoma Tideflats property. The Port bought the shuttered aluminum smelter in early 2003 from Houston-based Kaiser. The sale included about 96 acres of land and related structures next to the Blair Waterway.

During the past seven years the Port has removed thousands of tons of waste from the site, demolished buildings and cleaned up significant portions of the property. About 80 of the 96 acres so far have been returned to Port-related use to generate jobs and income.

Federal hazardous waste laws require private property owners to file financial assurance letters each year to demonstrate they have the means to complete their cleanup and monitoring responsibilities. In Washington, the state Department of Ecology administers this federal mandate. Since 2003, the Port has worked cooperatively with Ecology to meet financial assurance requirements for the site.

In 2008, the EPA began to pursue the Port over missed paperwork deadlines. The Port recognizes that EPA had a valid claim about missed paperwork deadlines and has agreed to settle the dispute for $137,000. While Port officials remain disappointed the EPA pursued any penalties, they recognize that costs related to a legal fight could equal or exceed the settlement amount.

“We are ready to settle this matter,” said Port Commission President Don Johnson. “We want to focus on a more cooperative relationship with the EPA to create economic opportunities for our community in a way that protects the environment.”