County sued over cleanup order

EVERETT — Pacific Topsoils is suing Snohomish County after being ordered to clean up possibly tens of thousands of truckloads of illegally dumped dirt.

As much as 15,000 truckloads of dirt must be removed from the Everett-based company’s Smith Island property, according to a county hearing examiner’s order last month. The company did not obtain county permits before dumping an estimated 75,000 to 150,000 cubic yards of dirt measuring up to 17 feet deep. Some of the dirt sits on wetlands.

Last month, company attorney Jane Koler said the firm was a good environmental steward and planned to comply with the county’s order and no appeal was planned. Within a few weeks, the company reversed itself.

Pacific Topsoils faces fines of $250 a day until the cleanup is done to the county’s satisfaction.

In the lawsuit, the company claims it faces double penalties from the county: daily fines and an estimated $4 million to $5 million the company will have to pay if it must haul away all of the dirt.

The company wants a judge to reverse the county’s order, and argues dirt should be removed only from wetland areas.

How much dirt must be removed and how much can stay is up to county officials. Studies and discussions are under way.

“There’s uncertainty in the decision about when the fines would stop,” Koler said.

Pacific Topsoils officials still are hoping the county will grant retroactive permits, Koler said.

“They just filed (the lawsuit) because they’re not sure yet if they can work everything out with the county,” Koler said. “It’s their real hope that this is unnecessary.”

The company also was fined $88,000 earlier this year by the state Department of Ecology for the same violation on Smith Island. The company appealed and a hearing on that case before the state Pollution Control Hearings Board is scheduled Nov. 15.

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