Pacific Topsoils must pay $88,000 in fines

EVERETT — Washington’s top court has upheld a decision against a company accused of illegally filling in wetlands on Smith Island.

Pacific Topsoils must pay $88,000 in fines and finish removing any fill remaining in a 12-acre area after the Washington Supreme Court declined Tuesday to reconsider a lower-court ruling.

The latest turn in the case reaffirms a state Department of Ecology penalty first issued in 2007. The company has exhausted its chances to appeal.

“We tried working with them cooperatively into 2007 and it really didn’t get very far,” said Paul Anderson, an ecology wetlands specialist who investigated the case.

Pacific Topsoils sells landscape materials, including dirt, bark, mulch and rock. It has several locations throughout the Puget Sound area. The Everett-based company did not make anyone available to comment Thursday.

The Department of Ecology received its first complaint about the fill on Smith Island in far north Everett in October 2006. It issued the fine early the next year.

Pacific Topsoils appealed to the Pollution Control Hearings Board and then to the Washington Court of Appeals.

In court, Pacific Topsoils argued the state lacked the authority to regulate wetlands and that the area in question did not meet the definition of a wetland.

The appeals court in August ruled unanimously in the state agency’s favor.

Early on, Pacific Topsoils could have obtained permits for filling in the wetlands, but opted not to, said Erik Stockdale, wetlands unit supervisor for the ecology department’s northwest region.

The state is not the only branch of government to enforce penalties against Pacific Topsoils.

Snohomish County in 2007 ordered the company to clean up the estimated 15,000 or more dumptruck loads deposited on the wetlands. The order came after the county found that the company had no permit to dump an estimated 75,000 to 150,000 cubic yards of dirt.

The same year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reached a $10,000 settlement with Pacific Topsoils over a violation of the U.S. Clean Water Act. That settlement stemmed from the company filling in about one-third of an acre of wetlands near Mill Creek in 2002.

While Pacific Topsoils filled in the Smith Island wetlands without permits, competitor Cedar Grove Composting went through the proper regulatory channels to do similar work nearby.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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