The 214-foot tall cranes work to unload their first cargo shipments at South Terminal at the Port of Everett on April 8, 2021 in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The 214-foot tall cranes work to unload their first cargo shipments at South Terminal at the Port of Everett on April 8, 2021 in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Sued over pollution, Port of Everett works on water quality issues

Testing found stormwater toxins above permit limits, a watchdog says. State regulations require a fix.

EVERETT — After an environmental organization sued the Port of Everett last month alleging “repeated and ongoing violations” of water quality standards, the port and the nonprofit said Friday a solution is in the works.

In a joint letter to The Daily Herald, the Seattle-based Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and the port said they are “working in collaboration to remedy an enforcement notice regarding the Port’s Industrial Stormwater Permit.”

“The Port of Everett and Soundkeeper appreciate the opportunity to work together as both our organizations take our leadership and commitment to environmental stewardship very seriously,” says the letter, signed by Port CEO Lisa Lefeber and the nonprofit’s executive director, Sean Dixon. “We hope to have this matter resolved quickly and amicably.”

Soundkeeper’s lawsuit, filed May 31 in U.S. District Court in Seattle, alleges heavily polluted stormwater flowed from marine terminal drainage pipes and outfalls into the East Waterway, a waterfront area in Port Gardner Bay that has already been tainted by decades of industrial activity.

More than two dozen times between the beginning of 2018 and the first quarter of 2022, monitoring reports found water samples exceeded various pollution “benchmarks” — including for pH, copper, zinc and turbidity — set in the port’s state-issued permit, according to the lawsuit.

“These violations have occurred each and every day during the last five years on which there was 0.1 inch or more of precipitation and continue to occur,” Soundkeeper told the port March 28 in a notice of intent to sue.

Permitting data maintained online by the Washington State Department of Ecology confirms the pollution thresholds were surpassed. However, under the state’s permitting system, “exceeding a benchmark is not a violation, and is instead a trigger for the permittee to do something,” department spokesperson Scarlet Tang said in an email.

Tang declined to say if the port has been cited for any stormwater permit violations, saying the department doesn’t comment on third-party lawsuits.

It is one of many such lawsuits filed by Soundkeeper, a water quality watchdog known for taking businesses and localities to court to force compliance — sometimes resulting in millions of dollars for environmental remediation in contaminated areas.

“Under the Clean Water Act, community groups such as Soundkeeper are encouraged to enforce industrial storm water permits managed by the Department of Ecology,” says the joint letter. “Soundkeeper has launched approximately 200 enforcement cases with facilities around the Sound, most of which involved management of stormwater discharges.”

In 2017, Snohomish County settled a lawsuit brought by Soundkeeper, agreeing to retrofit drainage projects near Little Bear Creek and promote stormwater management practices that use native plants and natural filtration processes to purify runoff. The county also agreed to pay Soundkeeper up to $125,000 in attorney and expert fees.

The most recent lawsuit also alleges the port failed to take the proper “corrective actions” required by its permit when pollutants were detected beyond their limits. Such actions vary, depending on the nature and the severity of the benchmark that’s triggered. Examples range from strengthening a facility’s stormwater management plan to adding treatment systems.

The lawsuit also cites lapses in the port’s reporting, monitoring, and other required recordkeeping meant to ensure that pollution levels stay below the benchmarks.

Soundkeeper asks the court to order the port “take specific actions to remediate the environmental harm caused by its violations.” The lawsuit also seeks recovery of the nonprofit’s legal fees and “civil penalties of $59,973 per day of violation for each violation committed by the Port after November 2, 2015.”

A 2021 annual permit report, submitted by the port to the Ecology department two weeks before the lawsuit was filed, says the port took action twice that year after samples exceeded pollution parameters. In April 2021, the port asked its contracted sweeper to cover certain areas more often. In September, it installed catch basin inserts, with filters to absorb metal, in “strategic locations throughout the marine terminals,” says the report signed by Lefeber.

The East Waterway is already a cleanup site overseen by the Ecology department. The port, the U.S. Navy and the state are in the early stages of gathering information about pollution that lingers there from historic saw milling, pulp and paper manufacturing, maritime shipping and naval activities.

The neighboring former site of the Kimberly-Clark mill is becoming a new marine shipping terminal as part of yet another state-mandated cleanup taken on by the port.

Rachel Riley: 425-339-3465;; Twitter: @rachel_m_riley.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A Mukilteo Speedway sign hangs at an intersection along the road on Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Mukilteo, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Long live the Speedway! Mukilteo’s main drag won’t be renamed

The public shot down the mayor’s idea to change the name: 77% voted ‘No’ in an online survey, with 95% opposed on Facebook.

Motorcyclist dies in crash on East Marine View Drive in Everett

Around 8 p.m. Tuesday, a motorcycle and a vehicle crashed into each other at the intersection of 11th street and East Marine View Drive.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Darrington in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Motorcyclist dies in crash on Highway 530

Jeremy Doyle, 46, was riding east near Darrington when he crashed into the side of a car that was turning left.

The Marysville School District office on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
‘Financially insolvent’ Marysville schools to get unprecedented oversight

Superintendent Chris Reykdal will convene a first-of-its-kind Financial Oversight Committee, he wrote in a letter Tuesday.

Woodside Elementary Principal Betty Cobbs on Monday, June 17, 2024 in Bothell, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett’s first Black principal retires after 51 years

In her office, Betty Cobbs kept a black-and-white photo of herself at age 5: “I am right there, with dreams of becoming an educator.”

Junelle Lewis, right, daughter Tamara Grigsby and son Jayden Hill sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” during Monroe’s Juneteenth celebration on Saturday, June 18, 2022. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
On Juneteenth: ‘We can always say that there is hope’

The Snohomish County NAACP is co-sponsoring a celebration Saturday near Snohomish, with speakers, music and food.

Granite Falls
Man, 35, dies from heart attack while hiking Lake 22

The man suffered a heart attack about 1½ miles into the 6-mile hike east of Granite Falls on Friday, authorities said.

36 hours after final show, Everett radio host Charlye Parker, 80, dies

When Parker got into radio, she was a rarity: a woman in a DJ booth. For the past 12 years, she hosted weekend country music shows at KXA.

Homeowners Jim and Chris Hall stand beneath their new heat pump, at right, inside their Whidbey Island home on Thursday, Sep. 7, 2023, near Langley, Washington. The couple, who are from Alaska, have decreased their use of their wood burning stove to reduce their carbon footprint. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Snohomish County to start ‘kicking gas’ in push for all-electric homes

Last year, 118 Whidbey Island homes installed energy-efficient heat pumps. A new campaign aims to make the case for induction stoves now, too.

Dr. Scott Macfee and Dr. Daniel Goodman outside of the Community Health Center on Wednesday, June 12, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett CHC doctors, feeling like ‘commodities,’ speak up on ailing system

At the Community Health Center of Snohomish County, doctors say they feel like “rats getting off a sinking ship.” They want it to get better.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Mountlake Terrace in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Man charged with shooting at ex-girlfriend, child in Mountlake Terrace

The man, 21, showed up to his ex-girlfriend’s apartment and opened fire through the door, new court records say.

People walk along Olympic Avenue past Lifeway Cafe and Olympic Theater that currently hosts Lifeway Church on Friday, July 7, 2023 in Arlington, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Arlington churches waged covert ‘battle’ against Pride event, records show

Sermons, emails and interviews reveal how an LGBTQ+ nonprofit became the target of a covert campaign by local evangelical leaders.