June 19, 2008

State Upholds Fine Against Everett Firm Over Wetlands

By Lynda V. Mapes, Seattle Times

Jun. 19--It took several years and $100,000 of staff time to investigate and follow up, but the state Department of Ecology was vindicated last week when a state board upheld its findings against an Everett company the agency fined for piling fill as much as 17 feet deep on 12 acres of wetlands near Marysville.

The company, Pacific Topsoils, fought orders to remove the fill and restore the wetlands brought by both Snohomish County and Ecology beginning in 2006. Ecology's $88,000 fine and restoration order were upheld last week on all points by the state Pollution Control Hearings Board.

Gordon White, manager of wetlands programs for Ecology, said the ruling was an important victory for the protection of Puget Sound: "This wetland is associated with the Snohomish River estuary, and these are nurseries for Puget Sound. That is why we made this a high priority.

"This ruling is really important for Puget Sound because it gives us the kind of support we need to make sure people do the right thing, and it sends a message to the hundreds of businesses that do the right thing that others won't get a competitive advantage if they don't."

Jane Koler, attorney for Pacific Topsoils in the case, said the company disagreed with the findings, didn't get to call all of its witnesses at the hearing, and is considering an appeal.

Pacific Topsoils is one of the largest landscape-materials companies in the Puget Sound region, with locations throughout central Puget Sound. Its company headquarters is in Everett, and it has been in operation since 1978.

The trouble started in June 2006, when Peggy Toepel, a member of the Everett Shorelines Coalition, a citizen conservation group, noticed a large dump truck and grader working along a long ramp of dirt on Pacific Topsoils' property on Smith Island, according to the decision.

She took pictures, consulted maps and compared the new photos with old ones she had of the area -- then called local permitting agencies and found that no permit had been issued to fill the wetlands.

Snohomish County officials and Ecology investigators made repeated visits to the site and informed the company it had illegally filled wetlands and faced fines if it did not stop filling and remove the material. But the company kept going, eventually expanding its fill on Smith Island to some 150,000 cubic yards of unidentified material, enough to fill about 15,000 dump trucks, according to the decision.

"The nature of this violation of the state's wetland laws is very serious," the board wrote in its decision, which called the company's actions "a threat to the environment."

Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or [email protected]


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