Don’t look for Tacoma’s Manke Lumber Company to win any good neighbor awards this year.
The company’s numerous violations have grabbed the attention of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A complaint filed in federal court alleges the 50-year-old company has been sending polluted water into the Hylebos Waterway since at least 2012 without a proper permit.
Calling Manke to the mat for violating the Clean Water Act is the right move. It’s also reassuring to see EPA regulators flexing a little muscle, especially after President Donald Trump’s repeated hints about deregulation and his blaming environmental laws for blocking manufacturing and killing jobs.
It’s too bad a family-owned local business has shown such disregard for managing polluted runoff. We want to root for a company that employs 400 Pierce County workers at a time of cuts and consolidation in the forest-products industry.
The company owns and operates mills in Tacoma, Sumner and Shelton and churns out 200 million board feet of lumber every year. The 35-acre facility on the Tideflats produces wood pellets from sawmill production.
The Tacoma site has incurred so many violations from the state Department of Ecology that adding up the infractions requires a calculator.
Among the highlights (or should we say lowlights?): Failing to submit complete, accurate annual reports to the state from 2012 to 2014; going 48 months without documented inspections; and failing to properly analyze pH samples.
Dave Bennett, spokesman for Ecology, said Manke has a history of compliance problems. He told The News Tribune the company has been slow to enact corrective steps suggested by the state.
The degree to which Manke’s polluted runoff is adding to the degradation of the Sound is difficult to quantify. But given this record season for rainfall, a lot of polluted runoff has likely made it into the Hylebos.
A 2016 state inspection report described contaminated stormwater sitting at the Tideflats site as “black, foaming and fetid.” Bennett called it “bacteria poo,” or leachate. It happens when water has prolonged contact with wood waste. It looks like oil, smells like sulphur and can potentially deplete water of oxygen.
Nearly identical violations occurred at Manke’s Shelton facility in 2012. The Squaxin Island Tribe sued for inadequate stormwater treatment systems and for dumping copper discharge into Oakland Bay, a tidal estuary. Manke paid almost $65,000 for waterway restoration.
Manke has raised non-environmental concerns as well. In 2015, the state Department of Labor and Industries fined it for 25 serious and 11 general safety and health violations. L&I began an investigation in 2014 after a worker was fatally injured. Discovered violations include failing to guard moving parts on belt sanders, bandsaws and sprocket wheels.
The amount Manke will eventually pay for the environmental violations is unknown, but each day stormwater dumps into the Sound, the tab goes up. From Jan. 12, 2009, to Nov. 2, 2015, the EPA issued a $37,500 fine per day; after the 2015 date, it went up to $52,414 per violation.
Perhaps some pithy “measure twice, cut once” advice will get Manke’s attention: If you comply with water-quality laws, you don’t pay fines. Protect local waterways and be considered a good neighbor.
It’s really that simple. The Hylebos belongs to all of us, not just you.