The Tacoma City Council has agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by an environmental advocacy group that wants the city to do a better job ensuring large industries clean up their wastewater.
The $145,000 settlement with Puget Soundkeeper Alliance includes a consent decree requiring the city to hire an independent auditor to look at its pretreatment program and recommend changes, if needed. It also requires the city to pay $70,000 to the Rose Foundation, an environmental group, for a project to protect or improve the water quality of the Commencement Bay watershed.
Another $54,435 from the settlement will go toward paying Puget Soundkeeper Alliance’s legal fees and expenses. Up to $20,000 will be paid to the Alliance for any fees it incurs in the next two years as it monitors the city’s compliance with the settlement.
“It’s very common in a settlement like this to have a contribution go toward an environmental program,” said Chris Bacha, an attorney for the city.
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Puget Soundkeeper Alliance filed its lawsuit earlier this year in federal court, based on a 2014 state Department of Ecology audit that found issues with how the city oversees certain large businesses that are required to pretreat their wastewater before releasing it into the sewer system. The Ecology report listed deficiencies in how the city managed its pretreatment requirements, which called into question its compliance with the Clean Water Act.
At the time of the audit, Tacoma had allowed a recycling company to discharge wastewater with higher amounts of arsenic and selenium than it allows other companies.
Bacha said the city was already working on addressing the problem when the lawsuit was filed, and it already has hired an independent auditor to fulfill its promise in the settlement.
“The city began work immediately to update its pretreatment program even before the audit was finalized, and the city was in the process of updating the pretreatment program and getting that approved by Ecology when the notice of intent to sue was filed earlier this year,” Bacha said. “We have been negotiating the consent decree as a way to settle the issues they raised in their complaint.”
In March, the city noted that the lawsuit included “no allegation of a specific illegal discharge into the waters of Commencement Bay or any other water body.”
Because the lawsuit involves permits issued under the federal Clean Water Act, the U.S. Department of Justice will have to OK the settlement agreement and recommendations. It will then have to be approved in court before it can be finalized, Bacha said.
Puget Soundkeeper Alliance executive director Chris Wilke said his organization also will have to sign off on the settlement before it’s sent to the justice department.
“We are optimistic that we’re moving in the right direction but we have yet to receive a document from the city,” Wilke said.