Special Reports

DOT fined $21,000 after cleaning bridge

The state Department of Transportation has been fined $21,000 for letting nearly 2 tons of cleaning grit, debris and lead paint chips fall into Puget Sound while cleaning the Tacoma Narrows Bridge last year.

The state Department of Ecology announced the penalty Thursday, while acknowledging crews face a difficult challenge in cleaning the mile-long bridge without polluting the water to some degree.

"We realize that catching 100 percent of this stuff is probably unrealistic," said Sandy Howard, the ecology department's public information manager. "But we felt a lot of improvements need to be made."

Workers routinely remove dirt, moss and peeling paint off the bridge by blasting it with two commercial products - Blastox, a calcium silicate material, and Kleen Blast, which is made from smelter slag.

Lead from paint chips is toxic to the marine environment. Cleaning grit, grease and other debris from cleaning the bridge also are harmful, ecology officials point out. State and federal regulations prohibit discharging these pollutants into water.

The bridge maintenance crew has improved its techniques markedly since last year, in part because of construction workers on the water building the new Tacoma Narrows bridge, said Lloyd Brown, a transportation department spokesman.

Workers now capture about 60 percent of the grit they shoot at the bridge, Brown said.

"The trouble is in the center span area," he said. We can't put tarps out there because the wind hits them like sails."

The transportation department has 15 days to apply for relief from the penalty and 30 days to appeal it to the state Pollution Control Hearings Board. Brown said the agency will appeal.

If the agency ends up having to pay the fine, he said, the money will come from the bridge maintenance budget.

Rob Carson: 253-597-8693