|June 20, 2002
River from the city's wastewater treatment plant.
Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, a nonprofit organization aiming to
limit the amount of pollutants entering Puget Sound, filed the
complaint in the U.S. District Court's Western Washington
District in Seattle on May 7.
The complaint states North Bend had more than 90 violations of
the federal Clean Water Act and its National Pollutant Discharge
Elimination System (NPDES) permit, which is granted by the state
Department of Ecology (DOE). The violations date from February
1997 to October 2001.
"We monitor pollution permit compliance and we were
reviewing records at the Department of Ecology and noticed that
the city of North Bend had numerous violations over the past
four or five years," said Sue Joerger, executive director
of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance.
"There were enough of them that we wanted to take
action," she said.
Under the NPDES permit, which was granted to North Bend for its
wastewater treatment plant in 1994 and again in 1999, the city
must report findings taken from water samples to the DOE.
Those reports served as the basis for Puget Soundkeeper
Alliance's complaint against North Bend. But the city isn't
alone in being targeted by the group. Todd Pacific Shipyards
Corp. in Seattle, J.A. Jack and Sons Inc. in Seattle, the city
of Snohomish wastewater treatment plant, Spadoni Brothers in Gig
Harbor and Rosario Resort and Spa in San Juan County were also
notified by Puget Soundkeeper Alliance earlier this year that
they would be sued for violating the Clean Water Act.
Puget Soundkeeper Alliance sent out letters to the cities and
businesses in February and gave them 60 days to reach a
settlement. If that wasn't successful, complaints would be filed
in District Court.
Both Joerger and Paul Kampmeier, an attorney with Smith and
Lowney PLLC in Seattle representing Puget Soundkeeper Alliance,
said the group's objective is not to go to court, but to correct
the problems at the North Bend facility.
"So far, the city has been amenable to working with
us," Kampmeier said.
"Usually there is some kind of solution to the problem.
Sometimes it's a quick fix. Sometimes it's a longer fix,"
In its complaint, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance states North Bend
exceeded levels allowed in the Clean Water Act and the NPDES
permit for metals such copper, silver, zinc and mercury, as well
as the chemical ammonia.
Joerger said higher-than-allowed levels of mercury were
troublesome since exposure to that metal builds up over time and
has been linked to several diseases.
"That was a particular red flag for us," Joerger said.
"They [the city of North Bend] were concerned about it,
City Attorney Mike Kenyon said North Bend has been aware of the
violations, as it is required to make regular reports of test
samples. Determining what's causing the violation has proved
"It takes a long time to identify the source of the
problem, the source of the leak, the source of the
infiltration," he said.
The metals listed in the violations are commonly used in
dentistry and in dark rooms, said City Administrator Phil
Messina. Elevated levels of copper are caused by new copper
plumbing, which he said leaches copper into wastewater.
The city has made a concerted effort to educate local business
on how to better filter metals before they infiltrate water
headed for the wastewater treatment plant.
"Since we've done that, we've had one month without silver
or mercury violations," Messina said.
The city is also hampered by the wastewater treatment plant
itself, which was designed about 20 years ago primarily to
remove biological waste from water.
"The plant is not designed to pull metals out of the water
flow," Messina said.
North Bend's wastewater treatment plant discharges treated
effluent into the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River by way of a
21-inch pipe and bankside diffuser. Water samples taken by the
city are used to determine how much pollution entered the river
and in what concentration.
Effluent limits are set according to the average monthly loading
of the metal or chemical (pounds per day), as well as the
average monthly concentration (micrograms per liter) and maximum
daily concentration (micrograms per liter). The limits were
established in the 1994 NPDES permit and the subsequent 1999
permit, with different limits created for high- and low-flow
For mercury, the average monthly loading limit, according to the
1999 NPDES permit, is 0.0007 pounds per day. The complaint and
the letter sent to North Bend in February announcing Puget
Soundkeeper Alliance's intention to sue state the city exceeded
the limit in August 2001 when it reported an average monthly
loading of 0.003 pounds per day - more than four times the
The limit for the average monthly concentration of mercury is
0.1 micrograms per liter under the 1999 permit. The city doubled
that amount - 0.2 micrograms per liter - in October 2001.
In addition, North Bend twice exceeded the maximum daily
concentration limit for mercury, which is 0.2 micrograms per
liter. That occurred Aug. 28, 2001, (0.4 micrograms per liter)
and Oct. 9, 2001, (1 microgram per liter).
In all, the complaint and the letter sent to North Bend document
a total of more than 90 instances where North Bend exceeded
mercury limits as well as average monthly loading for total
recoverable copper; average monthly concentration for total
recoverable copper; maximum daily concentration for total
recoverable copper; average monthly loading for total
recoverable silver; average monthly concentration for total
recoverable silver; maximum daily concentration for total
recoverable silver; average monthly loading for total
recoverable zinc; average monthly concentration for total
recoverable zinc; maximum daily concentration of total
recoverable zinc; and average monthly concentration of total
In some of the most extreme examples:
* The city reported a maximum daily concentration for total
recoverable silver of 400 micrograms per liter on Sept. 3, 1997.
The limit under the 1994 NPDES permit was 1.35 micrograms per
* In May 1997, North Bend reported an average monthly loading
for total recoverable zinc of 0.852 pounds per day. The limit
under the 1994 permit was 0.286 pounds per day.
* In September 1998, the maximum daily concentration of total
recoverable zinc was 930 micrograms per liter, while 1994 permit
limit was 149 micrograms per liter.
* Under the 1999 permit, the limit for total ammonia was 7.1
milligrams per liter during the high-flow season. North Bend
reported 11.6 milligrams per liter for March 2000.
In its complaint, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance asks that if the
city is found to have violated the Clean Water Act and its NPDES
permit, the wastewater treatment plant should cease operating
"in a manner that results in further violations ..."
North Bend could also be ordered to pay a penalty of $27,500 per
day for each violation.