4 companies fined total of $847,000 for stormwater violations

SEATTLE -- Four companies have been fined a total of $847,000 by the Environmental Protection Agency for polluting Puget Sound waterways.

The EPA says three of the violations happened on the Duwamish River; all because of pollutants from industrial stormwater runoff.

"The Duwamish River is one of the most polluted rivers in the country," says Chris Wilke, Executive Director of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance - a watchdog of our local waterways. "We're glad to see the EPA stepping up in this case."

All the fines are linked to violations to the Clean Water Act. The EPA used photo evidence to levy a $177,000 fine against Special Interest Auto Works of Kent, who the agency says polluted the Green River with toxic chemicals.

Waste Management agreed to pay a $33,000 fine for muddy water runoff from washing its trucks' wheels. In a statement, the company says a discrepancy about where to monitor the water led to the violation and it takes stormwater drainage seriously.

Gary Merlino Construction agreed to pay $36,000 fine for a stormwater violation too. But the EPA says Ash Grove, a Seattle cement manufacturer, is the biggest offender and slapped it with more than half a million dollars in fines. The EPA says pollutants in the company's stormwater included toxic metals copper and zinc. And the EPA says Ash Grove operated without a stormwater permit for 18 years.

"With all the scrutiny on the river, it was surprising how they could slip under the radar for so long," Wilke said.

The EPA says the onus is on businesses. In a statement, Ash Grove says it learned of the permit requirement in 2009 and immediately began the permitting process. It also insists its stormwater discharges did no harm to the environment. The EPA counters since the discharges were not monitored, there is no way of knowing that.

"For them to say no harm to the environment, I don't think they can make that statement," Wilke said.

Merlino and Special Interest Auto Works did not respond to a request for comment.

Puget Soundkeeper Alliance has taken defendants to court too and won. They're part of a huge effort to clean up the Duwamish, which has been dredged once and will be again next month.