Cooke fined for water quality violations at Bainbridge Island net pen facility

BAINBRIDGE ISLAND – The state Department of Ecology has issued Cooke Aquaculture Pacific an $8,000 penalty saying the company has repeatedly cleaned dirty equipment and discharged polluted wastewater into Puget Sound without water quality protections in place at its Bainbridge Island facility.

The company — which operates commercial Atlantic salmon net pens in several sites in Washington state, including Port Angeles — has 30 days from the date of receipt of notice of the penalty issued on Tuesday to pay or appeal the action to the the Pollution Control Hearings Board, Ecology said in a news release.

Nell Halse, vice president of communications, said that the company would not comment on whether or not it will appeal the penalty, choosing instead to deal directly with Ecology.

“We take our environmental obligations very seriously and have, in fact, modified our practices to address these matters,” Halse said in an email. “We will be responding promptly and directly to the Department of Ecology.”

Ecology said it has directed Cooke to fix water quality violations at its dock on Bainbridge Island near its net pen facility in Rich Passage since the agency began receiving citizen complaints in August 2016.

Cooke has a permit for its nets pens off Fort Ward but the permit doesn’t authorize discharges of pressure washing wastewater, Ecology said.

This fine comes after Ecology sent two warning letters — on Aug. 25, 2016 and on July 24, 2017 — issued a notice of violation on Aug.24, and requested that the company fix the violations on many occasions, Ecology said in the release.

Cooke responded to the notice of violation on Oct. 5 saying that employees had been reminded that no pressure washing was to occur at the Fort Ward facility. Instead, the practice was to had-scrape hulls and collect materials in plastic totes for disposal at an upland facility.

The report also said that maintenance of outboard engines would not occur at the dock at Fort Ward.

Ecology said that Cooke is specifically being penalized for unlawfully discharging polluting matter into state waters; pressure washing equipment, nets, and vehicles over the water and allowing wastewater to enter Puget Sound; changing boat engine oil over the water; failing to put safeguards in place to protect water quality; and failing to correct water quality violations when directed.

The penalty is for violations at Cooke’s commercial net pen facility in Rich Passage near Bainbridge Island and is not related to the Aug. 19 net pen collapse at their facility near Cypress Island, which released tens of thousands of non-native Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound.

The state is currently investigating that incident for which Ecology may issue a separate enforcement action, the department said.

Prior to the Cypress Island collapse, Cooke proposed to move its Port Angeles operation from Ediz Hook to a new site in Clallam County waters about two miles north of the mouth of Morse Creek.

The $9 million Cooke project was put on hold after the Cypress Island net pen collapse.

Gov. Jay Inslee declared a moratorium on new net-pen operations after the incident. The Department of Natural Resources is leading a state investigation that is expected to be completed in January.

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