Port of Port Angeles accused on EPA rules

Commissioners seek discussion on potential settlement

PORT ANGELES — The Port of Port Angeles is entering into settlement talks with the Environmental Protection Agency over alleged stormwater-related Clean Water Act violations, some of which port officials say have been addressed.

Port commissioners, citing potential litigation at the end of their regular meeting Sept. 28, went into executive session before emerging and unanimously approving, without discussion, Commissioner Connie Beavuais’ motion to reach a resolution without going to court.

“I will move to delegate [to] the executive director authority to negotiate with EPA for a non-litigation settlement regarding alleged stormwater violations,” she said.

The port, which treats stormwater before depositing it through outfalls into Port Angeles Harbor, could pay penalties of up to $56,460 daily for each violation, according to the agency’s March 31 notification to Environmental Manager Jesse Waknitz.

The notification, titled Notice of Intent to File Administrative Complaint for Violation of the Clean Water Act and Opportunity to Confer Prior to Filing, provides 90 days to reach a settlement and says pre-filing negotiations should begin in 30 days.

“They aren’t holding us fast to it,” port Executive Director Geoff James said Monday of the deadlines.

He said the port has addressed some of the issues cited in the report.

“We believe we are at the point that we do not believe we would litigate,” he said.

None of the violations cited benefited the port, James said.

“The port was not hiding something,” he added.

The enforcement action is based on a Feb. 13, 2020, National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Compliance Inspection Report by Matthew Vojik of the EPA’s Region 10 Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Division.

In 2015, the state Department of Ecology issued an administrative order requiring the port to submit an engineering report with corrective action related to the permit “to address recurring exceedances of discharge monitoring benchmarks.”

The order was extended in 2018 and 2019 following the discovery of culturally significant artifacts in an area where modifications were planned on a below-ground stormwater system.

An Ecology-approved stormwater system must be installed by 2023, port Engineering Director Chris Hartman said Monday.

In his unannounced inspection, Vojik focused on the port’s compliance with its state Department of Ecology Industrial Stormwater General Permit, which became effective a month earlier, in January 2020.

Vojik examined five port-monitored outfalls along the harbor shoreline; areas around Marine Terminals 1, 3, 5 and 7, and the log yard, including catch basins.

He examined the port’s stormwater pollution plan, annual reports, engineering, discharge monitoring reports and training, spill response and monthly inspection records.

“I noted that discharge monitoring results continue to exceed benchmarks for copper, turbidity, [total suspended solids], [chemical oxygen demand] and zinc,” Vojik said in his report.

He said there were points of stormwater discharge not designated as sampling locations or exempt from monitory that were issuing from a storm drain, an outfall and a catch basin.

Vojik said containers were exposed to stormwater without secondary containment that Waknitz identified to him as containing oil and antifreeze.

In addition, calibration solutions for a turbidity meter and pH meter had expired a decade earlier, in 2010.

“The use of expired calibration solutions could affect the accuracy of the facility’s reported discharge monitoring values,” Vojik said.

He also took issue with the port sampling the Marine Terminal 4 outfall, which consisted of a scupper draining the dock surface.

Waknitz told Vojik he collects a sample by inserting a plastic tube into the scupper, sucking a sample with a syringe and depositing it in a jar then sent to a laboratory for analysis, according to the report.

Waknitz said the only way to capture flow with a jar was to go under the dock on a catwalk, a dangerous two-person job.

“I noted that the use of secondary sampling devices, such as a plastic tube and syringe, could affect the representative nature of the sample and the accuracy of reported discharge monitoring results,” Vojik said.

EPA spokesperson Suzanne Skadowski said Monday the EPA does not comment on ongoing enforcement actions.

Waknitz said in a May 29, 2020, response memo to Vojik that the port has installed treatment measures at the marine terminal to address exceedances for copper, zinc, suspended solids and chemical oxygen demand and is working to install treatment for the entire log yard.

An undesignated outfall discharge point has been added to a site map, a sampling plan was added for another outfall cited by Vojik, a sampling plan was added for a catch basin, and staged drums of used oil and antifreeze indoors on secondary containment.

New turbidity cells and solutions are being used, and the scupper sampling process at the dock is being reexamined and may be revised so stormwater can flow directly into a jar.

Port commissioners board President Steven Burke said the port’s contracted lawyer, Carolyn Lake of Tacoma, is representing the port on the notice.

“There are numerous violations,” he said.

“We may not agree with all of them; we may agree with some of them.

“I don’t think any of them are serious,” Burke added.

“We won’t know if we should contest it until we have a dialogue about a potential settlement.”

________

Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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