An environmental organization is suing the City of Anacortes under the Clean Water Act, alleging the city is failing to manage stormwater pollution.
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday, Dec. 5, in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington in Seattle by Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, a Seattle-based nonprofit that focuses on water issues.
The city has failed to comply with permits that regulate discharge of stormwater into streams, rivers, lakes and the Puget Sound, posing a threat to water quality, the lawsuit alleges.
“(The lawsuit) is part of a multi-year effort by Puget Soundkeeper to better control the number one source of toxic pollution in Puget Sound, which is polluted stormwater runoff,” said Chris Wilke, the organization’s executive director.
Toxic pollution can harm salmon, particularly juvenile chinook, in streams and nearshore areas, he said.
Mayor Laurie Gere said in a statement Friday morning that the city’s stormwater program is in full compliance with its permits.
“The City was disappointed to receive the recent complaint filed by Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, but City leadership and staff are firmly committed to remaining in full compliance with all permit requirements,” she said. “While the City’s compliance in the past has not been perfect, the City has made significant improvements to the stormwater program that address past issues and have brought the City into full compliance with all permit requirements.”
She added by phone Friday that “my plan moving forward is to keep the city in full compliance and make sure all permits are in compliance, which they are today. And we’re going to keep everyone updated on our stormwater program and work through this process.”
Because the city operates a municipal separate storm sewer system, it is required to hold a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, part of the Clean Water Act, to limit the release of toxins. The lawsuit states that the city’s Stormwater Management Program Plan — required by the permit — is deficient and results in “excess pollutants in municipal stormwater discharged to various waters.”
The stormwater plan falls short in the areas of reporting, monitoring and public participation, according to the lawsuit. It also asserts that the city failed to revise its development codes to minimize stormwater runoff, a permit requirement that began in 2009, Wilke said.
Cities had until the end of 2016 to incorporate low-impact development techniques, such as rain gardens, pervious pavement and native vegetation to help control runoff, into their codes, he said.
At the end of 2017, Puget Soundkeeper and the Washington Environmental Council found that 15 percent of 81 cities and counties in the state were failing to meet the requirements. Out of five categories used to measure performance, called Nature’s Scorecard, Anacortes met the mark in just one.
“It’s a pretty across-the-board failure to come into compliance,” he said. “We really need our cities and counties to meaningfully implement permits as they were written to make progress on sources of pollution.”
The organization’s goals are compliance with the Clean Water Act, recovery of legal fees and a monetary penalty that would go to a third party for a water mitigation project, Wilke said.
“We hope to settle the case without having to go to a trial,” he said. “We intend to work to resolve this quickly before that’s necessary.”
Puget Soundkeeper has taken legal action under the Clean Water Act 170 times and has never lost a case, according to its website. The challenge against Anacortes is currently the organization’s only active lawsuit against a city or county, Wilke said.
The city paid $43,000 to its attorney Foster Pepper PLLC to work on the lawsuit, according to a city claim dated Nov. 15, which was included in the Dec. 3 Anacortes City Council agenda packet.
A notice of intent to sue was sent to Mayor Laurie Gere and city council members on Sept. 26.