Electron Hydro and owner Thom Fischer face $1 million in fines, restitution; two years of probation
TACOMA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced today that Electron Hydro, LLC and its Chief Operating Officer Thom Fischer pleaded guilty to a gross misdemeanor violation of operating an unlawful hydraulic project. The plea avoids a trial for Fischer and his company.
The Attorney General’s Office recommended a sentence that totals $1 million, and includes a restitution payment of $745,000 to protect the health of the Puyallup River and a $255,000 fine that goes to Pierce County. Fischer also will serve two years of probation, with 364 days in jail suspended so long as Fischer does not violate the law again. Fischer has agreed to accept this sentence. A Pierce County Superior Court judge must still agree to the terms of this plea.
Electron Hydro operates a hydroelectric dam on the Puyallup River. In late July 2020, Fischer allowed its workers to place artificial turf and crumb rubber that contain toxic chemicals into the riverbed. Workers then diverted the river, which ripped the liner and caused toxic debris to flow into the Puyallup River for two weeks. Charges against the company included violations of the state’s Water Pollution Control Act, Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Code, Shoreline Management Act and Pierce County Code.
The $745,000 in restitution will be directed toward projects to improve the health of the Puyallup River and restore salmon habitat. Ferguson’s Office plans to work with the Puyallup Tribe to identify worthy projects.
“When I took office, very few environmental crimes were criminally prosecuted,” Ferguson said. “I created our Environmental Protection Division to take on bad actors who endanger our shared environment. Electron Hydro and Thom Fischer’s reckless conduct damaged this waterway and put species like salmon at risk. My office will hold accountable any companies that pollute our rivers, put aquatic life at risk and endanger the health of communities.”
If approved by the judge, the Attorney General’s Office believes the $1 million would be the largest fine and restitution paid for an environmental crime in Washington state law history.
Fischer’s trial was set to begin today in Pierce County Superior Court. At trial, he faced 30 gross misdemeanor charges the Attorney General’s Office filed in January 2022.
Pierce County Superior Court Judge Philip Sorensen set a hearing for May 5 to determine Fischer’s sentence.
The criminal charges stemmed from a construction project updating the Electron Dam during the summer of 2020. Electron Hydro, under Fischer’s supervision, placed artificial field turf containing crumb rubber onto the riverbed and dam as part of a temporary bypass channel during the construction. By its own admission, Electron Hydro estimated it placed approximately 2,400 square yards of turf material that contained 16 to 18 cubic yards of crumb rubber in the bypass channel. The company then covered the field turf with a plastic liner and diverted the Puyallup River over it. The company did not receive permission to use the field turf or crumb rubber on the project.
Days later, the liner ruptured and artificial turf and crumb rubber were discharged into the Puyallup River. In early August 2020, the company received a stop work order from Pierce County and the Army Corps of Engineers. The river remained diverted until the end of October 2020.
The court filing notes University of Washington-Tacoma Center for Urban Waters researchers tested samples of recovered field turf and crumb rubber and discovered that it contained chemicals found in tires, including one that is “extremely toxic” to coho salmon.
Assistant Attorneys General Robert Grant and Brad Roberts handled the case for the Attorney General’s Office, with support from paralegal Nerissa Tigner and Legal Assistant Julie Dolloff.
The Attorney General’s Environmental Protection Division is prosecuting the case. The Attorney General’s Office filed these charges in Pierce County Superior Court. The Attorney General’s Office does not have authority to initiate criminal investigations, unless it receives and accepts a referral from a county prosecutor or the governor. The Attorney General’s Office accepted a referral from the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney in this case.
Washington’s Attorney General serves the people and the state of Washington. As the state’s largest law firm, the Attorney General’s Office provides legal representation to every state agency, board, and commission in Washington. Additionally, the Office serves the people directly by enforcing consumer protection, civil rights, and environmental protection laws. The Office also prosecutes elder abuse, Medicaid fraud, and handles sexually violent predator cases in 38 of Washington’s 39 counties. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.email@example.com
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