Suit alleges candidate’s company violated clean water rules

Ace Metal owner, City Council candidate Yoo dismisses alleged violations as minor
By Nicholas Johnson | Aug 09, 2017
James Yoo

City Council candidate James Yoo says he expects to settle a lawsuit alleging his company – Ace Metal Corporation – has failed to comply with federal water quality standards for stormwater it discharges into Big Gulch Creek.

“It’s just a minor infraction,” Yoo said. “I’m not worried about it. We’ll come up with some kind of compromise.”

The Seattle-based Puget Soundkeeper Alliance filed the suit in April in U.S. District Court in Seattle. A trial is set for November 2018, but Alliance staff attorney Katelyn Kinn said it likely won’t get to that point.

“Almost all of these cases settle well before the trial date,” Kinn said, noting the Alliance has sued some 180 violators of the Clean Water Act over the past 30 years and has yet to lose.

Those cases that have gone to trial, such as a suit against BNSF Railway last year, have been settled before a judge could issue a final order, she said.

Ace Metal, which has a federal permit to discharge its stormwater runoff into Big Gulch Creek, has denied the suit’s allegations that it violated water quality standards, failed to develop a stormwater pollution prevention plan, failed to collect and analyze samples, as well as comply with monitoring requirements in accordance with permit conditions, according to court documents.

“That permit puts in place a framework for them to take rain water samples and have them tested for pollutants that we know are harmful to fish,” Kinn said. “When someone is issued a permit to do something they otherwise have no right to do, we would hope they understand what it requires.”

Attorney Elizabeth Morrison of Gordon & Rees in Seattle is representing Ace Metal. She had no comment. Yoo said he was unaware of the alleged violations before receiving a letter from the Alliance in late January notifying him of its intent to sue.

“We don’t have full time guys to monitor all that stuff,” he said. “The problem is the state doesn’t say anything and then you get sued.”

Kinn said state and federal agencies don’t have the resources to enforce the rules, so advocacy groups must step in to hold violators accountable. All of the money the Alliance wins through settlements is awarded to Puget Sound restoration projects, she said.

“We are coming in as a community group to do the enforcement that government agencies are unable or unwilling to do,” Kinn said. “We’re going after these violators in hopes of bringing salmon back to healthy levels to sustain resident orcas in the Puget Sound.”

Yoo said his company has already corrected their practices. That, Kinn said, is the Alliance’s ultimate goal.

“Our top priority is to stop the pollution discharges on the ground,” she said. “I believe if there was more enforcement across the board, noncompliance would be less prevalent. We don’t speed because we know there are police around to enforce the rules. In the end, we hope to see things improve so that pollution isn’t ending up in our waterways.”

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