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Pend Oreille Utility District Fined $18,000 State Ecology Department Levies Penalty For Harm To Fish During Reconstruction Of Dam

The Pend Oreille County Public Utility District faces an $18,000 fine for what the state Ecology Department says were repeated water quality violations during reconstruction last year of the dam at Sullivan Lake.

Ecology Department officials say a contractor for the utility district ignored several provisions of a work permit intended to prevent soil erosion and keep sediment from entering Outlet Creek, which flows into Sullivan Creek.

Regulators say fish and aquatic life were harmed and fish spawning areas also may have been damaged.

The $19.5 million project was instigated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Administration, which was concerned about the safety of the old dam built in the early 1920s.

PUD Manager Larry Weis said a new dam was needed before the district could get federal approval for a $25 million project to restore an elaborate turn-of-the century hydroelectric system. The project, scheduled for 1997, calls for replacing a 3-mile-long wooden flume with a 5-foot-diameter underground pipe.

Weis said the dam reconstruction contractor, Triad Mechanical of Portland, “got away from us a little bit,” but district officials believe the fine is unwarranted and plan to appeal.

“We don’t feel the water turbidity problem was nearly as bad as they claim,” Weis said.

If the fine is upheld, Weis said the district will seek at least partial reimbursement from the contractor. However, he acknowledged that the district shares in the responsibility because one of its employees was at the site daily to supervise the work.

A Triad spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

The violations occurred when heavy storm runoff spilled around the incomplete dam, Weis said. The contractor should have halted work or taken other taken steps to correct the problem, he said.

Weis blamed the complaint in part on the fact that the Sullivan Lake ranger office is next to the dam.

“We have some tremendous differences of opinion on how that was handled by the Forest Service,” he said. “There were some personnel conflicts involved.”

Carl Nuechterlein, regional Ecology Department water quality manager, said department staff members witnessed violations on two occasions and employees of the U.S. Forest Service and the state Wildlife Department reported four other violations in May and June 1993.

Runoff water that was supposed to have been channeled into a settling pond to remove sediment was instead allowed to flow directly into Outlet Creek, Nuechterlein said. Inadequate silt-control fences contributed to the problem, he added.

Also, Nuechterlein said workers violated the project’s water quality permit by washing fresh concrete directly into the stream.”The lime in (wet) concrete kills fish almost instantly,” he said. “We have had a number of concrete kills around the state.”

State water quality manager Mike Llewelyn said the Ecology Department is reviewing the utility district’s application to restore the old hydroelectric system and will require measures to prevent additional violations.

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