The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is not blinking in its stare-down with the Port of Tacoma over missed deadlines in the cleanup of an former aluminum smelter on the Tacoma Tideflats.
The EPA filed a formal complaint against the port Wednesday, charging the port had failed to file financial paperwork in a timely manner.
The EPA did not ask for a specific amount of money in its complaint, but did cite the maximum civil penalty allowable: $32,500 per day for each violation.
The port now has 30 days to request a hearing in which to argue its case.
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Earlier this year, the port turned down a $232,000 settlement offer from the EPA for the missed deadlines and continues to maintain it should pay no fines.
On Thursday, port spokeswoman Tara Mattina characterized the situation as a misunderstanding based on a verbal agreement with the state Department of Ecology, which administers the federal hazardous waste law.
Enforcing the financial reporting requirements is a national priority, Edward Kowalski, EPA Region 10 director of compliance and enforcement, said in a phone conversation Thursday.
“In this economic environment, the importance of these requirements is especially heightened,” Kowalski said.
“At the end of the day,” he said, “if these assurances are not honored, it is the American taxpayer that ends up paying for these facilities.”
Mattina said there was never any question that the port was a financially responsible party. The financial assurances the port filed past deadlines were guarantees it was able to afford future cleanup costs.
The property in question is the former Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Corp. smelter site. The port bought the property in 2003 and has spent $5 million cleaning it up.