The city of Bellingham and Strider Construction received penalties this week for a sewage spill into Padden Creek during a sewer replacement project last February.
The Washington Department of Ecology issued $9,000 penalties to each party after an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 gallons of sewage was mistakenly piped into the creek over three days.
The discharge occurred when a crew working for Strider installed a temporary bypass sewer pump and connected it to a manhole that was labeled sewer, but it was connected to a storm drain that discharges to Padden Creek.
Prior to the start of the work, Strider submitted a sewer bypass plan that the city reviewed and approved. The plan included an incomplete map that did not clearly identify the location of the sewer manhole, which contributed to incorrectly placing the bypass hose into the storm drain. Ecology found both parties to be responsible for the incident.
"The Padden Creek spill was an unfortunate error and serves as a reminder of the importance of detailed plans that are diligently followed during sewer construction projects," said Doug Allen, manager of Ecology's Bellingham field office.
City of Bellingham officials took numerous water quality samples following the spill, which showed fecal coliform concentrations at levels that posed a risk to human health and the environment. The city immediately closed the creek to the public and no illnesses were reported.
The sewer replacement project followed a large restoration project in Padden Creek that was widely celebrated by the community.
"The incident, while serious, doesn't take away from the success of the restoration project, which will benefit water quality and salmon habitat for decades to come," said Allen.
Either party may appeal Ecology's penalty within 30 days to state's Pollution Control Hearings Board.