Black Diamond, WA— On December 17th, 2019 Puget Soundkeeper sent a Notice of Intent to Sue Letter to Pacific Coast Coal Company (PCCC) for stormwater pollution violations at the John Henry Number 1 Coal Mine, a coal surface mining operation that has been closed since 1999.

The 480 acre coal mine utilized open pit mining, and at its peak, produced 300,000 tons of coal per year.  Despite ceasing active mining operations 20 years ago, the site continues to require a Clean Water Act permit to control polluted stormwater discharges to local waterways.

In the Notice Letter, Puget Soundkeeper alleges that John Henry Coal Mine has been discharging industrial stormwater without a permit for nearly seven years. In addition, the following permit violations were made by the facility:

  • Effluent Limit Violations for phosphorus, manganese, copper
  • Failure to require basic practices and technologies required by law to prevent pollution from leaving the site, including:
    • Improper storage of waste and oil
    • Poor housekeeping and failure to clean up messes
    • Failure to make necessary repairs
    • Failure to properly mark site with necessary signage
  • Miscellaneous record keeping and reporting violations

Puget Soundkeeper identifies the major source of water pollution at the site today is stormwater runoff from throughout the facility, including storage areas where excavated material is held, mining pits, and unlined settling ponds treated with flocculants (chemicals used in water treatment to improve the filterability of small particles).  Coal washing, vehicle washing, and wheel well washing at the site also result in wastewater that must be carefully managed to avoid flowing to surface waters.  Records show that the facility discharges water laden with pollutants including metals (such as arsenic, chromium, copper, iron, lead, manganese and zinc), along with dissolved oxygen, phosphorus, turbidity (water clarity), oil products and pH (acid/ alkaline levels).

The industrial stormwater discharged by John Henry Coal Mine flows into Ginder Lake, Lake Sawyer, Rock Creek and Lake 12.  Lake Sawyer then drains to Covington Creek and Big Soos Creek, both tributaries to the Green River, which flows to the Duwamish River, then empties into Puget Sound at Elliott Bay in Seattle.  Because the facility discharges into these waterways, turbidity, phosphorous, copper, manganese and pH are of particular concern because of the harm it can cause to human health and habitat areas for fish and other aquatic life.

“Achieving Puget Sound recovery requires us to address pollution sources throughout each watershed, including harmful pollution occurring 20 or more miles inland since all of the runoff ultimately ends up in Puget Sound,” said Chris Rilling, Puget Soundkeeper’s Executive Director. “It’s all connected – and errant stormwater problems in Black Diamond matter to us just as much as stormwater problems in Seattle.”

“Coal mining operations can cause serious water pollution problems long after the mining stops. That’s what we are worried about here,” said Katelyn Kinn, Puget Soundkeeper’s Staff Attorney. “Without having an active permit that is tailored to current site conditions and challenges, ongoing pollution simply isn’t being controlled in the way the Clean Water Act requires.”

Puget Soundkeeper is an environmental non-profit whose mission is to protect and preserve the waters of Puget Sound. Since 1984, Soundkeeper has filed over 200 legal actions and funds from successful settlements typically go to restoring polluted waterways in the region through the Puget Sound Stewardship & Mitigation Fund.

Puget Soundkeeper will be represented in this matter by Meredith Crafton, Katherine Brennan and Richard Smith at Smith & Lowney, PLLC and Soundkeeper’s Staff Attorney Katelyn Kinn.

To view the Notice of Intent to Sue, visit this link.

Media Contacts:

Chris Rilling, Puget Soundkeeper & Executive Director (206) 297-7002

Katelyn Kinn, Staff Attorney (206) 297-7002

**Images for Media Coverage: Please contact Eloise Harris, Community Engagement Director,** 

Header Photo: Ray Still/Sound Publishing