The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife says Puget Sound Energy needs to fix toxic utility poles installed in a Kenmore wetland.
The poles are right next to Marilyn Knutson's home, where she keeps her horses in a fenced in pasture.
Knutson says she alerted WDFW about the new transmission line, which violates PSE's own permit. The wood is treated with a carcinogenic preservative called penta. It's not allowed in wetlands like the one around Swamp Creek.
"I worry about them rubbing up against the poles, getting it on their fur. They lick themselves," she said.
Knutson has lived near the wetland for 50 years. She is heartbroken about the latest challenge to her efforts to protect it.
"This wetland can make me cry," she said. "I do love my wetland. I love everything about it."
PSE claims the pole installation was a mistake, saying crews didn't realize they were crossing a wetland.
KING 5 received the following statement from PSE:
"We recently rebuilt our Moorlands-Vitulli transmission line that serves the Bothell and Kenmore neighborhoods. It's part of our continuing efforts to provide safe, reliable power to the area. During that work, we identified that poles treated with penta (pentachlorophenol) were placed in the wetlands in that corridor. The bases of the poles are in casings in the soil which provide stability and a barrier between the groundwater and the pole. However, since the casings end at top of the soil line, we immediately began working on solutions to extend the water barrier up the poles. That remediation work is underway with a variety of options being discussed."
Knutson doesn't believe PSE knew about the issue until her requests for information prompted action from WDFW. According to PSE, officials realized the error soon after installation.
In a letter sent from WDFW to PSE, Assistant Regional Habitat Program Manager Stewart Reinbold writes that he wants a response from PSE by November 4:
"Also as I have stated in my communications with Mr. Padvorac if PSE had asked to use Penta treated piles WDFW would have tried to work out an encapsulation situation. This would have included installation of a steel potentially plastic pile around the treated wood with a sealed concrete bottom and the surrounding piling extending up the Penta pile to above the 100 yr flood elevation. However at this point the Penta treated piles were not permitted and do not encapsulate the treated piles. Further the voicemail response from Mr. Padvorac stating the 5/8 crush rock surround part of the pile will stop any leaching is not correct."
Bill Lider and the Sno-KING watershed council want the poles removed. The chemical they're leeching can hurt salmon and other wildlife, then move up the food chain to humans.
"They obviously weren't paying attention to the requirements of their permit which told them not to use penta. Whether it was intentional or accidental is irrelevant," Lider said.
PSE says the new line provides safe and reliable power, and they'll find a way to provide a safe habitat for wildlife as well.
In the letter, Reinbold gives PSE until Friday to actively work with WDFW toward a resolution or else enforcement action could follow. However, Region 4 Habitat Program Manager Brendan Brokes tells KING 5:
"The Department of Fish and Wildlife is committed to working with PSE, as with all of our customers, to protect fish life and help them come into compliance with their Hydraulic Project Approval. We have long history of working PSE and this incident is an anomaly. We feel confident that PSE we will be able to work with them to resolve the concern. I'm still seeking information regarding this specific situation, but involving our enforcement division is typically reserved for the most egregious violations. At this point we have no reason to believe we will need their assistance."
PSE may have to wait until after salmon spawning season and winter to deal with the poles.
Copyright 2016 KING