Louis Dreyfus nears resolution of grain spill case

by Eric Schroeder
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SEATTLE, WASHINGTON, U.S. —  Puget Soundkeeper, a citizen advocacy group whose mission is to protect and preserve the waters of Puget Sound, in mid-July settled a Clean Water Act case with multiple Louis Dreyfus corporations that the group said will result in “huge changes” benefitting Elliott Bay and the Seattle waterfront.

According to a consent decree that now must be approved by a federal judge, Louis Dreyfus has agreed to pay $699,000 to settle allegations that the company spilled grain in Elliott Bay. In addition to the monetary payment, Louis Dreyfus has agreed to modify its pier and conveyance system to prevent spills while unloading rail cars and loading vessels.

Louis Dreyfus operates a 24-acre bulk grain storage and export facility at Seattle’s Pier 86 that includes a rail yard, massive grain silos, a grain elevator, and a shipping pier.

Puget Soundkeeper initiated a citizen lawsuit against all five Louis Dreyfus corporate entities in 2014, based on what it said was evidence that the company’s grain terminal on the Seattle waterfront was discharging polluted stormwater to the marine environment, a violation of their industrial stormwater permit. Several months later, the group received a citizen pollution report with video of one of the loading chutes spilling massive amounts of grain into the water.

Puget SoundKeeper
Chris Wilke, executive director of Puget Soundkeeper.

“Grain and other organic matter acts like fertilizer in the marine environment,” said Chris Wilke, executive director of Puget Soundkeeper. “It increases growth of algae and sucks up extra oxygen, creating dead zones where aquatic organisms can’t survive. Elliott Bay is already polluted, and four species of Puget Sound salmon migrate along this shoreline. That was a real red flag for us.”

After receiving the video, Puget Soundkeeper said it began to look more closely at grain spillage from the terminal and discovered that spills were frequent, both from the loading chutes and from the pier. The settlement requires extensive upgrades to the loading system at the terminal to prevent such spills.

Puget SoundKeeper
Katelyn Kinn, a staff attorney for Puget Soundkeeper.

“This is a huge win for Puget Sound,” said Katelyn Kinn, a staff attorney for Puget Soundkeeper. “Such a large site can have a massive impact on waterways if the discharge isn’t handled correctly, and we’re now confident that Louis Dreyfus will be successful at controlling pollution from their site.”

Earlier this year, Puget Soundkeeper filed for summary judgement in the case, and the court found more than 1,500 violations of the Clean Water Act at the grain terminal site, from both stormwater and grain discharge. The Clean Water Act provides for civil penalties of up to $37,500 per violation per day. In lieu of those penalties, Louis Dreyfus, which has declined to comment publicly on the case, has agreed to pay $699,000 to the Puget Sound Stewardship and Mitigation Fund, administered by the Rose Foundation. The fund, which began with Puget Soundkeeper’s $1.5 million settlement against BNSF Railway in 2013, awards grants to third-party groups doing mitigation and restoration work to build resilience in Puget Sound and speed recovery in areas affected by pollution.

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