The Arizona-based company behind the 70-acre solar farm located just outside of Estacada has been tagged with a $93,409 fine for polluting a wetland after failing to implement and monitor an erosion control plan required by the site's permit. The company is also accused of doing work outside the scope of the permit.
According to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, DEPCOM Power, Inc., was issued the fine for violating a federal stormwater discharge permit issued to their site located at 2565 S.E. Duus Road. The solar farm operated by Beaverton-based Pacific Northwest Solar, LLC, includes 35,000 photovoltaic cells on 6-foot-high racks which convert sunlight into 10 megawatts of power that is supplied to the Portland General Electric substation in Estacada about two miles away.
The project was approved by a 3-2 vote of the Clackamas Board of County Commissioners in August of 2017 and included a land-use exception to statewide protections on farmland. The Estacada site is just one of several utility scale solar projects operated by DEPCOM Power in Oregon.
In a letter issued to DEPCOM Power dated Oct. 15, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) alleges that the violations went beyond authorization received by the project's subcontractors from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct a 20-foot gravel access road and from the Oregon Department of State Lands to perform 10.4 acres of vegetation conversion.
"You did not implement the erosion and sediment control plan (ESCP) developed for this site and engaged in road building, grading and land clearing, that was not described in the ESCP," the letter stated. "In addition, you did not perform the visual monitoring required by the (permit) to ensure erosion and sediment controls were functioning to protect the numerous wetlands and streams within the project boundary."
By DEQ's definition, pollution can include "any alteration of the physical … properties of waters of the state."
According to Lauren Wirtis, DEQ public affairs specialist, the fine addresses the grading, vegetation removal, road construction and ruts and deep tracks caused by heavy equipment and vehicle traffic, which altered the physical properties of the wetland. It also led to sediment being discharged into the water.
According to Charlotte Scaglione, general counsel to DEPCOM Power, the company maintains that it has not violated any of the conditions for the federal stormwater permit it was issued for the site. Scaglione said the company plans to appeal the decision.
"The Duus Solar plant has been engineered in accordance with all applicable codes and standards. DEPCOM disagrees that it performed any work outside the scope of the permitted work," Scaglione wrote in an email. "The company has submitted a request for hearing and looks forward to the opportunity to present its position."
Wirits said that DEQ has received DEPCOM Power's request for a hearing, but no date has been set. According to Wirtis, DEQ will first have an informal discussion with the company to review the enforcement penalty.
PCC Structurals was also recently hit with a civil penalty from the Department of Environmental Quality. The aerospace engineering and manufacturing company located on the northern edge of Clackamas County was hit with a $9,600 fine for failing to conduct required monitoring of non-contact cooling water that it discharges into Johnson Creek which flows into the Willamette River near downtown Milwaukie.
"DEQ considers failing to conduct required wastewater monitoring a serious violation," the state wrote in a letter dated Sept. 21. "Without that information, DEQ and the public cannot determine whether permittees are complying with the pollution limits in their permits. Monitoring data also helps DEQ identify permittees who are having difficulty complying with their permits and may need technical assistance."
PCC Structurals was sued back in 2016 by neighbors of Southeast Portland who alleged the company's air emissions were toxic and contaminating their properties. In 2019, DEQ confirmed that Polychlorinated biphenyls — a class of manmade chemicals known as PCBs — discovered in Johnson Creek had come from the company's metal fabrication plant.
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