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Press Release

Parties to Restore Significant Habitat in Washington State River to Resolve Natural Resource Damage Liability at the Thea Foss Waterway

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

More than 56 parties have agreed to restore key salmon habitat on the White River, which flows through King and Pierce Counties in Washington State, to resolve their liability for natural resource damages caused by hazardous substances released into the Thea Foss and Wheeler-Osgood Waterways in Tacoma’s Commencement Bay, the Justice Department, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Department of the Interior announced today. 

The habitat project will reopen 121 acres of historic floodplain for salmon, and reduces future flood risk to nearby homes and businesses. The project results from the collaborative efforts of settling parties and natural resource trustees: NOAA, the Department of the Interior, the Washington State Department of Ecology, the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, and the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe.

Under a settlement filed in federal district court in Tacoma, the parties will fund the Countyline Levee Setback Project, which will restore and provide off-channel rearing habitat for salmon and steelhead on the Lower White River in the vicinity of Pacific, Auburn and Sumner, Wash. The White River is one of the Puget Sounds’s most important watersheds for imperiled salmon and steelhead. The project will also help reduce the risk of flood damage for more than 200 nearby homes and businesses by allowing floodwaters more room to flow without damage.

The parties will monitor and adaptively manage the project under a 10-year plan that ensures at least 32.5 acres of the site are inundated by the river and thus accessible to fish. The parties also will pay more than $1 million towards the natural resource trustees’ assessment, oversight and the long-term stewardship costs maintaining the environmental value of the project over the next 100 years and beyond.

“This settlement is an important step toward repairing damaged natural resources from pollution in Commencement Bay, restoring critical salmon habitat in the area watershed, and reducing flooding for residents,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.  “Through this settlement, we are again demonstrating our commitment to protecting and restoring vital natural resources in the Northwest, which will result in lasting benefits to people and their environment.”

The settling parties consist of companies, individuals, and government entities who are past or current owners and/or operators of or successors to facilities that released hazardous substances to the waterways.   For many decades, the Thea Foss and Wheeler Osgood waterways received discharges of wastewater, chemical wastes, sludges, and miscellaneous industrial waste from a variety of industrial sources and sewers.  The contaminants discharged to the waterways include PCBs, PAHs, cadmium, lead and zinc.  Bis-2-ethyl hexylphthalate also was discovered to be widespread throughout the Thea Foss waterway at significant levels associated with biological effects.

This is the 20th natural resources settlement related to pollution in Commencement Bay, long the industrial heart of Tacoma. Through these settlements, more than 350 acres of salmon habitat will have been restored to offset the injuries to salmon and other fish from pollution of Commencement Bay.

“This is a great example of how providing sound habitat for our special salmon species provides benefits for people as well,” said General Counsel Lois Schiffer, NOAA.  “These approaches improve the resilience of Northwest Communities.”

The settlement resolves the natural resource trustees’ claims against the settling parties, which are contained in a complaint filed with the consent decree.  The complaint asserts claims for natural resource damages in Commencement Bay under the Superfund statute, the Clean Water Act, the Oil Pollution Act, and Washington’s Model Toxics Control Act.

The consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court.  A copy of the consent decree is available on the Justice Department website at

Updated April 5, 2024

Press Release Number: 15-981