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Fight brews over Nichols permit

A Seattle-based environmental watchdog group is challenging a waste-water discharge permit issued by the Department of Ecology to Nichols Brothers Boat Builders Inc.

Puget Soundkeeper Alliance has appealed Ecology’s permit, which sets guidelines for waste-water discharge into the ground.

The new permit sets guidelines on how Nichols Brothers can discharge stormwater from its boat yard in Freeland. The permit, issued under the Federal Clean Water Act, sets new, tougher guidelines for water discharge into the ground from boat construction activities.

“This permit tightens water-quality protections intended to protect groundwater better than the current permit Nichols is operating under,” said Larry Altose, spokesman for Ecology.

The permit requires Nichols to pretreat water runoff from activities such as sandblasting and other construction activities. The boat yard is currently operating under a permit issued in 1997.

In spite of the tougher guidelines, the permit does not satisfy the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, an environmental watchdog group.

Along with the Friends of Holmes Harbor, the alliance appealed the permit on Sept. 8 with the state’s Pollution Control Board.

In its appeal, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance said Ecology should require Nichols to apply for and obtain a “national pollutant discharge elimination system,” or NPDES permit, to control the discharge of stormwater to surface waters in Holmes Harbor.

“The NPDES permit is issued from the Environmental Protection Agency and has stricter guidelines,” said Sue Joerger of the alliance.

“The real issue is their rainwater washing off from the yard into Puget Sound, not just discharging into the ground,” she said.

According to the new state permit, the boatyard must be in compliance with groundwater quality standards by Sept. 3, 2007.

In order to implement the restrictions in the new permit, it includes a compliance schedule with a timeline for short-term and long-term goals.

Nichols attorney Lynn Hicks said the company currently has a stormwater system in place that handles the runoff generated at the Freeland boatyard.

To accommodate any additional stormwater and comply with the permit, the company needs to upgrade. Hicks said the company is beginning to improve its system now.

“Several things are going on at once. We are proceeding with drilling the monitoring wells and initiating soil studies as required in the new permit,” Hicks said.

“Nichols wants to comply with (Ecology). We want to work with them,” she said.

“We are trying to accommodate any additional stormwater. In the long run we are going to do our best to comply. It’s better for the environment,” Hicks said.

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