The owner of a Chehalis business fined $197,000 by the state Department of Ecology in 2018 for illegally dumping waste containing lead and arsenic down a toilet and outside the building of the business’ previous location in Lacey has filed to appeal a Thurston County Superior Court judge’s ruling requiring the business to pay the full penalty amount plus interest.
Judge Erik Price ruled in favor of the Department of Ecology on May 14, requiring Seasoft Scuba Inc. and its owner, Bruce Justinen, to collectively pay the full $197,000 principal amount plus $53,840 in interest and a $511 attorney fee, for a total of $251,351.
The principal amount and attorney fee both have a 12% interest rate.
Justinen appealed Price’s decision on June 9 and the case is currently making its way through the Court of Appeals.
The case centers around Justinen and Seasoft’s failure to pay or appeal the initial $197,000 penalty, which the Department of Ecology issued on Dec. 10, 2018.
Under state law, Justinen and the business had 30 days to either appeal the penalty or file an application for relief before the penalty became due and payable. The Jan. 18 deadline passed, and the Department of Ecology sent Justinen and the business a certified letter on Jan. 24 notifying that the payment was past due and “failure to submit payment would result in a collection action,” according to court documents.
On May 15, the Attorney General’s Office sent letters to the defendants requiring them to pay the full $197,000 amount by June 14, 2019. That deadline passed, and on July 24, 2019, the Department of Ecology filed a tort claim against Justinen and Seasoft Scuba Gear Inc. in Thurston County Superior Court.
At the time, Justinen told The Chronicle he intended to appeal the penalty and even wrote out an appeal and gave it to an attorney he hired, but said that miscommunication led to it never being filed. He claimed to have asked the state to reconsider, but said it declined to do so.
Seasoft was fined following a 2018 investigation in which the Department of Ecology and the Department of Labor & Industries found that “lead dust was present on many exposed surfaces inside Seasoft Scuba’s northwest Lacey warehouse, including unsold merchandise, table tops, walls and employee eating areas,” according to a Department of Ecology news release. “Outside, lead shot was found near mixing and dumping locations, and contamination coated soils, shrubs and the surface of the parking lot. Sampling confirmed that lead and arsenic contamination were present in the soil.”
According to the Department of Ecology, the waste was created by a process Seasoft used to remove corrosion from lead shot reclaimed from shooting ranges, which was then reused to manufacture diving weights.
“Wastewater from the process became a toxic slurry of lead and arsenic,” according to the news release.
Seasoft Scuba Inc. moved from its Lacey location — which was listed as a toxic cleanup site due to arsenic, lead, non-halogenated solvents and petroleum found in the soil under the building — to downtown Chehalis in April 2019.
Cleanup on the Lacey site was completed in June 2020.
Justinen previously told The Chronicle he disputed “nearly every word” of the report prepared by Ecology investigators and said he intended to sue the state for libel and slander based on the news release on the investigation and fine.
He did so on Dec. 11, 2020, filing a tort claim against the state and Dave Bennett, communications manager for the Hazardous Waste and Toxics Reduction Program at Ecology, for alleged “defamation, defamation by implication, false light, outrage, negligence and jury demand,” according to the complaint.
The complaint accuses the Department of Ecology of defaming Justinen and Seasoft in the Dec. 11, 2018, news release due to an alleged lack of “any definitive proof or even jurisdiction,” according to court documents.
Justinen claims two of Seasoft’s employees were not following proper procedure and disposed of contaminated water in a 15- by 25-foot area near the building “where the water went down to a maximum depth of one foot,” according to court documents. Justinen claims the amount of lead within the water was “incorrectly released,” with the real amount “the equivalence of three to five 12-gauge shotgun shells,” according to court documents.
Justinen called the BBs found at the site “occasional wayward BBs” that were cleaned up regularly.
The Department of Ecology is accused of “purposefully directing an employee to take used lead shot to Mr. Justinen’s personal residence … without Mr. Justinen’s knowledge or support,” according to court documents.
Within the complaint, Justinen “concedes that it engaged in minor infractions of the environmental rules” but claims the $197,000 penalty amount was egregious compared to penalties issued against “others who have violated environmental protection regulations” and called the amount “overly cruel and unusual.”
The complaint calls for Thurston County Superior Court to strike the $197,000 penalty and compensate Justinen for “loss of income, damage to reputation, pain and suffering and other economic and non-economic damages,” according to court documents.
This tort claim is currently making its way through Thurston County Superior Court.
Previous Chronicle coverage was included in this report.