Significant Habitat Restoration Project Planned to Complete Superfund Settlement for Thea Foss Waterway

Published Aug 17, 2015
Environmental Enforcement

The Thea Foss and Wheeler-Osgood waterways were the heart of Tacoma’s industrial waterfront for over a hundred years. Cleanup of the resulting Superfund site took place in the early 2000s.

Under the natural resource damages (NRD) settlement announced in August 2015, the second and final chapter of the Superfund story will come to a close. The Thea Foss NRD settlement involves 56 responsible parties, who will collectively ensure construction of a habitat restoration project located on the White River, in King and Pierce Counties in Washington State. This project will restore more than 120 acres of floodplain habitat for salmon. The NRD settlement makes the public whole for the injury to natural resources during the time that the waterways in Tacoma were polluted before the cleanup.

The settling parties are required to fund construction, monitoring and maintenance of the restoration project, and ensure that at least 32.5 acres of the site be inundated by the river and accessible to fish. The settlement also includes payment of restitution to the federal, state and tribal natural resource trustees. The payments, totaling over $1 million, cover the trustees’ assessment, project management and environmental restoration oversight costs.

Tupper Mack Wells attorney Matthew Wells has been part of forging this agreement for over 10 years. The settlement reflects the collaborative efforts of the settling parties, the natural resource trustees, including National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Department of the Interior, the Washington State Department of Ecology, the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, and the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, and King County, which will actually be constructing the restoration project. According to the Department of Interior press release, “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.” For more information on this project and settlement, contact Matthew Wells at

To view a copy of the consent decree, click here.