The Ecological Rights Foundation alleges that Schmidbauer Lumber violated the Clean Water Act in a case filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, located in the Burton Federal Building in San Francisco.

SAN FRANCISCO — A San Francisco-based law firm handling a case alleging Clean Water Act violations against an Arcata-based lumber company is hoping that a quick settlement can be reached.

Christopher Sproul is an attorney with Environmental Advocates, which is representing the Ecological Rights Foundation in the case. He told The Northern California Record that the foundation filed the complaint Dec. 30 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against Schmidbauer Lumber Inc. and Schmidbauer Building Supply LLC.

“The overwhelming majority of cases like this settle,” Sproul said. “We hope Schmidbauer will agree to settle and not want to spend a lot of money going back and forth with lawyers in court.”

Sproul is being assisted on the case by Jodene Isaacs of Environmental Advocates. Co-counsel is Fredric Evenson, an attorney with the Ecology Law Center in Santa Cruz.

Based in Garberville, the Ecological Rights Foundation is a nonprofit corporation that focuses on ensuring a clean, healthy and diverse environment, according to the group's website.

Sproul said that the ERF pursues wastewater, clean water and pollution prevention cases.

“One of the programs under the Clean Water Act focuses on addressing pollution problems, including stormwater runoff from any industrial facility,” he said. “It is a program in which each site may not pose a big problem, but it is a cumulative program.”

According to Sproul, ERF investigators uncovered the violations by Schmidbauer during a routine investigation, which also was reported on by The Northern California Record on Jan. 12.

“First and foremost, the priority is to get better pollution prevention measures in place at the facility,” he said. “These are BMPs, or best management practices.”

Sproul noted that some of the BMPs can include tips like storing materials indoors and out of the rain to avoid polluted runoff. They also can include installing filters and rerouting stormwater runoff.

Sproul also said that Schmidbauer hasn’t implemented a stormwater-runoff pollution plan at its facility and it hasn’t created best practices.

The legal team has requested a jury trial, even though it is never likely to go that far.

“We have never actually had a jury trial in one of these cases and I don’t think we will have one here,” Sproul said. “We want to keep our options open.”

In addition to the best management practices, Sproul said that the Clean Water Act provides for civil penalties for entities that have violated the act.

“Rather than having them pay a penalty to the U.S. Treasury, we would rather see them put money into local environmental protection projects,” he said.

Sproul said the legal team will seek the same outcome for this case.

“We have had a pretty successful success rate in getting people to do that,” he said. “We are hopeful that Schmidbauer will agree to this and we won’t have to go to a trial.”

With that, Sproul said the next step in the case will be settlement talks.

“Schmidbauer has indicated they are open to that,” he said. “We are hopeful this case will settle like the others and they will install adequate pollution-prevention devices and help fund local environmental improvements, and we will call it a day.”

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