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
“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
“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.”