Pacific Lumber Mounts Last-Minute Attack on Public Hearing Process
September 14, 2005
For more information, please contact:
Larry Evans, EPIC, 707-499-2994
Sam Johnston, EPIC, 415-377-0415
Humboldt County, CA — In a last-minute hearing Tuesday afternoon, Maxxam/PL was able to gain a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) that short-circuited a public hearing by the Regional Water Quality Control Board (Water Board) to consider testimony about water quality permits designed to reduce erosion leading to flooding and degradation of salmonid habitat in Freshwater Creek and Elk River.
In a ruling seen as highly unusual, residents and other concerned citizens were shocked when Judge Bruce Watson acceded to the demands of Maxxam attorneys Chris Carr and Frank Bacik. The company lawyers argued that the evidentiary hearings scheduled since June of this year to be held on September 14 and 15, represented an unfair process that limited the “rights” of the company and a minority group of downstream neighbors–many with previous financial relationships with the company–who oppose the proposed rule package. Their contention begs the question of why, after an exhaustive process lasting more than eight years, Maxxam waited until days before the planned hearings to file their desperate petition.
Deputy Attorney General Nick Stern, joined by Water Board counsel Erik Spiess, rebutted the company’s challenge to the Water Board’s jurisdictional authority regarding impacts of logging. Reading directly from Senate Bill 810, passed in 2004, deputy AG Stern quoted the applicable language of this legislation that provides water quality regulators the authority to fulfill the long-failed function of the California Department of Forestry (CDF) to protect the public trust resource of clean water. The state’s attorney also argued that the Humboldt court lacked jurisdiction in the case until all administrative remedies had been exhausted. Regarding the hearings planned for Ferndale for the next two days, this is particularly pertinent since no decision was scheduled as to whether to adopt the proposed permitting process until the end of the month.
Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) President Larry Evans said outside the courtroom, “Here is another cynical ploy by Maxxam to obstruct regulatory efforts to reign in the reckless overcutting that has been their standard practice since the hostile takeover of PL in 1985.” Evans pointed out that, “Maxxam has a record of over 800 violations of the Forest Practice Rules documented between 1995 and 2004, and “their irresponsible and lawless practices, have caused significant environmental damage to not just Freshwater and Elk, but also Jordan Creek, Bear River, the Van Duzen River, the Mattole River and many other Humboldt County streams.”
In reply to attorney Carr’s allegation that the state’s case “didn’t hold water,” Evans observed that “neither does Elk River or Freshwater Creek.”
Judge Watson issued his ruling about the long-anticipated hearings at 5 pm, but in a final bizarre twist to the proceedings, members of the public were denied access to the ruling. Instead, the court clerk told those waiting for the decision that they should contact the attorneys to discover the results. However, due to the late hour and unknown location of those attorneys, this Kafkaesque paradox challenged citizens to pursue unconventional methods, from calling Water Board members at home to phone canvassing area motels to find out whether the next day’s hearings were on or off.