Arrow-right Camera
News >  Spokane

Hunters Sue Over Herbicide Application Agency Should Have Known People Would Be In Hanford Reach, Suit Says

Two hunters who say they were illegally sprayed with herbicides last year in the Hanford Reach filed a federal lawsuit in Spokane Friday.

John Hough and Linda Wohlers sued Precision Helicopters of Newberg, Ore., which sprayed the chemical, and South Columbia Basin Irrigation District, which hired the company.

Helicopter pilot Dennis Sturdevant and Newberg attorney Michael Gunn also are named as defendants.

“This is not a case about the use of pesticides generally, but the irresponsible use of pesticides in this particular case,” said Michael Patterson of Seattle, attorney for the plaintiffs.

It’s “intolerable” that a senior manager at the irrigation district didn’t stop the spraying when he knew hunters were in the area, Patterson said.

Irrigation District Manager Shannon McDaniel was on vacation Friday and unavailable for comment, a district receptionist said.

In December, Hough, from Bainbridge Island, filed a $125,000 claim with the irrigation district for medical expenses and “general damages.” Wohlers and her relatives, from Redmond, also filed a claim for $125,000. Claims are the first step in suing a public agency.

The lawsuit doesn’t seek specific damages.

The incidents violate federal pesticide regulations, the lawsuit says, because the district and the helicopter company “chose to spray toxic chemicals in a popular public area, in a concentration 15 times greater than allowed by law.”

Gunn, a Precision shareholder and company attorney, is being sued for “outrage” because he allegedly tried to intimidate Hough, according to the lawsuit.

Nine days after the incident on Nov. 2, 1996, Gunn is accused of writing Hough, threatening to sue him if he persisted in damaging Precision’s reputation by pressing his complaints. Gunn denied anyone was in the area during the spraying, the lawsuit says.

Gunn, reached at his law office, refused comment Friday.

Hough, 51, chief executive officer of The Rockey Co., a Seattle-based public relations firm, was hunting pheasants with his two dogs on Nov. 2. They were in wetlands in the remote Wahluke Slope Habitat Management Area about 13 miles south of Othello.

A helicopter suddenly appeared and twice sprayed 2,4-D near him and his dogs, Hough said.

About 30 minutes later, Hough said he became dizzy and light-headed. He developed stomach cramps, and his dogs started to wheeze, he said.

“For approximately an hour, he laid on the ground and was too sick to walk,” the lawsuit states.

The next day, Wohlers was among hunters who were exposed to 2,4-D near Mesa Lake, the lawsuit said. Her symptoms included asthmatic breathing, severe coughing and sinus congestion.

The herbicide is commonly used to destroy broad-leaf plants. The label says it should not be applied in wetlands, or in a way that will contact workers or others, “either directly or though drift.”

Hough has called the spraying a “massive demonstration of poor judgment.”

The Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have investigated the incident. In April, the FAA concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to substantiate Hough’s claims.

But the EPA fined Precision for three violations of federal pesticide law: for spraying near Hough and other hunters, and mixing the 2,4-D improperly. The company paid a $1,500 fine but didn’t admit wrongdoing.

Three weeks ago, the Washington Agriculture Department said Sturdevant didn’t have a valid applicator’s license on Nov. 2. His license was suspended for 32 days.

Washington state also sent a “notice of correction” to the irrigation district, warning it to follow product labels in the future.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Karen Dorn Steele Staff writer Associated Press contributed to this report.