Arrow-right Camera


Mike Chappell, environmental law expert, dead at 44

Mike Chappell (Gonzaga University)
Mike Chappell (Gonzaga University)

Michael Chappell, who founded Gonzaga University’s Environmental Law Clinic, died unexpectedly Sunday while he was golfing with friends.

An autopsy was performed Monday, but the cause of death wasn’t immediately known.

Chappell, 44, and his family moved to Spokane about three years ago from San Francisco. During a relatively short tenure in the Inland Northwest, colleagues said Chappell built up an impressive array of water quality achievements.

“Mike is one of the few people around who really had a passion and expertise for making sure that our water in our community was safe and clean,” said George Critchlow, a Gonzaga University law professor. “He had dedicated his life to making sure water was unpolluted.”

Chappell helped start the Spokane Riverkeeper program and then founded Gonzaga’s Environmental Law Clinic in 2009 and served as its director. The clinic provides free representation to nonprofit groups in the Northwest, with a priority on Spokane River issues.

In that role, Chappell helped negotiate a $300,000 settlement with the city of Spokane over cancer-causing PCBs flowing into the Spokane River through storm drains. He was also part of a new task force working to keep industrial toxins out of the river.

Chappell took a pragmatic approach to meeting water quality goals, said Rick Eichstaedt, staff attorney for the Spokane Riverkeeper program.

His standard pitch to polluters went something like this, Eichstaedt said: “Here’s what the law says. We can fight over it and if you do, you’ll lose. Or we can just come up with solutions.”

Chappell is survived by his wife, Cynthia, and the couple’s two young sons, Eichstaedt said.