Spokane’s wastewater department will spend more than $300,000 to settle a claim alleging that dangerous chemicals were released into the Spokane River through city storm drains.
Most of the money will be used to improve the river’s water quality.
The Center for Justice’s Spokane Riverkeeper program threatened to sue the city in 2009, claiming that the amount of polychlorinated biphenyls – PCBs – flowing from the city’s storm water system violated the federal Clean Water Act.
Under the settlement, the city will add $125,000 to its program that posts signs in front of storm water drains to warn people that they flow to the river. The city also will pay $125,000 to the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment of Oakland, Calif. The foundation has agreed to use the money for projects that will improve water quality in the Spokane River watershed. The city will pay $10,000 to the Spokane River Forum to allow the group to produce a publication about storm water. The city also will be responsible for about $41,000 of the Center for Justice’s legal expenses.
The Spokane City Council on Monday voted 5-1 to approve the settlement. Councilman Bob Apple cast the dissenting vote. Council President Joe Shogan was absent.
“I couldn’t be more impressed with the way the city handled this,” said Michael Chappell, the attorney who represented the Center for Justice.
Chappell, who directs the Environmental Law Clinic at Gonzaga Law School, said the settlement helps the city move toward solving the problem of PCBs without wasting money fighting the claim in court. He said the Center for Justice pursued the case after readings from storm water samples showed the PCBs were many times higher than what is allowed.
“The responsibility is ours to keep our river clean,” said City Councilman Steve Corker. “We’re the first line of defense.”
Councilman Bob Apple said the standards in for PCBs in the Spokane River are unattainable.
“Any group can take a lawsuit against the city on the same grounds and we would be forced to settle with them as well, I guess,” Apple said.
City officials say they hope that the city could be prevented from paying further claims as long as they can persuade the state Department of Ecology that it is making progress on reducing PCBs in storm water.
PCBs can cause cancer and other health problems, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The chemical was banned in 1979.
“We’re not talking a stubbed toe here,” said Councilman Richard Rush. “It’s toxic.”
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