A Battle Ground construction business has settled with an environmental group over allegations that the former violated the federal Clean Water Act.
Columbia Riverkeeper announced in a news release earlier this month that it had settled with Tapani Inc. for $347,000 plus attorney fees and a few other stipulations. According to court documents, the business operates a metal fabrication shop on Southeast 6th Place in Battle Ground, where it also performs vehicle and equipment repair, fueling, equipment storage, staging and warehousing at the site.
Columbia Riverkeeper filed their complaint in January, which alleged that Tapani had discharged unhealthy levels of copper into Salmon Creek, a waterway near the business and tributary of the Columbia River, and increased turbidity of the water.
Riverkeeper alleged that those actions violated the Clean Water Act as well as state laws that restrict the amount of pollution released into waterways by industrial facilities. In their release, they stated that even low levels of copper are toxic to young salmon and steelhead, stocks of which live in Salmon Creek. Increased turbidity, or sediment in the water, could lead to bacterial growth that could impair recreational activities in the water.
The environmental group further alleged that Tapani “repeatedly failed to collect and analyze industrial stormwater pollution” which violated federal and state requirements, “undermining the public’s and government regulators’ ability to hold the company accountable,” according to their release.
“Industrial polluters like Tapani must take responsibility for fouling local waterways,” Simone Anter, an associate attorney with Columbia Riverkeeper, stated in the release. “The settlement ensures tangible results for clean water and funds important work to improve salmon habitat and water quality.”
“Assuming that the Department of Justice signs off and the court enters the order, we are happy to have the litigation behind us,” Connie Sue Martin, an attorney for Tapani, said in a phone call with The Reflector. The ongoing litigation proved disruptive for business as usual at the Battle Ground business, she said.
Martin said that Tapani acknowledged that there were problems with its reporting process, but maintained that any discharge was in excess of allowed limits. The settlement’s stipulations stated that the company made no admissions to Riverkeeper’s allegations.
“It was a reporting problem,” Martin said, “(but Tapani) does not agree that it was discharging copper in excess of permit limits into waters that made their way into Salmon Creek.”
Martin said Tapani had been making improvements to stormwater management to its facilities since 2014, through simple things like asphalt paving to hiring an environmental consultant who specialized in stormwater permit compliance. She said better reporting was also part of improvements the company would make, something required as part of the settlement.
The $374,000 payout from Tapani would be in two installments of $187,000 each to the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment to be used for projects benefiting water quality in the Columbia River, according to court documents.
As to why a settlement made sense rather than going to trial, Martin said that regardless of what side of a suit one was on there was always risk when going to litigation. As a business decision, settling was better for the company.
Martin said that Tapani was a family-owned business and wanted to reiterate its commitment to the Battle Ground community.
“This is their community. They want to be a good neighbor. They want to be a good environmental steward,” she said.