An Environmental Fight Kept Out of the Gutter … Using Gutters!
With all of the angry, polarizing rhetoric that tends to fly back and forth between people on opposing sides of an issue, it’s nice to hear a story about two parties reaching agreement on the resolution of a problem. And it’s even nicer when the young people of a community receive an unexpected benefit.
That’s what happened in Eugene, Oregon, when a small fencing and deck products manufacturer was the target of a lawsuit by an environmental group that was concerned about pollution of an area river. Williamette Riverkeeper accused Real Wood Products of allowing unfiltered stormwater to run off into the Williamette River. This practice is illegal under the federal Clean Water Act without the required federal and state environmental permits.
This type of legal action could have easily escalated into a heated, high-profile conflict involving nasty allegations about sinister motives. But instead, the two parties reached an amicable settlement which not only addressed certain environmental concerns, but also provided a windfall to the children of nearby Creslane Elementary School.
Under the terms of the settlement, Real Wood Products admitted no wrongdoing and promised to take steps to conform to the Clean Water Act, which in practice means collecting and filtering stormwater before allowing it to leave the company’s property. In addition, the manufacturer compensated Williamette Riverkeeper for $3,000 in legal fees.
But the most noteworthy condition of the agreement is a $4,500 pledge to the elementary school to help build a demonstration rain garden. This project will help children learn how to capture stormwater and direct it through pipes and gutters to the plants, flowers, and grass in a designated area. Real Wood Products’ contribution will cover about 15% of the costs needed to construct the rain garden.
Travis Williams, the director of Williamette Riverkeeper, feels that the company’s donation to the project is an appropriate response to the lawsuit. Williams says the suit was intended to increase awareness of the types of pollutants that storm water can carry with it as it runs toward rivers. He adds that the school’s rain garden will show the kids and others in the community how they can conserve water by distributing rainwater to landscaping areas where it is most needed.
Williams is happy with the agreement, and even states that his intent wasn’t to penalize a company that’s trying to stay in business. For his part, owner Steve Sogge noted that Real Wood Products was in the process of obtaining the required permits when the lawsuit was filed last fall. Sogge also points out that the water quality at his facilities currently meets the standards set forth by the federal government.
But when a “tree-hugging group” and a “capitalist corporation” can collaborate, hammer out their differences cordially, and help some kids in the process; then that’s a story worth reporting.
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