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Environmental group, timber firm Weyerhaeuser to settle over pollution claims at Longview timber mill

FILE: Timber-processing facilities, including Weyerheauser's, line the banks of the Columbia River near the Port of Longview in Longview, Wash.
Elaine Thompson
FILE: Timber-processing facilities, including Weyerheauser's, line the banks of the Columbia River near the Port of Longview in Longview, Wash.

Less than two months after it sued over alleged river pollution in Cowlitz County, a group of environmental activists inked a settlement with one of the world’s largest timber firms.

Columbia Riverkeeper and Weyerhaeuser will settle on a deal to end the former’s lawsuit in exchange for upgrades at a mill in Longview, Washington, that is at the heart of the activists’ concerns.

Columbia Riverkeeper first sued the Seattle-based timber giant on March 7, alleging its Longview mill has been discharging harmful levels of run-off into the Columbia River. Riverkeeper alleged the discharges hurt oxygen levels for fish and can spur the growth of harmful bacteria.

In a proposed settlement signed on Friday, Weyerhaeuser agreed to reroute a stormwater pipe, aerate a pond, install new monitoring devices and filters, and change on-site procedures to “more actively manage wood and bark debris.”

The proposal also calls for Weyerhaeuser to be fined up to $5,000 for every instance of future pollution between 2023 and 2025. The company will also give $600,000 to the Portland nonprofit Seeding Justice. Court filings show the nonprofit plans to put the money into grants for river restoration.

“Weyerhaeuser is a huge company, and to see an agreement of this magnitude with this type of penalty really shows that no corporation has the right to flout the law and pollute this river,” said Simone Anter, a staff attorney with Columbia Riverkeeper.

The settlement is contingent on approval from the U.S. Department of Justice. It must then be signed by a federal judge.

Weyerhaeuser representatives did not respond to requests for comment by press time. In the proposal, the company denies any wrongdoing. The settlement calls on Riverkeeper to drop related, future claims.

The Longview mill has been hit multiple times with allegations of pollution in recent years.

In 2020, the mill and its immediate neighbors – North Pacific Paper Corporation and Nippon Dynawave – all landed in hot water with the Washington Department of Ecology over dozens of reported instances of pollution between September 2019 and April 2020.

The trio of companies comprises a 700-acre industrial complex, once owned entirely by Weyerhaeuser until it parceled off its pulp, thermo-mechanical and de-ink mills in 2016. The companies still share infrastructure.

In February, the Ecology Department also fined the mill $40,000 for failing “42 times to meet pollution limits” between October 2020 and November 2021.

Two days later, the regulators also fined the North Pacific Paper Corporation $68,000 for 71 documented cases of pollution.

Anter has said Columbia Riverkeeper has “kept its eyes” on the complex for years. Anter said the organization’s focus on them predated her own tenure there.

“We’ve been monitoring the stormwater samples there and trying to understand what’s going on,” she said.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Troy Brynelson