Washington Supreme Court sides with state’s Department of Natural Resources
May 24, 2018
Today, in its Pope Resources decision, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and held that the polluting company alone, not the state, is liable for millions of dollars of environmental cleanup costs under the state’s Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA).
Between 1853 and 1995, sawmill operations were present in Port Gamble Bay, which were operated by Pope Resources (and its predecessor) beginning in 1890. From 1974 to 1995, DNR leased a small portion of Port Gamble Bay to Pope Resources/Olympic Property Group. The operation of the sawmill resulted in deposition of wood waste and wood debris and accumulation of creosote treated pilings. Collectively, these materials resulted in contamination of the tidelands and bedlands of the bay.
In today’s decision, the Supreme Court found that DNR is not an owner or operator of the Port Gamble facility within the meaning of MTCA. This means that Pope Resources/Olympic Property Group alone, not DNR and Washington taxpayers, are liable for environmental cleanup costs at this site under MTCA.
Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz issued the following statement:
“This is a victory for Washington’s taxpayers over corporate polluters. I applaud the Washington State Supreme Court for holding owners and operators responsible for the pollution that occurs on their watch. This is consistent with the Model Toxics Control Act’s goal of ensuring that polluters pay for the environmental damage they cause.”