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OPB: "Logging Road Runoff Decision Could Have Big Implications in NW"

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August 17, 2010 -- Today, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that rainwater channeled by logging roads into rivers and streams is pollution and can be regulated under the Clean Water Act.

http://news.opb.org/article/11130-logging-road-runoff-decision-could-have-big-implications-northwest/

Oregon Public Broadcasting

By David Nogueras

Rainwater channeled by logging roads into rivers and streams is pollution and can be regulated under the Clean Water Act. That was the decision today from the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a case involving the Tillamook State Forest.

As, David Nogueras reports the ruling could have wide-reaching implications for logging operations in the Pacific Northwest.

The Northwest Environmental Defense Center brought the case against the Oregon State Forester and the Oregon Board of Forestry as well as a number of timber companies.

The plaintiffs argued in court that storm runoff from forest roads carries gravel and sediment though a series of ditches and culverts into nearby rivers. They say it harms native salmon and trout populations.

Since the runoff was diverted by the roads, they argued it was what’s called "a point-source discharge," which requires a special permit under the Clean Water Act.

A three-judge panel unanimously agreed.

Chris Winter is an attorney representing the plaintiffs. He says the regulation of storm water has been discussed within the EPA for many years.

Chris Winter: "And so the decision, the clarity we now have from court will have repercussions beyond the Tillamook. And it will apply to private lands and federal forest service lands."

But Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resource Council, a group that represents forest products manufacturers and timber land owners, criticized the decision.

Tom Partin: "We think this is just absolutely a ludicrous ruling."

Partin says the courts decision leaves a number of questions unanswered when it comes to determining when a permit is needed, or determining when runoff is the result of natural causes or from a logging operation.

Partin also questions the ability of the regulatory bodies to manage the new permits.

Tom Partin: "How would they monitor the permits? How would they oversee them? They have the capability, number one and I don’t think they have knowledge base number two to do this system."

Partin says the implications of the decision are wide-ranging enough that he expects an appeal is imminent. 

In the meantime, both sides will be examining how a system of storm water regulation might work out in the forest.

A spokesman for the Oregon Department of Forestry says the agency is studying the decision, but had no other comment.