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News / Business / Clark County Business

Tapani agrees to settle water-quality suit

Battle Ground construction firm denies it violated federal law

By Jeffrey Mize, Columbian staff reporter
Published: September 4, 2019, 8:00pm

A Battle Ground construction company has agreed to improve its stormwater pollution plan and provide $374,000 for water quality projects to settle a lawsuit alleging the company violated the federal Clean Water Act.

Columbia Riverkeeper announced Wednesday that it has reached an out-of-court settlement with Tapani Inc., which has about 500 employees and handles a variety of construction projects.

Columbia Riverkeeper is a nonprofit organization working to restore and protect water quality in the Columbia River, from its headwaters in British Columbia to the Pacific Ocean.

“Today’s agreement is a win for clean water,” Simone Anter, associate attorney with Columbia Riverkeeper, said in a statement. “Industrial polluters like Tapani must take responsibility for fouling local waterways. The settlement ensures tangible results for clean water and funds important work to improve salmon habitat and water quality.”

U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle in Tacoma must approve the agreement before it becomes final. The settlement states Tapani makes no admission to any part of allegations made by Columbia Riverkeeper.

Connie Sue Martin, a Seattle attorney representing Tapani, emphasized the company does not agree it violated the Clean Water Act.

“We do acknowledge that there were reporting requirements … that we failed to comply with,” she said in a telephone interview.

Tapani agreed to contribute to restoration projects as part of being “good environmental stewards,” she said.

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“It’s always better to reach a settlement agreement than to roll the dice with litigation,” Martin said. “It was largely a business decision but also because they want to be good environmental stewards.”

Tapani operates a metal fabrication facility along with vehicle and equipment repair, fueling, equipment storage, warehousing and other activities at 1904 S.E. Sixth Place, Battle Ground.

According to Columbia Riverkeeper, Tapani violated the Clean Water Act and state laws restricting how much pollution can be released into waterways. Specifically, the environmental group alleged that Tapani discharged unhealthy levels of copper and increased water turbidity due to activities from its Battle Ground site for more than five years.

The group says copper is toxic to young salmon and steelhead, even at low concentrations. Turbidity, caused by high sediment levels in waterways, can lead to harmful bacterial growth that impairs swimming and other recreation.

Columbia Riverkeeper also accused Tapani of repeatedly failing to collect and analyze its stormwater pollution in violation of federal and state requirements, which undermined government regulators’ ability to hold the company accountable.

The settlement required Tapani to conduct a full evaluation of its facility and to prepare a new stormwater pollution prevention plan. The company agreed to submit that plan to Columbia Riverkeeper this week and to provide up to $3,000 for the group to review the plan and offer comments and suggestions.

Tapani also agreed to:

• Send two $187,000 payments to Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment, an Oakland, Calif.-based nonprofit group working to protect the environment, consumers and public health, for projects benefiting water quality in the Columbia River.

• Collect and analyze water samples, consistent with its stormwater permit issued by the Washington State Department of Ecology, on a monthly, not quarterly, basis beginning in December 2019.

• Provide Columbia Riverkeeper with copies of quarterly permit-related documents that Tapani has sent to or received from the Ecology Department for a three-year period.

• Pay $31,000 to Columbia Riverkeeper to cover the group’s attorney fees and costs.

Columbian staff reporter