SPI pays $100K to settle CDF suit

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By SCOTT PESZNECKER

An aging lawsuit filed against Sierra Pacific Industries by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has been settled out of court for $100,000.

Filed three years ago, the suit alleged several violations of state laws associated with logging called forest practice rules although "none of them were super serious," said Steven Hollett, CDF pre-fire division chief.

In the suit, CDF alleged that in Calaveras County between 1995 and 2000, SPI didn't keep proper records of logging operations, cut trees that should have been left standing, and had not maintained roadside hay bales enough to keep sediment from running into streams.

In the case of the tree-cutting, SPI reported its error, but CDF said a rule violation still occurred.

The hay bales SPI workers placed along some roads were pushed aside by open-range cattle. Though the cattle were not SPI's responsibility, the hay bales were. When they were moved, the runoff into streams violated the forest practice rules, the suit said.

"In that case they needed to do a better job of inspecting the roads there," Hollett said.

In another incident, an SPI tractor operator drove over a historic site.

The settlement's final form was agreed upon within the last couple of months. A judge is expected to sign off on the agreement today.

Hollett said he was happy with the outcome, but did not want to call it a victory.

Rather, he said, the CDF has done its job in trying to protect the environment.

"What we want is for them to do a good job out there with their logging practices," Hollett said.

According to a statement issued by SPI, the timber company "disputed many of the claims in the lawsuit and did not admit guilt or liability" when settling.

SPI "agreed to a settlement in order to avoid costly, drawn out litigation," the press release said.

Under terms of the settlement, CDF will use $40,000 to repair some logging roads that are also used by the public, Hollett said. The remaining $60,000 in civil penalties will be paid to Calaveras County.

The lawsuit was handled by an environmental prosecutor through the Calaveras County District Attorney's Office.

Hollett said SPI workers "overall" do a good job nowadays.

"But there were some problems, mainly in the past," he said. "I think they've done well recently."

Contact Scott Pesznecker at spesznecker@uniondemocrat.com .

11505092
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