NCJ - Farmer urged to not settle

Farmer urged to not settle

Thirty-one Humboldt County health practitioners have signed a letter urging outgoing District Attorney Terry Farmer to delay settling liability claims against Sierra Pacific Industries until health studies pertaining to its Arcata mill are completed.

The letter was made public at a press conference in Eureka held by Californians for Alternatives to Toxics. The studies, by the California Department of Health Services, are assessing the health risk of eating shellfish and fish tainted with dioxin from waters in the vicinity of the mill.

Farmer, in a telephone interview, denied that he is rushing to settle with the company before he leaves office next month.

"The most important priority is that the case either proceed or be resolved as is appropriate. Whether it's done during my term is less important than that the appropriate resolution happen."

Farmer said that the potential violations at the plant include both civil and criminal penalties.

Concerns about the mill, long known to harbor contamination, were sharpened earlier this year after potentially hazardous levels of dioxin were found in shellfish near the plant. Additional tests found concentrations of dioxin in commercial oysters out in the bay.

In addition to the District Attorney's office and Sierra Pacific, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board and the California Fish and Game Department have been involved in the talks. Notably absent has been the Ecological Rights Foundation, an environmental organization whose two-year-old lawsuit against the company prodded the water board into more closely regulating the mill.

The group recently won a legal victory when a federal magistrate judge ruled that Sierra Pacific's Arcata mill has been in violation of the Clean Water Act since 1995.

The absence of environmentalists in the talks has led to fears that a deal favorable to the timber company is in the works.

When asked why environmentalists are not at the table, Farmer said "the input of all essential parties will be listened to."