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Clark County Fish Get Their Day in Court

January 7, 2011

VANCOUVER, Wash. - It has been almost a year since a local neighborhood association in Vancouver charged Clark County with not doing enough to protect waterways from polluted runoff from new construction. On Thursday, the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board agreed with them. The Board says Clark County is out of compliance with federal and state clean water laws; that it exempted some developers and focused on fixing water quality problems instead of preventing them.

Attorney Jan Hasselman of Earthjustice represented the homeowners.

"The standards for new development in Clark County were substantially weaker than those required elsewhere in the state. There's no reason for that. We know how to build in a way that protects clean water and still allows development to occur."

Two conservation groups joined the Rosemere Neighborhood Association in the case, because of its wider implications for state water quality standards.

Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper, says the county's approach put the burden on taxpayers to clean up stormwater runoff problems, instead of requiring builders to deal with them.

"Unfortunately, the commissioners took some shortcuts and didn't deal with polluted stormwater and the toxic pollutants it contained, and allowed building techniques that are outdated and not protective of the environment."

Clark County can appeal the Board's decision, although the groups hope it will not, in light of the serious water quality and salmon survival issues in local streams and rivers.

Hasselman says stormwater runoff is a major polluter in most Washington cities. He predicts the decision will also have an effect on the new state water quality standards, which will be released next year.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA