At the turn of the 21st Century, Pacific Seafood’s conventional seafood processing plant in Warrenton, OR, routinely violated its wastewater discharge limits for biochemical oxygen demand, total suspended solids, and oil and grease, sometimes exceeding permitted limits by two to three orders of magnitude. And the company’s adjacent surimi plant, a high-tech processing facility that converted bottom fish into a seafood “gel” used to make imitation crab and other imitation shellfish products, was illegally discharging much larger quantities of wastewater without a Clean Water Act permit. As a result, the portion of the Skipanon River emptying into the nearby Columbia River was often transformed into a foul-smelling industrial slough, with oxygen levels so low that the river could not comfortably support fish and other aquatic life.
In 2002, NELC filed a Clean Water Act lawsuit against Pacific Seafood on behalf of the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group and three long-time area residents. After nearly three years of litigation, NELC attorneys secured a preliminary injunction (a court order) forbidding the company from discharging wastewater from the surimi plant without the required permit. After additional litigation and negotiation, the parties agreed to a consent decree, entered by the court, under which Pacific Seafood permanently ended its discharge to the Skipanon and rerouted its wastewater to a deep-water discharge point in the much larger Columbia River. The defendants also agreed to comply with their discharge permits, and to design and fully implement best management practices to reduce pollution long-term. They also agreed to pay over $200,000 in penalties and invest in environmental upgrades. The settlement directed a portion of the penalty to the Skipanon River Watershed Council, to fund water quality and aquatic life restoration in and around the Skipanon River.