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OFCO v. Coast Seafoods Company—on Appeal in U.S. Court

by Patricia Jones, Executive Director

Earlier this year, OFCO filed suit against Coast Seafoods Company for violations under Section 505 of the Clean Water Act. OFCO believes Coast Seafoods, located on the shoreline of Quilcene Bay, increased its production of spat (baby oysters) from a capacity of approximately 8 billion annually to over 40 billion annually in the past five years, possibly creating much higher levels of effluent—including “oyster poop”—discharged into the bay. The effluent has included excessive amounts of ammonia, nitrogen and other solids, which OFCO believes may be creating problems for fish, shellfish and pursuit-diving birds such as the threatened Marbled Murrelets, loons, cormorants and grebes. At the time OFCO filed suit, Coast Seafoods had not applied for a permit under the Clean Water Act. Attorney and OFCO Board member Paul Kampmeier, of Kampmeier & Knutsen PLLC, represents OFCO in the suit.

Coast Seafoods uses numerous pipes and ditches to discharge untreated effluent from its indoor, land-based oyster facilities to the adjacent beach, Quilcene Bay and Puget Sound. OFCO believes that Coast Seafoods filters the incoming water from the bay, but does not filter its effluent being flushed back into the bay. Coast Seafoods contends it does not need a permit to discharge effluents; the OFCO suit begs to differ.

Coast Seafoods challenged and attempted to have the suit dismissed. U.S. District Court Judge R. Leighton denied Coast’s motion to dismiss in June 2016 and then authorized Coast Seafoods to seek immediate review of its ruling before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Coast has asked the Court of Appeals to take the case; OFCO opposed the review. In November 2016 the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit decided to accept Coast’s petition to review the lower court decision. The parties will brief their case to the appellate court in spring 2017. The appellate court’s decision can be expected anytime from winter 2017–2018.
OFCO President Connie Gallant and OFCO member JD Gallant have monitored the water quality in Quilcene Bay for several years, documenting a precipitous decline. Their citizen science water quality monitoring and advocacy were instrumental in Jefferson County’s Public Health department’s receiving a $400,000 contract to monitor water impacts and quality. OFCO hopes the County will include effluent from seafood operations in monitoring parameters for water quality in the bay.

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