Violations of the Clean Water Act cited; company to appeal rulingWarrenton - Seafood processor Pacific Surimi will not be processing whiting into surimi this season, as a federal judge in Portland has ruled with an environmental law firm and shut down the plant's surimi operations.

"The decision does hurt our company, it hurts our workers, and it hurts the community that has been so supportive of us," said Craig Urness, spokesman for Pacific Surimi.

He said the ruling could affect the jobs of 50 to 60 seasonal employees.

Pacific Surimi and another Warrenton processor, Pacific Coast Seafood, are both part of Pacific Seafood Group, which operates processing facilities in the Western United States. Pacific Coast Seafood's operations are unaffected by the ruling.

The lawsuit, filed by the National Environmental Law Center, on behalf of the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group and two local residents, said the company's waste discharge system violated the federal Clean Water Act. The fish waste released into the Skipanon River lowers dissolved oxygen levels, which is harmful to live fish in the river.

The company is aware of this problem, and that is why it has been working with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to develop another way of getting rid of its waste, Urness said.

DEQ and Pacific Seafood reached an agreement last week, which levied fines against the company for previous violations and stated what it had to do to be in compliance. The company plans to connect the plant with the city of Warrenton's joint outflow pipe, using that method of discharge after the project is completed in March 2006.

"The understanding was that they would allow us to operate for our surimi seasons until we were able to remove our discharge from the Skipanon River, which will occur in March of next year," Urness said. He added that the surimi operation's high water use provides a big chunk of Warrenton's utility revenue.

The environmental group said that it had no choice but to ask the judge for the injunction.

"We were looking again at another season with no controls installed to try to prevent the ongoing problem," said Rhett Lawrence, an environmental advocate with OSPIRG. "We've seen those discharge exceedances for years and years, and here we are at the beginning of yet another processing season, and no controls are in place to try and remedy those problems."

The company's permanent employees won't be affected, but Urness said that of 100 or so seasonal employees that were recently hired, only about 40 will still be able to work if the decision holds.

The company is filing an appeal today, Urness said, and has also asked for an emergency hearing to hold off the closing, which should be decided by Monday. Urness said he was going to the Warrenton plant today to talk with the workers to see if they can stick around to see the outcome of the emergency hearing.

The actual trial between Pacific Seafood and OSPIRG is scheduled for April 2006.

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