TILLAMOOK, Ore. — A judge has rejected a request by Oregon officials to dismiss a lawsuit contending the state is allowing pollution from dairies to harm oyster harvests in Tillamook Bay.
Tillamook County Circuit Judge Mari Garric Trevino denied the request from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, The Capital Press reported (http://bit.ly/2bgkOlF) in a story on Friday.
Oyster Co. President Jesse Hayes is seeking $100,000 in damages and an order forcing the state to strengthen pollution regulations in the area that Hayes says are insufficient.
Hayes says fecal coliform bacteria from animal waste that flows into Tillamook Bay is so high he’s prohibited from harvesting oysters.
Trevino didn’t rule on the merits of the case, just that it can go forward.
“We get to prove what’s in our complaint,” said Thomas Benke, Hayes’ attorney.
The state agency said it can’t be held liable for the problems in Tillamook Bay and that the lawsuit should be directed at the operators of the dairies.
Hayes in his complaint said he’s prohibited from harvesting oysters from 250 acres and often has to shut down another 350 acres. His lawsuit contends that amounts to an unjust taking of his property and that the state environmental agency is responsible because of weak pollution regulations.
Oregon argues that inadequate regulation isn’t recognized as a government seizure of his property.
“The government is not responsible for inaction,” said Christina Beatty-Walters, the state agency’s attorney. “That’s not a situation the government is responsible for.”
State regulations can only be challenged through an administrative process, she said.
But Hayes said the government has illegally sanctioned pollution, which he said is a form of government seizure of property.
Tami Kerr, executive director of the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association, said faulty septic tanks, municipal wastewater and wildlife feces contribute to fecal coliform in the bay.
“Dairy is always the first thought when people talk about pollution. But DNA testing has shown it’s broader than that,” Kerr said. “There’s a large human influence in that.”
Information from: Capital Press, http://www.capitalpress.com/washington