The federal government claims to reserve its fiercest environmental enforcement for violations that are "knowing and willful." If that's true, then Tim Ralston may have a problem on his hands.
The company Ralston manages, Riverscape LLC, owns Terminal One--a derelict stretch of industrial property fronting the Willamette between Northwest 17th Avenue and the Fremont Bridge. His plan to tear down the wharves and build up to 1,000 rowhouses and condos in their stead has sparked accusations of mediocrity, as it barely passes muster on city guidelines for design and planning.
It now appears that Ralston did not even achieve that bare-bones standard when it comes to environmental safeguards. Last year, he applied for a federal permit to remove 3,000 wood and concrete pilings that underlay the terminal's wharves.
Federal biologists worried that sawing through the pilings might release creosote and churn up toxic sediments that could poison four species of salmon already threatened with extinction. Before granting the permit, they asked Ralston to modify his plan to provide more fish protection.
Ralston went ahead and removed the pilings anyway.
"They knew they needed a permit," fumes Brian Gorman, spokesman for the Seattle office of the National Marine Fisheries Service. "Riverscape
doesn't seem to want to play by the rules here."
Contacted by WW, Ralston's attorney, Jeff Bachrach, claimed that his client didn't need a permit and that the pilings were only taken out after Riverscape determined that federal biologists' fears were groundless. Asked for documentation to support his story, Bachrach and Ralston's other attorney, Frank Flynn, declined to provide it.
Gorman says Ralston would have needed only minor modifications to get a permit. "That's the irony of it," he told WW.
But Ralston appears to think that rules and regulations don't apply to him. He also blew off city requirements to install a "sediment curtain" when he removed the accursed pilings.
Bachrach says he's in the process of convincing the feds that no environmental harm was done. To the Rogue Desk, however, it looks like Ralston is thumbing his nose at the feds while risking the well-being of salmon battling extinction.
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