COOS BAY — A landslide caused by a hillside construction project a mile from downtown Coos Bay has turned into an environmental and legal quagmire.
For more than a year, a huge mound of soil, mud and broken trees has clogged and sullied a waterway that's home to federally protected coho salmon and green sturgeon, the Eugene Register-Guard reported.
State environmental regulators last week announced a fine of nearly $80,000 against a Coos Bay construction company, Johnson Rock Products, which denies responsibility.
The company says that if anyone is to blame, it's the property owner, Mikael Lindh, who failed to prevent the slide.
The state says both parties are liable, but the property owner has defaulted on his mortgage and has no assets to conduct a cleanup — which could require an estimated 200 to 300 dump-truck loads.
The debris landed in a waterway called Coalbank Slough, which feeds into Isthmus Slough, which empties into Coos Bay. The landslide rolled about 50 feet into the 100-foot-wide slough.
The Department of Environmental Quality has ordered the company to remove the soil and stabilize the slope by Oct. 30. The company would need a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to work in the slough, a federally regulated waterway, according to the order.
Johnson Rock's attorney, Brian Chenoweth, said his client did nothing wrong. "The fill was compacted and placed (by Johnson Rock) in a manner that met industry standards," he said.
"The fill sat through an entire winter without incident. Eight months later, during heavy rains, the entire slope failed. Native soils were displaced, along with older fill and the fill Johnson Rock brought in," he said.
Chenoweth said a settlement meeting with the DEQ is slated for later this month in Eugene. Jeff Bachman, an attorney with the DEQ, said his agency filed an enforcement action against Lindh. But, Bachman added, "The DEQ does not consider it efficacious to pursue Mr. Lindh when he has no apparent assets to do the work."