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Great Lakes Article:

Local Citizens Oppose Georgia-Pacific PCB Settlement 
as a bad compromise on top of compromise

Fox River Watch
07/01/02

(Green Bay, WI) --- As feared, secret meetings between Georgia-Pacific Corporation and state, tribal and federal officials resulted in a badly compromised settlement as compensation for G-P's 
share of costly PCB contamination of the Fox River and Green Bay.   G-P agreed to pay only $14.5 million as compensation and was allowed to choose which projects it wanted to fund.  G-P also paid the federal government $1.6 million as partial reimbursement of assessment costs.

"This is outrageously low compensation considering the many past and future decades of dangerous public and wildlife health risks caused by G-P's negligent pollution over a large region.  The economic damages have been staggering," stated Rebecca Katers, Executive Director of Clean Water Action Council of N.E. Wisconsin, Inc.  "This is not justice."

Our Concerns

While we're anxious to get these issues resolved in time for cleanup and restoration to start in the spring of 2003, we oppose this settlement for several reasons: 

1.  The settlement meets only 20% of G-P's full responsibility   --- We were told last year by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in its Assessment to expect total compensation of $333 million if the sediment clean up will take more than 40 years to achieve its goals, which it will.   According to a DNR study, Georgia-Pacific's share of responsibility is approximately 22% of this total, or $73 million.   If justice is to be served and fair compensation granted, G-P needs to provide the full $73 million.  Last year in a widely criticized first draft of this settlement, DNR claimed they were getting $55 million in benefits for only $7 million from G-P, which was an obvious sham.  This settlement of $14.5 million is also a sham.

In addition, the previous $7 million figure was supposed to cover only the State of Wisconsin's share, and did not include further dollars to compensate Michigan, tribal and federal damages.  Therefore, the doubling of dollars is misleading.  This is definitely not a "better deal."

Keep in mind that the original $333 million was a conservative estimate, a major political compromise from a higher calculated value closer to $600 million, and even that number did NOT include many major types of economic damages such as:

a. Economic losses on Lake Michigan proper (70% of waterborne PCBs in this Great Lake come from the Fox River.)

b. Economic losses over many decades due to discouraged recreational anglers who stopped fishing or never started due to PCBs.  The losses were only calculated for currently active anglers

c. Economic losses to many commerical fishing families who were driven out of business, and to wholesale and retail customers no longer able to purchase locally harvested fish.

d. Damage to non-adjacent counties (not on the waterfront) with businesses and residents who were economically harmed by the PCB contamination.

e. Damage to economic interests in Lake Trout and Cormorants which suffered poisoning, deformities, tumors and reproductive failure. 

f. Human medical costs and lost work productivity, which could be enormous over many decades. Roughly 40,000 people along the Fox River and Bay currently face PCB cancer risks equal to smoking 2-3 packs of cigarettes a day, due to their fish consumption habits.  Numerous non-cancer PCB risks (thyroid disease, diabetes, heart disease, memory problems, learning disabilities, etc.) may affect thousands more.

2. Settlements in the Dark --- How can citizens evaluate the fairness of a closed-door settlement with Georgia-Pacific, without knowing what the final Compensation and Restoration Plan says?  (The total plan for all the mills won't be released until later this summer.)  We're opposed to this premature piece-meal approach.  The percentage of responsibility allocated to G-P could tell us more about the overall size of the total Restoration Plan, but the agencies have refused to tell us their final calculation of G-P's percentage of the total.   Citizens have a 30 day comment period starting soon, but they aren't being given key information.

3. Wrong types of projects funded --- Almost 60% of the G-P settlement ($8.5 million) is for human park and recreation enhancements, which was heavily criticized a year ago.  In recent years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted numerous public opinion surveys (at high cost) and learned that the public placed highest priority on projects designed to stop toxicity.   Second priority was to protect and enhance fisheries and wildlife habitat.  Third priority were projects designed to stop land run-off pollution (non-point pollution).  A distant fourth were enhancements for human recreation, such as boat ramps, docks, parking lots and trails. Most Northeast Wisconsin and Upper Peninsula Michigan residents believe we already have a lot of these human amenities, but the waterways and wildlife deserve much more attention.   Now, it seems the federal government has abandoned the carefully prepared and expensive Resource Compensation Determination Plan (RCDP) which went to public hearing and was finalized last year.  Instead, G-P is being allowed to fund high-profile local projects, and public wishes are being ignored.  G-P is allowed to make big political points in the community where its mills are located, while the other impacted communities get nothing.

4. Northern communities completely neglected --- ALL of the $8.5 million in G-P recreational dollars are targeted for Brown County communities only. NONE are planned for Door, Oconto, Marinette Counties, or Upper Michigana communities which also have PCB fish-eating warnings due to Fox River pollution.  If recreation is the goal, then ALL the northern people should have equal access to these recreation dollars.   Instead, it appears G-P has been allowed to buy-off local officials with juicy projects, with every Brown County municipality getting a little piece of the action.  In addition, all the land purchases for wildlife habitat are on the Bay's westshore, with nothing for the eastshore or Door County, though most of the PCBs are concentrated up the Door County shoreline.  The DNR claims that future settlements with the other mills may balance these issues better, but how can the public be sure when we have a comment period now but won't be allowed to see the big picture plans until later?  The DNR claims to be following the old Remedial Action Plan which was started in 1986, but that effort was dominated by Brown County people and included no one from the impacted north. And that plan did not designate recreation projects to the exclusion of wildlife habitat.  The DNR is misrepresenting and misusing the work of a lot of people, including members of Clean Water Action Council.

5. The Bush Administration has abandoned federal leadership --- This G-P settlement is just a larger version of the DNR's surprise solo $7 million fiasco proposal in November 2000.  It contains all the same flaws which were roundly criticized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal agencies at that time, under the Clinton Administration.  It's obvious that the federal government is now taking a back seat and allowing the state to decide everything, even though the state fought against negotiating for ANY compensation for several years.   We are left with a token effort for one of the biggest PCB sources on the river.  The public's interest is NOT being served.

6. The Cart Before the Horse --Under the Clinton Administration, we were promised many times that the Restoration Plan and individual settlements like this couldn't be finalized until after the sediment cleanup plan and EPA's Record of Decision are announced (later this summer).   This timing sequence was important because the scale of the restoration is supposed to be based on how long it takes for the sediment cleanup to achieve results. If it takes longer, then more compensation is due from the polluters and the dollar amount should increase. Now, under the Bush Administration, we're being told that it's OK for the Restoration Plan to be released before the ROD, deliberately keeping the public in the dark on this issue.

7. Stopping the Federal Process  --- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (under the Bush Administration) now tells us that they plan no "Report of Assessment," though this is supposed to be the final stage of the Natural Resources Damage Assessment process.    This final report would have included a "responsiveness summary" (the agencies' written responses to citizens' hearing testimony and letters).  Apparently citizens wasted their time submitting written comments and testifying at the hearings.  This report would also have included a "preliminary estimate of damages" with more complete totals than previously reported, and a "demand for sum certain" (a final bill to be presented to the responsible polluters.)  We were told that as long as the governments were satisfied with the negotiated settlements, the Report of Assessment could be skipped, because the polluters don't want to have to pay for its preparation.  The Service says they will write the report only if a polluter sues to oppose their portion of the Restoration Plan. Citizens will be asked to comment on the final proposed Restoration Plan without the benefit of this information, and we may never have a final accounting.   Under these circumstances why should we bother to comment at all?

8. Taypayer Costs Should Be Fully Reimbursed --- This G-P settlement allocates only $1.6 million to reimburse federal costs of assessment.  It has been expensive for the government to prepare the multi-document scientific damage assessments and economic damage models.  At the end of the 8 year federal process, we were supposed to learn what the total costs were, but that may not happen now.  We do know that at a similar site in Montrose, California, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service assessment research process cost $35 million, which chewed up a huge percentage of the final settlement.  Here on the Fox River and Green Bay, we must insist that these costs are separate, and in addition to, the compensation and restoration settlement from the polluters.  The state's costs should also be reimbursed completely.  (After all, why should taxpayers be stuck with this?)  It's obvious that G-P's $1.6 million offer isn't enough.

9. Industry Pressure Politics --- We've heard may instances of the Fox River Group of paper industries sending company lawyers and lobbyists to meet with our local, state and federal agency officials and our elected representatives, keeping up constant lobbying pressure for weakening the cleanup and compensation plans.  Ordinary citizens have no way to balance against that pressure, and it's obviously costing us millions of dollars now.

10. Bad Precedent Being Set --- This is the first of 7 settlements with individual corporations which dumped PCBs in the Fox River.  If G-P gets away with paying only 20% of its responsibility, the others will demand equal treatment.  This will be a royal rip-off for the public.

For more information about this recent news, contact Clean Water Action Council, at 920-437-7304 

Go to Natural Resources Damage Assessment to learn more of the history of this deal.

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