A Paso Robles salvage yard charged with violating the Clean Water Act is set to be compliant before the next rainy season. The owner of A1 Metals & Auto Salvage was cited in late 2014 for exceeding the acceptable threshold of pollutants, which flowed into the nearby Salinas River, according to a complaint filed by local environmental groups. A1 reached a settlement with the environmental groups July 29 to stop all runoff from reaching the river. The owners of A1 were unavailable for comment at press time.
In October 2014, the local Environmental Defense Council (EDC), along with the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA), gave notice to the state and A1 that the Paso business was in violation of the Clean Water Act. Industrial businesses, such as A1 are required to regularly test and report findings to the regional water quality control board. Runoff from the site contained elevated levels of lead, copper, and iron. A1 was given 60 days to come into compliance, which they couldn’t do. That December, a formal lawsuit was filed.
Andrew Packard, whose Sonoma-based law firm represented CSPA, said runoff of this type is a common problem, and that environmental groups regularly bring lawsuits against industrial businesses, rather than a government agency. Businesses self-report test results, but it often falls to private environmental groups to enforce on violations.
“This was part of a regional investigation,” Packard explained. “Based on our experience, a salvage yard is the kind of business that we expect to have repeat high numbers.”
The groups decided to settle out of court rather that go through a trial, according to Maggie Hall, attorney for the EDC. Settlements are preferred, she said because they usually result in a solution that’s better for the environment.
In this case, the groups negotiated to create an on-site reservoir for runoff, so that no industrial waste ever hits the stream. From that point, the water can be treated. The company also donated $25,000 to the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment, which will use the money for restoration projects on the Salinas River.
Though A1 did not respond to a request for comment, Hall said A1 was “completely interested in compliance and very easy to work with.”
The Salinas River is home to several endangered species, including Southern California steelhead, tiger salamanders, and the San Joaquin kit fox.