Air Date: Week of March 16, 2001
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The Pacific Lumber Company in northern California and people from the town of Stafford have reached a settlement in a long-standing dispute. Residents say the company overlogged the mountain above their homes and caused a landslide which buried much of their town in debris. Mike O'Neal was at home New Year's Eve morning in 1996 when the disaster struck.
O'NEAL: This thing was like a tidal wave, a tsunami of stumps and trees, and a redwood stump is as big as a peterbuild or a Mac tractor. And they were floating on top of this flow just like marshmallows.
CURWOOD: No one was hurt in the slide, but eight homes were destroyed. Mike O'Neal and his neighbors sued Pacific Lumber but he says the company claimed the damage wasn't its fault.
O'NEAL: Their position was, well, it was an act of God. And we just kind of found that to be very profound. And then, you know, they say, well, it was the rain. And I says, well, you know, Humboldt County has always had rain. This is nothing new. And it got worse. They turned around after we pressured them about resolution to the problem. They turned around and said it was our fault. In total shock, we said, well, how can it possibly be our fault? Well, it's your fault for living there.
CURWOOD: So, what did you want?
O'NEAL: I tried for nine months to deal with the company. Just so we can get a simple buyout. We truly tried to work with the company, but, you know, this turns out where we had to sue them and we had to bring them to this point of where they decided to fold. And really, it's all sad, because we didn't want this. This was not our intention when we started this.
CURWOOD: You reached a settlement with the company last week. What was the outcome?
O'NEAL: Well, the outcome was we won our case. We brought enough information to the table that, in our opinion, it frightened Pacific Lumber to the point where they were willing to settle out of court rather than bring our evidence to the table.
CURWOOD: And how did they fold their cards?
O'NEAL: Well, by giving us a settlement of 3.3 million dollars.
CURWOOD: Pacific Lumber says that they admit no wrongdoing in this settlement, and that they sincerely, and I'm quoting from them, they sincerely look forward to renewing good, neighborly relations with everyone involved in this unfortunate incident.
O'NEAL: Here's my response to that: If they were so pure at heart, why didn't they go through the trial? Why did they give us 3.3 million dollars? And quite frankly, we don't trust them anymore. None of us believe them anymore.
CURWOOD: Before you go, just tell me briefly, what does it look like there now?
O'NEAL: Well, it's kind of like losing an arm. You know, if you knew that there were kids playing out, and you've got friends and houses and stuff and all of a sudden, one day it's completely gone. It's like part of our town died. And they've done a lot of cleanup and stuff, but the homes are missing. And you know, I mean, there's still kids' toys stuck in the mud. It's 17 feet deep of stumps and muck and rocks and stumps, and it's just a little bit like having lived, or still living, in a war zone, because the amount itself is not stable above us. And they've admitted it, we know it for a fact - there's more material yet to come.
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