Greens Get Legal Fees in Salmon Case

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Uncle Sam will pay $130,000 in attorneys’ fees in a case challenging a highway widening project near California’s Smith River that could threaten protected salmon, a federal judge ruled.
     The Smith River is the largest free-flowing river in the state. It flows 300 miles from the confluence of its middle and south forks in Del Norte County through rugged old-growth forests to empty into the Pacific Ocean just south of the Oregon border.
     The river’s clean, clear waters are critical habitat for the federally protected Coho salmon and Chinook salmon.
     The California Department of Transportation, or Caltrans, in April 2013 approved a project to widen parts of Routes 197 and 199 and build a road system along California’s northwest coast to make the area safer for commercial trucks.
     Friends of Del Norte, the Center for Biological Diversity and two co-plaintiffs promptly challenged the project. Among other things, they claimed Caltrans did not properly consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service and failed to complete an environmental impact survey, as required by the National Environmental Protection Act.
     Finding that the project would irreparably harm the Coho salmon and its habitat, U.S. District Judge James Donato issued an injunction in May 2014.
     Caltrans agreed to reinitiate environmental consultation with the Fisheries Service. A few months later, the parties agreed to an order that kept the injunction in place while dismissing the environmental groups’ claims without prejudice.
     In September, the plaintiffs filed a motion for attorney’s fees and asked the court to find the government jointly and severally responsible.
     The parties have reached a settlement, which Donato signed April 20.
     Under the agreement, the government must pay $115,000 in attorneys’ fees and $15,000 in litigation costs.
     The stipulation applies to all fees and costs incurred to date, but allows the plaintiffs to seek costs and fees for any subsequent action in the matter.
     The plaintiffs were represented by Stuart George Gross.
     Justice Department Trial Attorney Daniel Joseph Pollak of Washington, D.C. and Assistant Attorney General John Cruden represented the defendants.
     Neither party’s counsel immediately returned requests for comment.

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