SACRAMENTO, CA - Sierra Pacific accused the U.S. Attorney's office in Sacramento of harboring a "bounty hunter" mentality, citing conflicting descriptions of a liability settlement over a 2007 forest fire.
Three years after filing a lawsuit, the United States settled its claims against Howell's Forest Harvesting, Sierra Pacific Industries, and other landowners regarding the Moonlight Fire, a large forest fire that began on Labor Day, 2007, the burned approximately 45,000 acres of National Forest Service land in Plumas County.
Sierra Pacific says the settlement was $55 million; the U.S. Attorney's office puts it at $122 million. The different figures stem from the U.S. attorney's office including the estimated value of property donated as part of the settlement.
The United States initially sought over $791 million in damages, but after three years of contentious litigation accepted a settlement of $55 million from all parties, along with 22,500 acres in property that Sierra Pacific agreed to contribute for public use. The U.S. Attorney's office valued that at $3,000 per acre.
"Typically, a settlement signifies the end of a dispute, but this is just the beginning," said Sierra Pacific attorney William Warne. "Sierra Pacific's refusal to simply accept as true the investigators' findings into what caused the fire changed the case."
In its statement, Sierra Pacific said, "the U.S. Attorney's effort to put a higher monetary value on the settlement by publicly stating 'worth $122.5 million' and that it is 'the largest recovery ever' proves what Sierra Pacific and others have been saying for months – that a 'bounty hunter' mentality has set in which is corrupting the investigative process and the law."
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