PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Willamette Valley Vineyards has filed a lawsuit against electric utility Pacific Power and parent company PacifiCorp for $8.1 million over what the vineyard claims is the utility’s role in the 2020 Labor Day wildfires that affected grape harvests.
The winemakers have expanded to several tasting rooms and vineyards across the West Coast since launching in 1983, but they say that smoke and soot from the wildfires damaged its property located in the Turner area.
PacifiCorp was previously deemed negligent in the wildfires, due to the company’s failure to cut down power lines during the windstorm beforehand, when in June of this year, a Multnomah County jury awarded more than $90 million to 17 victims of the incident that ended in nine deaths and 1,875 square miles of devastated land — and PacifiCorp could owe more to others who are eligible for punitive damages.
According to court documents filed in late July, Willamette Valley Vineyards lost about $2.7 million in sales, revenue and repair expenses as a result of the Santiam, Echo Mountain, Archie
Creek Complex, 242 and South Obenchain fires.
In June, PacifiCorp revealed its plans to pursue an appeal for the $90 million owed thus far. But Willamette Valley Vineyards CEO and Founder Jim Bernau believes the company should take more accountability.
“[PacifiCorp needs] to step up and address the damage done to the Oregon wine Industry from the smoke,” Bernau told KOIN 6 in an email. “Hopefully, next time they will turn off their transmission lines when the State Fire Marshal requests they do like PGE did and save everyone a lot of grief.”
In a statement to KOIN 6 News, PacifiCorp asserted that it was the first in the state to develop a Wildfire Mitigation Plan in 2018. The utility company also said its plan, which includes wildfire risk modeling software and internal emergency management, continues to evolve along with extreme weather conditions.
“Pacific Power’s ability to provide such essential utility services is being threatened by spurious lawsuits like these and excessive wildfire damages pursued by out of state plaintiff attorneys who have a substantial financial stake in these outcomes,” the company added. “Pacific Power has resolved and will continue to resolve reasonable claims.”