“We had a son about ready for kindergarten,” says Prof. Chappell. “We were looking for an affordable place with good schools that was closer to family and friends in Calgary.”
A graduate of Golden Gate University School of Law, Chappell had worked for eight years with an environmental law firm in the Bay Area.
His work there brought him into contact with the Waterkeeper Alliance, a clean-water organization with a global presence of Keeper programs on six continents.
“Under the Waterkeeper model, one person is responsible for the waterway,” Chappell said. “The Keeper acts as the eyes, ears and voice for the river. My firm worked on cases with each of the 13 California Keeper programs.”
The Keeper movement was born in New York State in the late 1960s. Pollution had turned stretches of Hudson River into a dead waterway and threatened the river’s commercial and recreational fisheries.
A coalition of fishers, some from families that had fished the Hudson for seven generations, angrily advocated for taking direct action against polluters. Many saw civil disobedience as the most effective way to produce results.
But one of the group had come across a pair of obscure laws that forbade pollution of American waters and provided a bounty reward for whomever reports water-quality violations.
Using those laws, the coalition began suing polluters and requiring the discharges to pay to clean up the Hudson River. Their victories paid for the first Riverkeeper boat, which still patrols the Hudson.
In 1983, the group hired its first full-time advocate, called a Riverkeeper. A year later Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., son of the slain former U.S. Attorney General and presidential candidate, signed on as the Hudson Riverkeeper’s Chief Prosecuting Attorney.
In 1999, the Waterkeeper Alliance was formed as the parent organization for all the Keeper programs, and it named Kennedy its first president. He’s still with the group and in May 2010, will appear in that role at Gonzaga’s Martin Center.
Due largely to the efforts of the Hudson Riverkeeper, the Hudson River is now considered one of the richest bodies of water on Earth.
Of equal importance, the work of the Waterkeeper Alliance has gone global: more than 200 Keepers now work to protect rivers and other waterways around the world.
The Chappell family arrived in Spokane in summer, 2008, and Prof. Chappell’s environmental law experience quickly proved invaluable.
A guest-teaching opportunity prompted Prof. Chappell to approach the school with the idea of founding an environmental law clinic.
“I studied in the Environmental Law and Justice Clinic at Golden Gate and it was an amazing experience,” he says.
“Having the ability to represent real people with real cases is the best experience you can have in law school.”
At the same time, Spokane’s nonprofit Center for Justice was talking with the Waterkeeper Alliance about obtaining Riverkeeper status for the Spokane River.
Both discussions bore fruit. Two days before Prof. Chappell took on his duties as the director of GU’s new Environmental Public Interest Clinic, Spokane attorney Rick Eichstaedt was designated Riverkeeper for the Spokane River. (Note: Bart Mihailovich has since replaced Eichstaedt.)
Gonzaga’s Environmental Public Interest Clinic represents the Spokane Riverkeeper, the Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper and other area environmental groups in actions brought against suspected polluters.
Under Prof. Chappell’s supervision, clinic students provide a variety of services. (Note: Rick Eichstaedt has since replaced Mike Chappell, deceased September, 2011)
“Part of their job is to visit the regulatory agencies and compare documents with permits to make sure the dischargers are following the law,” Chappell said.
Clinic students may give oral testimony at hearings, draft litigation documents such as complaints and discovery, and participate in settlement meetings. Each of the Clinic’s clients is assigned a student liaison, giving students an opportunity to manage a client relationship.
“And the Spokane Riverkeeper comes over every Monday,” Chappell said. “He participates in a small-group session where we do our case rounds.”