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Green Is Good

Construction lawyer Eric Grasberger builds on eco-sensitivity

Published in 2009 Oregon Super Lawyers magazine

When Eric Grasberger needs to escape the world of contracts and construction litigation, 160 acres of tranquil landscape lie waiting for him at the base of Mount Hood. Grasberger purchased the wooded and pasture land a few years ago to preserve its natural habitat. There he is building a small ranch house, with this requirement: It must be “green.”

Keeping things green is equally important on the job. The industry trend toward environmental awareness is making a complex area of law all the more so, but that’s fine with Grasberger. Most construction projects require complicated contracts, warranty provisions and levels of contractors, suppliers and designers. “The average construction project has at least 30 participants,” he says. “When there is a problem on a project, many—if not all—of them get dragged in.”

Grasberger is at the center of it all. Chair of Stoel Rives’ construction and design group, and co-chair of the firm’s sustainable real estate development team, he advises clients on long-term construction policies, with millions of dollars at stake.

With the current economic drought, litigation has taken up the majority of his practice. “Nobody is building,” he says when interviewed this summer. “I haven’t done more than three contracts this year. Normally I’ve done as many as 30 by now.” But on the litigation side, many companies are lingering as long as possible, not wanting—or able—to dish out money for a settlement.

Grasberger likes the mental stimulation of litigation. “I enjoy that matrix of relationships involved, and the analysis you have to go through to solve those problems,” he says.

The 44-year-old father of two young children says many companies are using the lull to study up on green issues.

Of course, with that shift come inevitable legal concerns. Grasberger can predict the questions. “Will all of these representations and warranties about the greenness of [building] products really pan out for the consumer of those products? … Gradually, there are going to be disputes that erupt over whether [green products] have really helped the [consumer’s] bottom line.” Also, were the green products truly green?

Grasberger hopes his own green investments will pan out. He says the ranch house he is building should earn gold certification by LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). It features a reflective metal roof, high-efficiency windows, 100 percent recycled carpet and a permeable driveway. He’s also added ponds, planted local flora and removed miles of barbed wire, allowing the return of wildlife. “It’s more than we should have to ourselves, and we encourage friends and the groups I’m associated with to use it for their enjoyment, too.”

As an attorney for developers, he sees this kind of land disappearing fast.

Still, Grasberger sees hope: “I think, once the next construction and development wave hits, there’s going to be a lot more emphasis on green building. And I think that’s a very positive development.”

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