Legal fees rise for rancher as case reaches state Supreme Court
Lemire points to lack of any evidence of pollution in creek
By MATTHEW WEAVER
MOSES LAKE, Wash. -- A Washington rancher says he has spent $80,000 on his legal battle against the state Department of Ecology, which goes before the state Supreme Court in two weeks.
The state appealed a judge's dismissal of a 2009 state Pollution Control Hearings Board order that required rancher Joe Lemire to take steps to avoid the risk of pollution from his 29 head of cattle to Pataha Creek. No pollution was found in the creek.
"The record is absolutely absent of any direct evidence that Mr. Lemire's modest herd actually polluted Pataha Creek," Columbia County Superior Court Judge William D. Acey said in dismissing the board's ruling.
Lemire said he was using best management practices and that there is no evidence pollution ever occurred.
The department appealed the ruling, contending that it attempted to provide Lemire with technical assistance for six years.
The case skipped the court of appeals and went directly to the high court.
Lemire and attorney Toni Meacham addressed the Cattle Producers of Washington Oct. 26 annual meeting in Moses Lake, Wash.
"We feel Ecology is going to try to win this one way or another," Meacham said. "Even if they have to bankrupt (Lemire) that is how they're going to win."
Lemire called Ecology's administrative order requiring Lemire to take steps to stop the potential for pollution a backdoor approach. It requires ranchers to prove they don't have the potential to pollute.
"You're guilty until you prove yourself innocent," he said. "Now that's against the Constitution."
Meacham and Lemire said they're not going to give up.
"I don't care if you own an acre or half-acre or 10,000 acres, this is everybody's fight," Meacham said.
Meacham said Roger Wynne, an assistant city attorney for Seattle, has requested time to address the court. Ecology solicited Wynne's amicus brief and others that have been used to "bombard" Lemire's team, Meacham said.
Lemire estimated his legal bill at more than $80,000.