By MATTHEW WEAVER
A Royal City, Wash., farmer plans to appeal a $20,000 fine from the Washington Department of Ecology for erosion.
The department alleges B&G Farms owner Mike Brown failed to prevent extreme erosion on his farmland, but the farm says a torrential rain storm caused the problem.
According to Ecology, a heavy storm in July 2012 sent a large amount of soil down a hill into Lower Crab Creek, smothering fish habitat and polluting the creek with mud.
"Too much sediment, dirt and mud, once it gets into water, it causes problems, therefore making it pollution," said Brook Beeler, communications manager for Ecology.
In a statement, the farm said Ecology downplayed the volume of the storm, calling it "catastrophic."
"It diminished fields and crops and flooded everything in its path," spokesperson Farrah Wardenaar said. "(Ecology) implies the soil going down the hill was the sole cause of smothering fish and polluting the creek with mud. We do not think it even contributed to this situation.
"This area received 2-plus inches of massive rainfall within 20 minutes," she said. "No amount of cover crop could have held the amount of water that was raging off of the Saddle Mountain above our farm."
Wardenaar said the farm had yet to receive a fine or penalty from Ecology, noting the agency's press release was the first mention from the department since July. When the farm receives a formal notice, it intends to appeal, she said.
The penalty is for two violations that Ecology recommended receive the one-day maximum $10,000 fine. Ecology is fining Brown $10,000 for the erosion and sediment reaching Lower Crab Creek and $10,000 for not following a 2008 order.
According to Ecology, Brown signed a settlement agreement in 2004 requiring the use of best management practices to avoid erosion. In 2008, the department ordered B&G Farms to improve the condition of the soil and use anti-erosion practices after more erosion occurred at the same place.
Brown paid a $9,000 penalty in that case, Beeler said.
In July 2012, Ecology inspectors found that B&G Farms' farming methods had not changed, according to the department.
"It is an absolute misstatement that Mr. Brown has taken no measures to avoid erosion," said Patrick Acres, attorney for B&G Farms, in the press release. "The statement is intended to mislead and cause harm to Mr. Brown for whatever reason."
Beeler recommends farmers use conservation tillage, cover crops or maintain residue to hold soil in place to avoid runoff during heavy rains.
Wardenaar said the farm's practices are aligned with conservation plan guidelines. The fallow fields had been in organic green peas that were harvested in June. Any cover crop planted after the pea crop was harvested would not have been sufficient to stop the impacts of the storm, she said.