EPA rethinks 'exclusion zone'

The Trump administration proposes to weaken the National Environmental Policy Act, which is the country's basic charter for protection of the outdoors on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020, in Denver.

East Valley Cattle of Declo, Idaho, and owner Bill Millenkamp have agreed to pay a $17,500 fine and perform restoration work in a settlement agreement with EPA.

EPA alleges East Valley Cattle filled an approximately 425-foot-long meander and erected a 114-foot earthen dam in the Raft River, a tributary of the Snake River, without a permit. The activity requires a Section 404 permit under the Clean Water Act, according to EPA.

In conjunction with a local groundwater recharge district, Millenkamp was building a large groundwater recharge pit adjacent to the Raft River, Mark Ryan, Millemkamp’s attorney said.

“He just didn’t understand he needed a permit,” he said.

The Raft River flows through Millenkamp’s farmland at Declo where he also has a feedlot operation. The river is only about 10 feet wide at the site and looks like a ditch, he said.

“It’s pretty common for farmers to reroute rivers and creeks running across their land, and they don’t think they need a permit,” he said.

Millenkamp erected an earthen dam in the river to divert water for a short time to the recharge pit, with the overflow reentering the river. He built the diversion dam and filled an oxbow in the river with fill material from the project, he said.

Millenkamp did the work himself and got a little aggressive with the bulldozer, he said.

He stopped work immediately when EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers showed up and told him he needed a permit, he said.

“He’s a pretty law-abiding guy; he just didn’t know,” he said.

Millenkamp plans to put in a new diversion dam under a permit. The Raft River is high in sediment, and the project will be able to trap a lot of silt — which will be good for everyone downstream, he said.

Under the terms of the settlement, East Valley Cattle will implement an EPA-approved technical restoration plan to repair the damaged river bed and banks.

The case was referred to EPA by the Idaho Department of Water Resources and the Army Corps of Engineers, said Mark MacIntyre, senior public information officer with EPA Region 10.

The takeaway is that farmers need to double check if they need a permit when doing projects involving water, Ryan said.

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