An Oregon farmer is accused of violating the Clean Water Act by stabilizing a riverbank, which he claims was intended to stop erosion.
The federal government has filed a lawsuit against Bill Case of Albany, Ore., for allegedly discharging pollutants into the North Santiam River by repeatedly placing large rocks and gravel within its high water mark between 2009 and 2013.
The lawsuit, filed at the behest of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, seeks an order requiring Case to restore the site to “pre-violation conditions” and pay up to $37,500 in civil penalties for each day of violating the Clean Water Act.
The complaint claims that Case discharged “large riprap rock and dredged material,” which are pollutants, along more than 800 feet of the river as well as nearby wetlands and side channels without a required Clean Water Act permit.
Case said he received verbal permission to stabilize the riverbank from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers after it was washed out by a flood in 2007.
“What we did worked fine. There’s no pollution or anything,” said Case.
Floodwaters had swept away brush, trees and soils four feet deep along the river, threatening to do further damage in future years, he said. “If we didn’t do anything, we were going to lose probably 50 acres of the field.”
Case said his work was overseen by officials from the Corps and Oregon’s Department of State Lands, who said he would not need to obtain a Clean Water Act permit as long as activities did not take place within the river.
Later, Case said he also repaired an existing dike along the river after checking USDA maps to ensure the work didn’t occur within a wetland.
“The only time the water even comes in contact with it is during an extreme flood,” he said.
Despite his consultation with federal agencies, the EPA later sent letters accusing Case of polluting federal waters, he said.
Case said he doesn’t understand the purpose of the EPA’s actions, since stabilizing the river bank has actually kept pollution out of the river.
“I don’t have any idea, except maybe they’ve got the big hammer and they’re going to prove they’ve got it,” he said.
Kent Hanson, an attorney representing the U.S. government in the case, referred questions to a U.S. Department of Justice spokesperson who said the agency cannot comment on pending litigation.