Potential settlement reached in Oregon farmer’s Clean Water Act lawsuit

In this March 30, 2016 file photo, farmer Bill Case of Albany, Ore., points to the North Santiam River, which abuts a 50-acre field he owns. An potential settlement has been reached with the federal government, according to court documents.

Attorneys for the federal government and an Oregon farmer accused of Clean Water Act violations have told a judge the dispute is “settled in principle.”

While a court docket notice says the deal should be finalized by late February, farmer Bill Case of Linn County said he’s displeased with some recent demands from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The agency filed a lawsuit against Case in 2016 claiming he’d violated the Clean Water Act by stabilizing the bank of the North Santiam River with large “rip rap” rocks and expanding two levees along the waterway.

Case has long maintained that he completed the work with approval from state and federal officials but neglected to get the authorization in writing.

Earlier this year, U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin found that Case should be held liable for the Clean Water Act violations without a jury trial and the ruling was soon affirmed by U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken.

Case said he’s now agreed to move a dike 10 feet farther away from the river, remove another dike entirely and pay a civil penalty of $100,000, but he disagrees with the EPA’s request to impose more conservation easements on farmland near the river, which would restrict its use.

Though he’s agreed to conduct excavation work on the dikes, Case said he still doesn’t believe the requirement makes sense, as the newly exposed soil will simply wash into the river.

“Right now, it’s working great. There’s no erosion or pollution in the river,” he said. “They just want it to erode into the water.”

Capital Press was unable to reach Kent Hanson, attorney for the government, as of press time.

The dikes have also become overgrown with beneficial trees and brush, all of which would be lost due to the excavation work, Case said. “They just want that destroyed.”

Case said he believes the EPA is demanding a solution in search of a problem, adding that he was optimistic a more reasonable settlement could be reached under former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who resigned in July.

“As soon as he resigned, here came the EPA again and the Department of Justice,” Case said.

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