Federal Judge Approves Settlement With Landowner Over Violations in and Around the Van Duzen River
Press release from the US Department of Justice:
A federal district court judge approved a settlement resolving alleged violations of the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act in and around the Van Duzen River by Humboldt County landowner, Jack Noble. The announcement was made by Acting U.S. Attorney Alex G. Tse, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the U.S. Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resource Division (ENRD) Jeffrey H. Wood, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Michael Stoker, and Assistant Director for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries West Coast Division Office of Law Enforcement Greg Busch.
The settlement, approved by U.S. District Judge Saundra B. Armstrong on Monday, August 27, 2018, includes a consent decree pursuant to which Noble will remove concrete and other debris that he dumped into the Van Duzen River in an attempt to armor the river’s banks. Noble also will create woody alcoves in the river for fish habitat and revegetate the banks to restore the river. Under the decree, Noble also will pay a $10,000 civil penalty and is enjoined from additional work in the Van Duzen without first obtaining a clearance from relevant federal agencies.
The Clean Water Act requires any person who plans to discharge fill in any portion of rivers (or other waters of the United States) to obtain a permit from the United States Army Corps of Engineers or authorized state. Further, the Endangered Species Act protects listed species and prohibits killing listed species, injuring them, or significantly modifying or degrading their habitat. In this case, Noble placed fill and other pollutants in sections of the Van Duzen River, a designated Wild and Scenic River that serves as habitat to protected coho salmon, chinook salmon, and steelhead trout. He did so without obtaining a permit and despite warnings from state and federal officials. These activities altered the reach of the river, had an adverse impact on critical fish spawning areas, and otherwise crushed or stranded fish.
“The federal law has been crafted to protect certain areas from unpermitted construction and dumping,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Alex G. Tse. “Today’s settlement would ensure that this critical habitat in Humboldt County will be restored to the condition it was before pollutants were introduced in and around the Van Duzen River. We will continue to use the resources of this office to ensure that federal laws are enforced for the protection of our environment.”
“The Van Duzen River is not only a place for recreation, but also serves as an important water supply for the communities of Humboldt County, California,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resource Division. “Today’s settlement shows that the Justice Department will continue to work closely with its partners at the federal, state and local level to ensure the longevity of our natural resources and make sure that companies, as well as individuals, comply with the Clean Water Act.”
“Today’s settlement will help restore one of California’s Wild and Scenic Rivers and enhance habitat for salmon,” said Regional Administrator Mike Stoker with the EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region. “EPA looks forward to continuing to work with our local, state and federal partners to monitor the restoration work’s success.”
“NOAA is committed to enforcing regulations for the conservation and recovery of threatened and endangered species,” said Greg Busch, Assistant Director for NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement, West Coast Division. “This case is an excellent example of how state and federal agencies work together to reduce the harmful effect of human activities on protected species and their habitats.”
This litigation was handled jointly by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Pyle of the Northern District of California and Trial Attorneys John Thomas Do, Simi Bhat, and Andrea Gelatt of the Department of Justice Environment and Natural Resources Division. The resolution of this case is the result of a joint effort by EPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and NOAA who are often aided by their state counterparts as well as groups and individuals who report suspected violations. This matter was brought to the attention of the federal agencies by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and members of the public.