Originally published April 11 2014
Feds threaten $75,000 a day fine against family that built pond on their own farm
by J. D. Heyes
(NaturalNews) Because of overreaching federal bureaucracy that constantly churns out conflicting and onerous regulations, it is becoming more and more difficult for landowners to use their own property in ways they see fit, even if they don't harm others or the environment.
As reported by Fox News, Wyoming welder and landowner Andy Johnson and his wife, Katie, just wanted to build a stock pond on their sprawling eight-acre farm. The two of them spent many hours digging and building, and when it was ready, they filled it with crystal-clear water, adding brook and brown trout, as well as ducks and geese.
It was also a pond from which their horses could drink while grazing, and it served, too, as a sort of private playground for their kids.
But instead of enjoying the fruits of his labor, the Wyoming welder says he was harangued by the federal government, stuck in what he calls a petty power play by the Environmental Protection Agency. He claims the agency is now threatening him with civil and criminal penalties -- including the threat of a $75,000-a-day fine.
"I have not paid them a dime nor will I," a defiant Johnson told FoxNews.com. "I will go bankrupt if I have to fighting it. My wife and I built [the pond] together. We put our blood, sweat and tears into it. It was our dream."
However, the Johnsons might be in for some rough times.
All the weight of the federal government
The federal government claims that the couple is in violation of the Clean Water Act, because they built a dam or a creek without permission (which entails buying a permit) from the Army Corps of Engineers. Also, the EPA claims that substances from his pond are being discharged into nearby waterways.
Johnson, however, maintains that he built a stock pond -- not a dam or creek -- which is a man-made body of water meant to attract wildlife, and as such is exempt from current Clean Water Act regulations (the EPA is considering new regulations to change that).
The welder and property owner says he abided by state rules for the construction of a stock pond when he and his wife built it in 2012. He even has a letter, dated April 4 of that year, from the Wyoming State Engineer's Office to prove it.
"Said permit is in good standing and is entitled to be exercised exactly as permitted," the state agency letter to Johnson said.
As you might expect, the EPA doesn't much care about the state office; officials there say they, not the state or the Johnsons, have the final say in the matter. And they want Johnson to restore his land or face the penalties.
U.S. senators take up Johnson's cause
Johnson says he's not backing down. "This goes a lot further than a pond," he told FoxNews.com. "It's about a person's rights. I have three little kids. I am not going to roll over and let [the government] tell me what I can do on my land. I followed the rules."
When he first received the EPA's administrative order, he said he was "bombarded by hopelessness."
But then he said he went to state lawmakers, who fast-tracked his plea for help to Wyoming's two U.S. senators, John Barrasso and Mike Enzi, as well as Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, all Republicans.
The trio sent a letter March 12 to Nancy Stoner, the agency's acting assistant administrator for water, stating they were "troubled" by the Johnsons' case and demanding that the EPA withdraw its compliance order.
"Rather than a sober administration of the Clean Water Act, the Compliance Order reads like a draconian edict of a heavy-handed bureaucracy," said the letter.
The order was issued by the EPA Jan. 30; it gave the Wyoming landowner 30 days to hire a consultant and have that person assess the impact of the alleged unauthorized discharges.
'We're reviewing it'
"The report was also supposed to include a restoration proposal to be approved by the EPA as well as contain a schedule requiring all work be completed within 60 days of the plan's approval," FoxNews.com reported.
So far, Johnson has not complied; if he stays that course, he is subject to $37,500 per day in civil penalties and another $37,500 per day in fines for violations of statutes.
In their letter, the senators questioned the EPA's stance that Johnson had built a dam and not a stock pond.
"Fairness and due process require the EPA base its compliance order on more than an assumption," they wrote. "Instead of treating Mr. Johnson as guilty until he proves his innocence by demonstrating his entitlement to the Clean Water Act section 404 (f)(1)(C) stock pond exemption, EPA should make its case that a dam was built and that the Section 404 exemption does not apply."
The EPA told the network that it is reviewing the letter. "We will carefully evaluate any additional information received, and all of the facts regarding this case," a spokeswoman for the agency said.
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