SOUTHWEST WASHINGTON DEVELOPER INDICTED FOR FILLING WETLANDS
Defendant Filled Critical Wetlands in Effort to Ink Deal for Equestrian Center
PHILLIP A. SMITH, 52, of Chehalis, Washington, was indicted late yesterday by a federal grand jury in Seattle, Washington for four counts of Clean Water Act violations. The indictment alleges that between August 2005, and February 2008, SMITH knowingly dumped fill material into the wetlands that covered property he owned near Winlock, Washington. In 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered SMITH to restore the wetlands he disturbed while clearing the property. The restoration has not occured. SMITH has been summoned to U.S. District Court in Tacoma for arraignment on the criminal charges on September 18, 2009 at 1:30 PM.
According to the indictment, 65 percent of the 190 acres SMITH owned near Winlock were covered in wetlands that drain into Lacamas Creek. The creek flows into the Cowlitz River and ultimately empties into the Columbia River. The wetlands at issue cannot be filled without a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.. Neither SMITH nor anyone associated with the property ever applied for the required permit. According to the indictment, SMITH was responsible for fill being put in the wetlands during three different time periods: between August and November 2005; between May and November 2006; and between May and October 2007. The fourth count charges SMITH with discharging pollutants directly into Lacamas Creek.
In 2007, SMITH had sought to strike a deal with the Southwest Washington Regional Equestrian Center to build a $70 million facility on the site. After being fined by the Washington State Department of Ecology for filling the wetlands, the deal fell through.
“Healthy wetlands are essential for the public and the environment,” said Jay Manning, director of the Washington Department of Ecology. “Wetlands filter drinking water, hold flood waters, recharge groundwater, and provide fish and wildlife habitat as well as recreational opportunities.”
The criminal charges are punishable by up to three years in prison, a fine of not less than $5,000 per day and not more than $50,000 per day of violation, and one year of supervised release.
The charges contained in the indictment are only allegations. A person is presumed innocent unless and until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
The case was investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Washington State Department of Ecology.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jim Oesterle who heads the U.S. Attorney’s Office working group on environmental crimes.
For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110 or Emily.Langlie@USDOJ.Gov.