EPA Reaches Settlement With Ranch for Re-routing Creek, Tresspassing

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the Department of Justice announced on Thursday that they had reached a proposed settlement with a ranch owner who purportedly trespassed and caused pollution to local wetlands and creeks. A notice was filed in the Colorado District Court lawsuit for the proposed settlement. 

The defendants in the lawsuit include John Raftopoulos, Diamond Peak Cattle Company LLC, and Rancho Greco Limited LLC.  They were accused of violating the Clean Water Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act in a complaint on October 22, 2020. According to the EPA, the defendants discharged fill material into Vermillion Creek and connected wetlands to “route the creek into a new channel, facilitate agricultural activities, and construct a bridge,” on land owned by the BLM. 

According to the press release, the defendants also participated in unauthorized irrigation, removed minerals, and destroyed cottonwood trees, all of which constituted trespass because the defendants were doing unauthorized activities on BLM land. 

The actions of the defendants also reportedly impacted local animals. “Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge, which provides important habitat for the endangered Colorado pikeminnow, is located at the confluence of Vermillion Creek and the Green River, approximately one mile downstream from the impacted area,” the EPA’s announcement said. “Similarly, the destruction of numerous cottonwood trees located adjacent to the creek eliminated nesting, perching, and roosting habitat for raptor species, including bald eagle, golden eagle and red-tailed hawk. Cottonwood galleries with riparian vegetation also provide nesting habitat for a variety of migratory birds.”

Under the proposed settlement, the defendants would pay a $265,000 penalty for the Clean Water Act violations, a $78,194 fee to cover damages, and an additional $20,000 in “future oversight costs” due to the trespassing claims.  In addition to the financial penalties, the defendants also agreed to remove the unauthorized bridge, move the creek back to its original placement, plant cottonwood trees, and restore wetlands. The ranch, under the settlement, would also help to protect the creek and wetlands into the future. 

“Unauthorized dredging and filling of waters of the U.S. will not be tolerated,” said Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield for the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance in the EPA’s press release. “With this action, EPA is ensuring the proper restoration of vital creek and wetland resources.”