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A property owner was fined for illegally clearing sensitive San Juan Island shoreline

(SAN JUAN ISLAND) – A property owner who cleared shoreline vegetation along the west side of San Juan Island faces $79,000 in fines for state water quality and shoreline violations and an order to restore the damage.  The Washington Department of Ecology has issued two penalties and a corrective action order to Orca Dreams, LLC for removing at least 80 trees from 1.25 acres of shoreline last fall.

A $24,000 water quality penalty cites Orca Dreams for starting work at the former Mar Vista resort without first receiving coverage under the state’s Construction Stormwater General Permit and for allowing discharge of polluting material, including logging slash, soil and organic debris into False Bay.

A $55,000 shoreline penalty cites the company for illegally cutting down 80 trees among other significant amounts of shoreline habitat.

A shoreline order directs Orca Dreams to submit a restoration plan for Ecology review by Aug. 31, 2014, to complete re-planting under that plan by Oct. 31, and to allow Ecology monitoring of the site for 10 years.  The order is a companion to an earlier San Juan County restoration order.

“State law does allow for responsible waterfront development,” said Doug Allen, manager of Ecology’s Bellingham field office. “When the law is clearly violated, however, it’s our responsibility to take action, to protect shorelines and to be fair to property owners who abide by necessary permits.”

San Juan County initially inspected the site, and fined Orca Dreams and its contractor, Allen Engel, $1,000 each for violating land grading provisions of the county code.  The county and Ecology have cooperated in their investigation and review of the case.

Ecology investigators observed vegetation cleared to bare soil on a steep bank with high erosion potential directly above the bay, and found slash and debris on the beach at the tide line.  Ecology also determined that best management practices for erosion and sediment control were not followed.  The bay impacted by the illegal clearing is adjacent to a protected marine area and biological preserve owned by the University of Washington.

In December 2013, Ecology directed Orca Dreams to apply for coverage under the Construction Stormwater General Permit. Orca Dreams complied, received coverage, and has cooperated with Ecology’s investigation.

Because of this cooperation, Ecology opted to set the penalties below the maximum amounts possible, and focus instead on the completion of a comprehensive restoration plan.  Ecology’s water quality penalty amount takes into consideration the number of days on which unauthorized actions occurred, the number of days of operation without a permit, and the level of environmental impact.  The shoreline penalty takes into consideration the amount of damage inflicted on the shoreline, particularly the number of mature trees cut.

“It will take decades of growth and maturation for the slope to regain the ecological balance and function provided by the mature trees,” said Allen.  “The shoreline penalty reflects the long effect of this environmental damage.”

The money from Ecology’s water quality penalties supports Ecology’s Coastal Protection Fund, which issues grants to public agencies for natural resource restoration projects.  Funds from Ecology shorelines penalties go into the state’s general fund.

Ecology actions under state clean water law may be appealed within 30 days to the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board.  Actions taken by Ecology under state shoreline law may be appealed within 30 days to the Washington State Shorelines Hearings Board.

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