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EPA, DOJ WIN LANDMARK WETLANDS CASE AGAINST SACRAMENTO DEVELOPER
Release Date: 11/9/1999
Contact Information: Leo Kay, U.S. EPA, 415/744-2201
SAN FRANCISCO The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lauded a precedent-setting ruling handed down by a U.S. District Judge in Sacramento yesterday that ordered a local developer to pay up to $1.5 million for 358 violations of federal environmental law for wetlands destruction on his ranch west of Sacramento.
The fine is the largest wetlands civil penalty ever imposed after trial by a court in the United States.
Angelo Tsakapoulos can either pay the whole fine or pay a lesser figure and restore four acres of wetlands on his ranch along Goose and Dry creeks, under the supervision of the EPA. Tsakapoulos' 8,348-acre ranch is 10 miles east of Galt in the Sacramento Valley.
"The court's decision sends a clear message that the deliberate destruction of wetlands in California will not be tolerated," said U.S. EPA Regional Administrator Felicia Marcus. "With an estimated 90 percent of the state's original wetlands now gone, we cannot afford to lose any more. These sensitive habitats, which provide a home to many crucial plants and animals, are an irreplaceable part of our natural ecosystem."
"We're very pleased that the penalty amount was substantial enough to take the profit out of the violation," said Assistant United States Attorney Edmund Brennan. "People who destroy wetlands should take from this result the lesson that it costs more to violate the law than to comply with the Clean Water Act."
From 1995 through 1997, Tsakapolous violated the federal Clean Water Act by destroying roughly two acres of environmentally sensitive wetlands on his property using a process known as "deep ripping," which drags long metal shanks through the soil down to seven feet in order to alter water drainage. The deep ripping which was undertaken to convert pastures into vineyards destroyed vernal pools and swales that were home to endangered species including fairy shrimp and other sensitive aquatic life. Tsakapoulos failed to get necessary permits from the Army Corps of Engineers prior to conducting these operations.
In 1997, Tsakapoulos mounted a legal challenge against the U.S. EPA's and Army Corps of Engineers' jurisdiction over his deep ripping in wetlands. The EPA through the Department of Justice countersued Tsakapoulos for violations of the federal Clean Water Act.
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