Courtesy of Washington Department of Ecology
A Western Washington blueberry farm has agreed to plant trees and place logs and limbs in a creek and slough to settle an accusation that it illegally irrigated 200 acres in 2015.
The state Department of Ecology on Thursday announced the deal with U.S. Golden Eagle Farms in Skagit County. The farm will do the work, and Ecology will suspend a $16,000 fine, according to the agreement.
Golden Eagle already had agreed last year to do some of the fish habitat restoration to settle a fine issued by the state Department of Natural Resources for illegally cutting down trees on its farm.
Ecology’s Northwest regional director Tom Buroker said the agency preferred that the farm do more habitat restoration to paying a fine into the general fund.
“All the way around, we think it’s a good deal,” he said. “As far as Ecology is concerned, we’re getting $16,000 worth of habitat restoration out of the penalty.”
Ecology levied the fine in early 2016, alleging the farm on Cockerham Island had exceeded its water right. At the time, Ecology said the farm was allowed to water 250 acres, but it irrigated 450 acres. Since then, the farm has obtained water rights to irrigate 743 acres of blueberries.
Golden Eagle appealed Ecology’s fine to the Pollution Control Hearings Board. The agreement settles the appeal, with the farm admitting no wrongdoing.
Efforts to reach the farm’s attorney or an official through the Golden Eagle’s parent company, Aquilini Investment Group in Vancouver, British Columbia, were unsuccessful,
DNR fined Golden Eagle $24,000 in 2014 for cutting down trees to clear 7 acres for blueberries. The trees were in an area where the Skagit River could change its course and flow through, according to DNR.
In the settlement with DNR, the company paid an $8,000 fine and agreed to replant the area and put the logs and limbs in the creek and slough. According to the settlement with Ecology, Golden Eagle now must spend at least $32,000 on the work.
The farm also must spend at least $8,000 to clear blackberry bushes and weeds, and to plant conifer trees and shrubs to create a riparian buffer. All the work must be done by Oct. 31, 2018, according to the agreement with Ecology.