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Federal Government Settles Illegal Tehama County Plowing Case

A California farmer has agreed to pay 1.1 Million Dollars for disturbing streams and wetlands in Tehama County after he challenged federal environmental regulations for years. The U.S. Justice Department announced the consent decree Tuesday in the long-running case with Modesto-area farmer and nursery operator John Duarte. The case began after Duarte bought fallow land in 2012 and paid a contractor to excavate federally protected streams and wetlands on it. Authorities say Duarte will pay the more than $1 Million in civil penalties and restoration fees. The Justice Department says that Duarte bought the Tehama County property for $5 Million and quickly sold most of it for $8 Million. He chose to keep 450 acres for his own use but he apparently knew all along that an area of wetlands and protected streams, which took up less than 10% of the remaining property, had to remain untouched according to the Clean Water Act. Despite warnings from his own consultant that he would face significant penalties, Duarte hired a contractor to rip the entire 450 acres. Those who sided with Duarte argue that the resulting federal enforcement interfered with a farmer’s right to plow his land. A federal court rejected that argument last year, saying the wetlands were protected and Duarte never sought a permit for destroying them. The Justice Department said in a pre-trial briefing that the case would not be used as a pretext to prosecute farmers who engage in normal plowing on their farms as part of established farming operations.