Duarte Nursery settles federal suit, owes $1M | TSLN.com

Duarte Nursery settles federal suit, owes $1M

Rebecca Colnar
for Tri-State Livestock News

John Duarte, president of Duarte Nursery and the farmer being fined millions by the federal government for plowing his own land, settled out of court August 15. Duarte Nursery, which employs 500 people, is based in Hughson, California, east of Modesto. The subject property is in Tehama County, in the north Sacramento Valley.

The settlement was in regard to the federal government's nearly five-year enforcement action over Duarte's routine action of plowing its property to plant wheat in late 2012. Under the agreement, Duarte would admit no liability, pay the government $330,000 in a civil penalty, purchase $770,000 worth of vernal pool mitigation credits, and perform additional work on the site of the plowing. A judge already had ruled that Duarte broke the law, even though Duarte's lawyers argued he did not. The trial was going to establish the penalties. The government had sought a $2.8 million fine and millions of dollars in mitigation expenses.

"This has been a difficult decision for me, my family, and the entire company, and we have come to it reluctantly," said John Duarte. "But given the risks posed by further trial on the government's request for up to $45 million in penalties, and the catastrophic impact that any significant fraction of that would have on our business, our hundreds of employees, our customers and suppliers, and all the members of my family, this was the best action I could take to protect those for whom I am responsible."

PLF Senior Attorney Tony Francois explained, "John would have preferred to see this case through to trial and appealed the court's liability ruling, which holds that plowing a field requires federal permission — despite the clear text of the Clean Water Act and regulations to the contrary. John and his counsel remain concerned that legal liability for farming without federal permission undermines the clear protections that the Clean Water Act affords to farming and poses a significant ongoing threat to farmers across the nation."

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