A complaint filed over a long-time allegedly illegal peat-moss mining operation in Bridgeville has resulted in two Humboldt County residents — peat moss miner Daniel Wojcik and landowner Robert Wotherspoon — entering felony and misdemeanor pleas yesterday for violations of the Surface Mining and Recovery Act and Lake and Streambed Alteration permitting process and of the Clean Water Act.
Their penalties amount to one of the "largest ever to be assessed in California against non-corporate defendants for violations of section 404 of the Clean Water Act," according to a news release issued this evening by the Humboldt County District Attorney's office.
The release says that "circuit prosecutor" and Deputy District Attorney Matthew Carr, who filed the complaint on behalf of the understaffed Humboldt D.A.'s office, alleged that numerous violations had occurred over at least a decade on Wojcik's "large-scale industrial surface mining of peat from wetlands" on land owned by Wotherspoon. The alleged violations include:
Wojcik operated without a permit to mine peat from the wetland — the sort called an "inland peat fen," a rarity in California which "develops slowly, over thousands of years," says the news release. It notes that the few neighboring fens of the mined areas contain rare plants, but it's not known whether the mined areas did;
Wojcik did not have a business license to sell said peat;
Wojcik and Wotherspoon conspired to mine the peat.
In the settlement reached with the D.A.'s office, Wojcik must pay a $189,222 penalty, work 500 hours of community service and replant timberland, among other things. Wotherspoon must pay $130,804, work 100 hours of community service and "donate to the state permanent access to the violation site for monitoring the restoration and as a 'living laboratory' for scientists to access to study this sort of rare ecosystem and its hoped-for regeneration," says the release.
We previously wrote about another aspect of this case
, in which Daniel and Robin Wojcik, owners of the peat moss company McClellan Mountain Ranch, challenged the county's code enforcement warrant to inspect the lands in question.