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Felony pollution charges against farm set for trial

A felony pollution trial centered on a Scappoose farmer accused of failing to adequately protect runoff from his beef cattle operation from contaminating South Scappoose Creek kicks off today, Feb. 22, in Columbia County Circuit Court.

William Holdner, owner of Holdner Farms on Dutch Canyon Road, is facing three felony counts and 21 misdemeanor counts of water pollution. Oregon Department of Justice brought the criminal charges against Holdner. The DOJ's lead environmental attorney, Senior Assistant Attorney General Patrick Flanagan, is prosecuting the case, which is scheduled for a two-and-a-half day trial.

Visiting Multnomah County Circuit Judge Michael McShane is presiding over the trial.

The allegations contend Holdner Farms operates as a confined animal feedlot without the requisite Oregon Department of Agriculture permit, and that it discharges animal wastes to a section of South Scappoose Creek that runs along the farm's southern border.

Oregon Department of Justice prosecutors brought case information against Holdner in 2010, and he was the subject of a grand jury indictment in May of the same year. Holdner pleaded not guilty at his arraignment.

Holdner, 85, maintains he committed no crime related to pollution at his 300-cattle farm, and contends the DOJ's case is predicated on differing interpretations of how state and federal laws interact.

'The real issues here are strictly interpretation of the law,' Holdner told the Spotlight a week prior to start of the trial.

Oregon Department of Agriculture officials first issued notices of noncompliance against Holdner in 2007 for failing to obtain a license to operate as a confined animal feedlot operation, or CAFO, and for pollution believed to result from the firing of a manure gun into a pasture. The collected manure was believed to pose a pollution threat to South Scappoose Creek.

Holdner disputed the claims, ultimately ending up in front of an administrative law judge that ruled in favor of the ODA.

Holdner contested those findings to ODA's director, Katy Coba. The state dismissed his arguments and sustained the civil penalties against him in the amounts of $1,620 for the CAFO permit and $2,280 for the alleged pollution.

Based on those claims and subsequent Oregon State Police, Environmental Protection Agency and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality investigations regarding ongoing 'criminal activity,' the DOJ brought charges against Holder to the grand jury, according to DOJ-signed affidavits.

Holdner has also been charged with second-degree animal neglect. A separate case is pending in circuit court.

CASE FACTS

Oregon Court of Appeals documents show Holdner Farms had been the subject of pollution scrutiny going back to 1997, when the Oregon Department of Agriculture sent Holdner a letter informing of his need to comply with CAFO standards and cease pollution to Scappoose Creek.


Dec. 21, 2009, an Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife officer issued criminal citations against Holdner Farms for alleged water pollution


Agricultural operations, according to Oregon law, are defined as CAFOs once several criteria are met. One criterion is that the operation intends to discharge processed waste water offsite. Another is that the animals - cattle, pigs, sheep - are confined in a specific area of the farm for no less than a period of four months. Holdner argues that neither of those conditions have been met.


Holdner has pending cases in federal district court challenging ODA's regulatory authority to impose storm water pollution controls more stringent than what has been established in the 1972 federal Clean Water Act.