EPA Fines Man $75,000 a Day for Building Pond on His Own Property

These types of stories always remind me that the idea of private property nowadays is a complete myth. The government taxes “our” property and seeks to control everything we do on it.

Andrew Johnson lives in Wyoming on an 8-acre farm and built a stock pond on his property. It’s a free country, so he should be able to do as he pleases on his own property, right? He even went through the trouble of getting his project approved and permitted by the Wyoming State Engineer’s Office.

But not so fast. The EPA is claiming ownership and jurisdiction over his property and manmade pond. They’re saying that his pond is in violation of the Clean Water Act, which prohibits building a dam on a creek without a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. In addition, the EPA claims his pond is sending “dirty water” to other surrounding waterways. They’re fining him a total of $75,000 a day until he “restores the land.” Johnson hasn’t paid them a dime, and he says he doesn’t intend to.

Fox News reported:

All Andy Johnson wanted to do was build a stock pond on his sprawling eight-acre Wyoming farm. He and his wife Katie spent hours constructing it, filling it with crystal-clear water, and bringing in brook and brown trout, ducks and geese. It was a place where his horses could drink and graze, and a private playground for his three children… 

 “I have not paid them a dime nor will I,” a defiant Johnson told FoxNews.com. “I will go bankrupt if I have to fighting it. My wife and I built [the pond] together. We put our blood, sweat and tears into it. It was our dream.” 

But Johnson may be in for a rude awakening.

The government says he violated the Clean Water Act by building a dam on a creek without a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. Further, the EPA claims that material from his pond is being discharged into other waterways. Johnson says he built a stock pond — a man-made pond meant to attract wildlife — which is exempt from Clean Water Act regulations.  

The property owner says he followed the state rules for a stock pond when he built it in 2012 and has an April 4-dated letter from the Wyoming State Engineer’s Office to prove it.

“Said permit is in good standing and is entitled to be exercised exactly as permitted,” the state agency letter to Johnson said.

But the EPA isn’t backing down and argues they have final say over the issue. They also say Johnson needs to restore the land or face the fines.

Johnson plans to fight. “This goes a lot further than a pond,” he said. “It’s about a person’s rights. I have three little kids. I am not going to roll over and let [the government] tell me what I can do on my land. I followed the rules.” 

Johnson says he was “bombarded by hopelessness” when he first received the administrative order from the EPA. He then turned to state lawmakers who fast-tracked his pleas to Wyoming’s two U.S. senators, John Barrasso and Mike Enzi, and Louisiana Sen. David Vitter.

The Republican lawmakers sent a March 12 letter to Nancy Stoner, the EPA’s acting assistant administration for water, saying they were “troubled” by Johnson’s case and demanding the EPA withdraw the compliance order.

“Rather than a sober administration of the Clean Water Act, the Compliance Order reads like a draconian edict of a heavy-handed bureaucracy,” the letter states.

The EPA order on Jan. 30 gave Johnson 30 days to hire a consultant and have him or her assess the impact of the supposed unauthorized discharges. The report was also supposed to include a restoration proposal to be approved by the EPA as well as contain a schedule requiring all work be completed within 60 days of the plan’s approval.

If Johnson doesn’t comply — and he hasn’t so far — he’s subject to $37,500 per day in civil penalties as well as another $37,500 per day in fines for statutory violations.

The senators’ letter questioned the argument that Johnson built a dam and not a stock pond.

This certainly wouldn’t be the first time the EPA’s ruined someone’s life and property in the name of “protecting the environment.” Granite City, Illinois had a severe flooding problem, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was ordered to fix way back in 1965. But they never got around to it. So, about 15 years ago, a resident there named Stephen Lathrop invested $100,000 of his own money to buy a local dump and build a lake on it to help with their flooding problem.

The Army Corps of Engineers decided after he had built the lake that the area was a “wetland” according to the Clean Water Act, and they ordered Lathrop to drain the lake, which he couldn’t afford to do. So, the ACE sent his case to the EPA. They couldn’t prosecute him, because Granite City had just experienced another flood, and his part of town was safe because of the lake he had built. The rest of the town had suffered. Instead of ordering him to drain the lake, they ordered him to expand the lake to an adjacent farm. In order to do that, he’d have to get a permit from the ACE, which cost him another $200,000. But, the Army Corps of Engineers hasn’t yet gotten around to getting him that permit. It’s been a decade and a half, and it’s brought Lathrop and his family near bankruptcy.

If these cases aren’t arguments for true private property and abolition of federal bureaucracies like the EPA, then I don’t know what are.