This Veteran, Who Supplied Water to Firefighters, Went to Prison for Digging Ponds

The Daily Signal | 3/28/2019 | Staff
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An elderly veteran who ran a business supplying water to fight forest fires was prosecuted by the federal government and sent to prison for digging ponds on his own property, one of his lawyers says.

Joe Robertson, a Navy veteran from Montana, was 78 when he was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $130,000 in restitution through deductions from his Social Security checks.

Crime

His crime?

Robertson, whose business supplied water trucks to Montana firefighters, dug a series of small ponds close to his home in 2013 and 2014. The site was a wooded area near a channel, a foot wide and a foot deep, with two to three garden hoses’ worth of flow, according to court documents.

US - Government - Robertson - Proximity - Waters

The U.S. government prosecuted Robertson for digging in proximity to “navigable waters” without a permit, a violation of the Clean Water Act administered by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Tony Francois, a senior attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit, public interest law firm specializing in property rights, described the events leading up to Robertson’s prosecution during a panel discussion Monday at The Heritage Foundation.

Panel - Kevin - Pierce - Vice - President

Also on the panel was Kevin Pierce, vice president of Hawkes Co., a Minnesota-based family business that harvests peat for golf course greens. Daren Bakst, Heritage’s senior research fellow for agriculture policy, was moderator of the event, called “Horror Stories of EPA and Corps Overreach under the Clean Water Act.”

Pacific Legal Foundation filed a petition on behalf of Robertson, asking the Supreme Court to review his case, which turns on the definition of “navigable waters.”

Navy - Veteran - Clean - Water - Act

The Navy veteran argued that he didn’t violate the Clean Water Act because his business discharged water into the ponds near his home, which had no continuous connection on the surface to navigable waterways.

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