Jeff and John Duarte Pacific Legal Foundation
Brothers Jeff Duarte, left, and John wanted to farm land they purchased near Red Bluff, but were stopped by the federal government after allegations were made that they violated the Clean Water Act when they performed normal ground preparation operations in late 2012.

Settlement reached in Duarte-Clean Water Act case

Duarte Nursery ends multi-year court fight with $1.1 million agreement; court must approve settlement

A $1.1 million settlement was reached in the case against the northern California farmer charged with crimes under the Clean Water Act for simply plowing his land ahead of planting a winter wheat crop.

The agreement came the same day John Duarte, president of Hughson-based Duarte Nursery, was to stand trial in Federal District Court in a case that began in 2013 when two agencies issued “cease and desist” orders against him.

In a prepared statement, Duarte’s attorney Tony Francois, senior attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation, said that under the agreement: Duarte admits no liability; must pay the government $330,000 as a civil penalty; purchase $770,000 worth of vernal pool mitigation credits; and perform additional work on the plowed site.

The court will hold a hearing in about 45 days to consider the settlement terms. Included in this is an agreement developed by both parties on the “additional work” to be performed on the site. Under the agreement, a portion of the property would be permanently restricted from farming, but could be used for cattle grazing, Francois said.

In a prepared statement, Duarte said, “This has been a difficult decision for me, my family, and the entire company, and we have come to it reluctantly. 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."

In the statement, Francois said Duarte would have preferred to take the case to trial and appeal the court’s liability ruling which says federal permission is needed to plow one’s fields “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 provisions that the Clean Water Act affords to farming and poses a significant ongoing threat to farmers across the nation,” said Francois.

More on the Duarte case can be found on the Pacific Legal Foundation website.

TAGS: Wheat Planting
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