Rancher faces sentencing
Updated: Thursday, April 05, 2012 10:31 AM
By MITCH LIES
Scappoose, Ore., rancher William Holdner describes himself as a conservationist with a love of wildlife.
"I'm an environmentalist, going back to when I was born," Holdner, 85, said in an interview March 5. "Other than spot spraying for tansy ragwort, I never use chemicals. I use no insecticides or chemical fertilizers."
But last month Holdner, who runs a beef-cattle operation, was found guilty of two Class B felonies for polluting waters of the state and 25 misdemeanor counts.
Columbia County Circuit Court on March 6 put off sentencing to give Holdner a chance to come into compliance with state law, according to Ray Jaindl, administrator of the Oregon Department of Agriculture's natural resources division, who was at the sentencing.
Holdner refused to obtain a confined animal feeding operation permit from the state despite attempts by state officials to convince him.
Holdner said several conditions of the permit were unworkable, including one that prevented him from capturing runoff during storms and applying it to a nearby field.
The permit, in essence, would have forced him to funnel the runoff into the creeks, he said.
The ODA's Jaindl said just the opposite is true.
By spraying the runoff onto fields, Jaindl said, Holdner was saturating fields during storms and contaminated runoff was escaping into the Mud Creek and South Scappoose Creek, which border Holdner's Dutch Canyon facility.
Holdner, who runs about 250 head of polled herefords, maintains his facility has met federal guidelines for a confined animal feeding operation.
State officials twice issued civil penalties to Holdner in recent years, once after sampling runoff from his farm and finding it exceeded state water quality standards for bacteria, Jaindl said.
Holdner to date has not paid the $3,900 in civil penalties, Jaindl said.
In the criminal trial, hydrologist Thomas Calabrese testified he could find "no evidence of substantive or significant pollution ... in the quality of water that flows in the south fork of Scappoose Creek as it leaves the property."
Holdner said he couldn't explain the state's finding, other than to suggest the contaminated runoff was from geese or other wildlife. The state, he said, never took a DNA sample of the runoff to determine its source.
Holdner faces a maximum of 20 years in jail -- 10 for each of the two felony counts -- and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
When asked if he feared sentencing, he said: "I won't be the first person wrongfully sent to jail. I guess I'll just be a martyr."
He said a decision whether to appeal the conviction is in the hands of his attorneys.
Holdner on March 5 said he is selling his cattle immediately and closing his operation.
Asked if closing his cattle operation would bring him into compliance, Jaindl said: "If he sold everything and cleaned up, that would. But manure is still there and still being mixed with rainwater."