By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – A would-be developer of property near Toledo that many hoped would become home to a $70 million regional equestrian center pleaded guilty this morning to federal criminal charges in violation of the Clean Water Act.
Philip A. Smith, 53, of Chehalis, faces a maximum of three years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000 per day of violation when he is sentenced in January in U.S. District Court, according to a news release.
Smith sought to strike a deal with promoters of what was dubbed the Southwest Regional Equestrian Center and conducted land clearing over a period of two years ending in late 2007 on property he owned off the southeast quadrant of Interstate 5 at the Toledo-Winlock interchange.
He was indicted by a federal grand jury in Seattle a year ago for allegedly dumping fill material onto wetlands without the required permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Smith had a permit to log part of the 190 acres he owed, but had no state or federal permit to disturb the wetlands, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Much of the property is covered in wetlands and small streams that drain into Lacamas Creek, which flows into the Cowlitz River and ultimately the Columbia River. Neither Smith or anyone associated with the project ever applied for the required permit, according to the news release.
The equestrian center deal fell through after he was fined by the state Department of Ecology.
Smith was ordered in early 2008 by the Environmental Protection Agency to restore the disturbed wetland, but has not done so, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. A separate civil case has been filed requiring the restoration.
This morning’s plea in Tacoma prompted a prepared statement from U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkin.
“We will not allow developers to violate environmental laws to line their pockets,” Durkin said. “These vital wetlands were damaged in a failed bid to make a substantial profit. We will work with local, state and federal regulatory agencies to prosecute those who damage our treasured public resources for their personal gain.”
Smith, reached by telephone, said he had no comment this evening.
He pleaded guilty today to damaging approximately 98 acres, admitting in his plea agreement to excavating wetlands and stream channels and redepositing or discharging the materials into waters of the United States.