Excavator gets jail time for clearing along creek - Atascadero
Creek landowner must restore damaged land, may face fines, sanctions
September 17, 2003
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Atascadero, CA - An excavator who illegally cleared trees and brush
along Atascadero Creek near Mill Station Road in Sebastopol will spend
six days in jail and pay $1,000 in penalties.
Martin Michael Kittel, 56, of Sebastopol pleaded no contest to the
charge of polluting a creek, during a brief court hearing Tuesday
morning prior to sentencing.
Judge Gary Nadler imposed the jail time because of the value of the
destroyed natural resources and because Kittel had been warned before
by state Department of Fish and Game officials to get permits before
excavating along a creek, said Jeffrey Holtzman, the deputy district
attorney prosecuting the case.
In this instance, neither Kittel nor the Mill Station Road landowner,
John Tomich, obtained permits, Holtzman said.
"The person who puts the blade in the ground, the person who
actually does the work that impacts the resources, is directly responsible,"
Holtzman said. "It's not enough to say, 'The property owner told
me it was OK.'"
The illegal clearing occurred in December 2002, when Tomich asked
Kittel to clear some land near Atascadero Creek so he could put in
a fence and graze sheep.
Kittel destroyed a swath of vegetation some 200 to 250 feet wide,
snapping trees in half and pushing them into 15-foot piles, tearing
out bushes and running his heavy equipment through wetlands.
Tomich, 44, blamed the destruction on Kittel, saying the excavator
went beyond the scope of work he had assigned.
Following a Fish and Game investigation, Tomich was held responsible
for restoring the lost riparian corridor and wetlands at a cost expected
to run into the tens of thousands of dollars.
He also may be ordered to pay fines and could face criminal sanctions
"We will continue to monitor the situation and to assess the
landowner's level of compliance with state and federal resource agencies'
directives," Holtzman said.
A replanting regimen is planned, and the restoration should be finished
by Oct. 31, said Andrew Jensen, an environmental scientist with the
North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.
Tomich also will be required to compensate for the time during which
the wetland and riparian corridor were out of operation, Jensen said.
The water board has recommended Tomich mitigate this temporal loss
by restoring the riparian corridor he previously removed on the opposite
side of the creek, Jensen said.
Tomich has offered to put a conservation easement on the corridor,
which would allow him to be paid for the loss of his use of the land,
Tomich could not be reached Tuesday afternoon, but his restoration
consultant, Marco Waaland, said the landowner was ready to do what
the agencies asked.
"Mr. Tomich really doesn't want to see this drag on," Waaland
said. "We just want to do what's right and make everybody happy."