tial. ... All of the wetland vegetation within this area was destroyed."
EPA enforces the Clean Water Act, while the Corps of Engineers issues permits.
Otter hired Charles Robnett to do the work in 1998, using a bulldozer and front-end loader.
"The enforcement actions taken by the corps against Otter in both 1992 and 1995 involve basically the same type of unlawful activity that is at issue in this case," Charneski wrote.
"He had twice before attempted to do work in a slough next to his house, and on each occasion he ran into problems with the corp. In each of these prior instances, the problem was identical, i.e., Otter needed a Section 404 permit to work in `waters of the United States' and he did not have one."
Nevertheless, the judge wrote that he decided to reduce Otter's fine because he believed the affable politician when Otter testified that he thought he had a permit.
"Respondents can point to no evidence to show that this belief, even though erroneous, was a reasonable one under the circumstances," Charneski wrote. But, he said, "Upon observing the demeanor of Mr. Otter, it is the opinion of this court that this respondent began the excavation work in November of 1998, because he believed that he had a ... permit. ... This belief does not excuse his negligence in proceeding with the project even though he really didn't have the permit that he thought he had."
Charneski ordered Otter to pay the $50,000 within 60 days. Unless Otter decides to appeal to the Environmental Appeals Board, the ruling is final.
Sutton said he's not sure yet whether Otter will appeal or just pay the fine.
"I just feel bad for Butch. All he's trying to do is improve his property," Sutton said.
The lawyer said Otter's plans for more landscaping work on his property have been put on hold as the case dragged on.
"I've known this man since 1966, and I'll tell you, there was not one ounce of any kind of ill will on his behalf when he was trying to put this together, none," Sutton said. "This is a man who's trying to fix his back yard."
Since becoming embroiled in the enforcement action, Otter has railed against the Environmental Protection Agency and called for cutting its authority over wetlands issues. •Betsy Z. Russell can be reached at (208) 336-2854 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.