Farm bureau takes stand for farmer facing $2.8 million fine
TEHAMA COUNTY, Calif. - A farmer with a plot of land in Tehama County faces a $2.8 million fine for plowing his land.
John Duarte, president of Duarte Nursery, said the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers is claiming he damaged wetlands when he plowed. However, Duarte said the wetlands have not been damaged.
"The vernal pools are normal, functioning vernal pools today. They came out here in 2015, during a drought and they were normal, functioning vernal pools for a drought, but after two normal to wet years these vernal pools are normal again," he said.
Duarte is also arguing the Corps did not notify him of the allegations in a letter prior to issuing the cease and desist letter, nor did they give him the any opportunity to comment on the allegations.
The trial starts on August 15 to determine if he will have to pay the fine and complete corrective measures.
However, Duarte said the presiding judge will not allow him to present evidence that the vernal pools were not damaged.
"The first phase of this trial will question whether the Army Corp even had subject matter jurisdiction to file this suit in the first place," he said.
The Butte County Farm Bureau held a press conference on Duarte's piece of land Friday morning, challenging other farm bureaus to stand behind Duarte in his fight.
"This is the time to stand up and fight," Duarte said. "If we don't stand up and fight together now, it may be a very long time or never before a family brings this to the mat again."
Duarte said not only does he face the fine but also the millions of dollars in legal fees because of the trial, but he is not backing down.
"It's a that's battle worth fighting," he explained.
Over a dozen farmers in the Northstate also stood their ground standing together to back Duarte and fight back.
"I feel it's gone too far. I think it's time to take a step back and see what's happening," said Jim Edwards, a Tehama County farmer.
Edwards added he feels there is too much government overreach.
Senator Jim Nielsen showed his support as well.
"Valiant warriors like Duarte Nursery sacrifice their whole future," said Nielsen. "They stake what they spent their lives building in this fight, but they are fighting it, folks, for all of us and that's why we must fight it with them."
Clark Becker, president of Butte County Farm Bureau, said this is a precedent-setting case that has the potential to impact all farmers.
"It's our turn to support him and stand up to protect our farm," he said.
Becker explained the Butte County Farm Bureau donated $10,650 to Duarte's fight and he hopes other farm bureaus will follow.
"On behalf of the 1065 Butte County Farm Bureau members I challenge every California farm bureau, every county farm bureau in California and every state and county farm bureau in the United States to donate $10 for every member to the Duarte Legal Fund and its fight," Becker said.
Duarte said it's disappointing that the Trump Administration is not showing more support.
"We are absolutely astounded that the Trump Administration has not stepped in and redirected this entire prosecution in the favor of American farming. It's been an enormous disappointment," he explained.
Duarte added this is a travesty of justice.
"If we don't get better treatment now American agriculture is at severe risk," Duarte said.
If you would like to help Duarte click here.