A former dairy farmer is the first person in the state to face criminal charges of releasing manure into public waters, officials say.
Edward J. Koopmans, 39, who sold his farm west of town in May, has been ordered to appear in Skagit County Superior Court for arraignment Dec. 18 on four counts of violating the Washington Water Pollution Control Act.
The maximum penalty would be a year behind bars and $40,000 in fines, assistant attorney general Jerry A. Ackerman said.
Neighbors complained repeatedly about manure dumping by Koopmans, starting in 1990, and he was warned repeatedly by state officials who looked into the matter, Ackerman said.
“It’s mind-boggling,” he said. “It was, from our perception, a very egregious situation and that’s why we decided to pursue it.”
It’s the first time the state has brought criminal charges in a manure-dumping case, Ackerman said.
“It wasn’t a casual, isolated situation, because this individual was offered all kinds of encouragement and grants,” Ackerman said, “and frankly, his neighbors, understandably enough, were incensed about what was going on.”
Koopmans would not comment, but his wife, Kayla Koopmans, who owns a hair salon, said he was negotiating with the state for a settlement.
“It’s not like he intentionally did something wrong,” she told the Skagit Valley Herald. “It was an accident. A lot of farmers have these kinds of things happen. Ed just happened to get caught.”
Earlier this month, environmentalists announced plans to sue 10 Yakima Valley dairies, including Sid Koopmans Dairy near Sunnyside, which they said were violating the federal Clean Water Act.
The relation between the two Koopmans was not immediately clear. Sid Koopmans did not return a call Sunday to his home, and Ed Koopmans does not have a listed telephone number.
In the Mount Vernon case, state Ecology Department officials recorded Koopmans pumping overflowing manure lagoons into a drainage ditch that empties into sloughs which, in turn, flow into Padilla Bay, court documents said.
Koopmans also sprayed manure so heavily that his fields became saturated, worsening the runoff problem, Ackerman alleged.
The worst dumping occurred last spring before Koopmans sold the farm for $500,000, and dumping ended after the new owners took over, according to court documents.
One neighbor reported that during most of April, the water in the ditch was green with manure. On April 22, bacteria levels in the ditch were found to be 200,000 times higher below the farm than upstream.
“Clearly, we can’t very well reward that kind of behavior and say, ‘Yes, after you did the bad thing, you unloaded the farm and were successful, and so we won’t do anything about it,”’ Ackerman said.
In 1995, after five years of complaints from neighbors and warnings from state and local agencies, inspectors from the Skagit Conservation District found Koopmans had at least 800 cows, “way too many cows for the acreage he had,” Ackerman said.
The next year, after more neighbor complaints, state officials wrote to warn Koopmans that he could be fined if he continued polluting.
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