Navy Veteran Imprisoned, Fined for Digging Ponds for Firefighting
Russ Chastain 04.24.19
When Montana resident Joe Robertson needed to gather some water for his business, which supplied water to firefighters, he dug a series of ponds on his own property in “a wooded area near a channel, a foot wide and a foot deep, with two to three garden hoses’ worth of flow, according to court documents.”
So our government reportedly put him in jail.
The U.S. government prosecuted Robertson for digging in proximity to “navigable waters” without a permit, a violation of the Clean Water Act administered by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers.
He was “convicted and sentenced to 18 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $130,000 in restitution through deductions from his Social Security checks.”
In other words, the Federal government tossed him in jail and began stealing his money. Why? Because they could.
He was sentenced in 2016 and served his 18 months inside, and was still on parole when he died of natural causes on March 18 at age 80.
Did he actually do anything wrong? I don’t think so.
Pacific Legal Foundation filed a petition on behalf of Robertson, asking the Supreme Court to review his case, which turns on the definition of “navigable waters.”
The Navy veteran argued that he didn’t violate the Clean Water Act because digging the ponds did not discharge any soil to navigable waters, since the trickle in the channel didn’t constitute navigable waters.
The largest navigable body of water anywhere near the Robertson home is more than 40 miles away, [attorney] Francois said.
Because Robertson lived in a wooded area that is “increasingly fire prone,” he was “concerned about the safety and vulnerability of his property,” Francois said. He built the ponds “with a view toward being well-prepared should a fire strike.”
The Supreme Court is expected to decide in April whether it will hear Robertson’s appeal.
It’s a bit late for Mr. Robertson, but his widow is hoping to appeal on his behalf.