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May-27-2009 13:40printcomments

Judge Issues Temporary Restraining Order in Eastern Oregon Pollution Case

A judge issues preliminary order telling Lehman Hot Springs resort owner to quit pumping sewage into unsafe lagoons.

Lehman Hot Springs near Ukiah
Lehman Hot Springs near Ukiah

(SALEM, Ore.) - Department of Environmental Quality Director Dick Pedersen and Attorney General John Kroger today announced that a judge has issued a temporary restraining order requiring an Eastern Oregon resort owner to take immediate steps to prevent the breach of a sewage lagoon containing more than 2.4 million gallons of sewage wastewater that would threaten critical fish habitat and public health.

“Today’s action is good for the environment, good for the community and an important first step in ending a long history of environmental violations at Lehman Hot Springs,” said DEQ Director Pedersen. “DOJ’s and DEQ’s collaborative approach to solving environmental problems will in this case not only protect the environment, but also the local community from wastewater overflows and flooding.”

“We are very pleased that the court has agreed that urgent action needs to be taken,” said Attorney General Kroger. "We look forward to finding a permanent solution that protects the health and safety of one of Oregon’s premier fisheries.”

The case represents the commitment by DEQ and DOJ to work proactively to prevent environmental catastrophes before they occur. The judge’s granting of the temporary restraining order is the first step in the legal process.

As explained in court papers filed by the Department of Justice, Lehman Hot Springs, located near Ukiah, has been operating without a permit for its sewage lagoons since 2002. DEQ and the Department of Justice have been in court several times to try and force the resort owner come into compliance with water anti-pollution laws.

In April investigators from DEQ and the Environmental Protection Agency determined that the lagoons have been leaking 21,000 gallons a day and are at serious risk of a catastrophic breach. The sewage threatens to contaminate Warm Springs and Camas creeks, both of which are critical habitat for wild summer Steelhead and Spring Chinook. The creeks feed the North Fork of the John Day, which sees significant recreational use this time of year from boaters and others.

On Tuesday, the Department of Justice filed a motion for a temporary restraining in Umatilla County Circuit Court. The motion sought an immediate order to force the owner of Lehman Hot Springs to take steps to prevent a spill.

Retired Oregon Supreme Court Justice George Van Hoomissen granted the temporary restraining order that requires the resort to cease pumping any sewage into the lagoons and to pump down existing sewage levels to safer levels.

Van Hoomissen set a court date for June 15 for further action in the case.

Senior AAG Karen Moynahan briefed and argued the case with assistance from Special Counsels Brent Foster and Keith Dubanevich.

Dick Pedersen heads the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. DEQ’s mission is to be a leader in protecting, maintaining and restoring Oregon’s environment. Attorney General John Kroger leads the Oregon Department of Justice. The Department's mission is to fight crime and fraud, protect the environment, improve child welfare, and defend the rights of all Oregonians

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blaster1949 June 3, 2009 11:31 am (Pacific time)

Environmental victory? Being allowed to Operate without a permit for 9 years and continually discharging waste water? Darn good job DEQ and thanks for acting sooo quickly. This point source should have been shutdown THEN after it was discovered they had no NPDES permit and were in violation of the clean water act. Guess the political slanted (since 2000) deq were afraid to stop people from bathing in warm springs and allow pollution of rivers in Oregon. SAD SAD SAD

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