State of Vermont
Agency of Natural Resources
Department of Environmental Conservation
Compliance & Enforcement Division
Press Release

November 25, 2003
Thomas & Nancy O'Brien

Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) Secretary Wibs McLain announced today that the Environmental Court has issued a decision in an important wetlands destruction case against Thomas and Nancy O'Brien of Jamaica, Vermont. The Court found that in spring of 2000 the O'Briens damaged a rare high elevation peatland by dredging it, caused significant discharges to state waters as a result of the dredging activity, and created an impoundment greater than 500,000 cubic feet in size without a permit. These violations occurred on the O'Brien's 350-acre parcel where they were constructing a second home. The Court found that the rare peatland (fewer than 20 in Vermont) was dredged to allow the O'Briens to train dogs for field trials and to allow stocked fish to over-winter. The violations were documented during several site visits conducted by Environmental Enforcement Officer Tim McNamara and Wetlands Ecologist Alan Quackenbush. The investigation was sparked by a complaint about discharges into the Ball Mountain Brook originating from the O'Briens' property.

The Agency sought to resolve the violations prior to trial, when that effort failed an Administrative Order was filed and the O'Briens requested a hearing. A three-day trial ensued and as a result of the evidence presented at that trial the Environmental Court found that the O'Briens committed the violations alleged by the Secretary and ordered them to pay a penalty of $80,000. Prior to trial and pursuant to an Emergency Order obtained by the Secretary, the Court found that the O'Briens spent over $72,000 in an effort to stabilize the site and prevent further discharges. Despite the Court's findings that the O'Briens committed the violations, the Court did not approve the Secretary's proposed restoration plan for the peatland. The Secretary is preparing a revised plan that addresses the Court's concerns. The Secretary plans to issue the revised restoration plan in time for the restoration work to be completed during the next construction season.

       "Wetlands and discharge violations such as these cannot be tolerated because they degrade Vermont's environment," ANR Secretary McLain commented. "The magnitude of this penalty reflects the importance of protecting Vermont's wetlands and waters."
For Further Information please contact:
Attorney Gary Kessler at 802-241-3820