BASIN MAN SENTENCED TO 18 MONTHS FOR CLEAN WATER ACT VIOLATIONS AND
DESTRUCTION OF U.S. PROPERTY
MISSOULA – Joseph David Robertson, 77, was sentenced today to eighteen
months in prison and three years’ supervised release for unauthorized
discharge of pollutants into waters of the United States and injury or
depredation of United States property. Robertson must also pay
$129,933.50 in restitution. U.S. District Court Judge Donald W. Molloy
issued the sentence and ordered that Robertson be detained immediately.
Robertson was convicted in April following a four day federal trial.
Robertson was indicted by a grand jury in May of 2015 as a result of
illegal ponds he built on two parcels of land near Basin, Montana, one
on Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest land and the other on adjacent
private property. Robertson has continually asserted that he owns the
property where ponds were built, but he does not. The ponds resulted in
the discharge of dredged and fill material into a tributary stream and
adjacent wetlands and caused widespread damage to both properties.
At trial, the government introduced evidence that in October of 2013, a
United States Forest Service (USFS) Special Agent visited the National
Forest property to determine whether Robertson had complied with
previously issued conditions of probation for misdemeanor violations of
USFS regulations. The Agent testified at trial that during the site
visit, she observed multiple ponds dug into an existing stream on both
USFS and adjacent private property not owned by Robertson.
During a subsequent site visit in November of 2013, Robertson admitted
to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and USFS Criminal Special
Agents that he had performed the work on the National Forest property
using an excavator. State and federal officials visited the site again
in May of 2014, and observed that Robertson had done additional work.
The site was now approximately 1.2 acres in size, and extended beyond
the National Forest property to a private property that he did not own.
The work consisted of nine ponds of varying sizes, including some as
large as approximately 4900 square feet that were placed directly in the
stream and wetlands area. Unconsolidated dredged material from the ponds
had been used to create the berms and had been placed in and around the
stream and wetlands. Robertson admitted that he had completed the
additional work. Additional investigation revealed that Robertson
continued to construct ponds on the USFS property after May of 2014,
despite being told repeatedly that he had no legal right to do so.
One of the central legal issues at trial was whether the waters polluted
by Robertson were “waters of the United States” for purposes of the
Clean Water Act. The United States introduced evidence and expert
testimony from the Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA that the stream
and wetlands had a significant nexus to traditional navigable waters,
and therefore were “waters of the United States.” Fishery biologists
from the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) and the USFS testified
that this headwater and wetland complex provided critical support to
trout in downstream rivers and fisheries, including the Boulder and
“Robertson damaged federal land that the government holds in trust for
the people of the United States,” said United States Attorney for the
District of Montana Mike Cotter. “Clean waterways and healthy riparian
ecosystems benefit the people who are the true owners of our public
lands. This is not merely an issue of dumping a little dirt into a small
stream, it is an illustration of the fact that waterways and riparian
ecosystems are interconnected, and this type of destruction has
significant environmental consequences downstream. This sentence sends a
message that meaningful enforcement of environmental laws serves to
protect resources owned by all Americans.”
“Like all Americans, Montana residents expect their local waterways to
be clean and free of pollution,” said Jeffrey Martinez, Special Agent in
Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Montana. “This defendant
is a repeat violator, with the conduct in this case affecting a Montana
waterway, National Forest Service Lands, and private property not
belonging to the defendant. The EPA and its law enforcement partners are
committed to protecting public health and our nation’s natural
The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan Whittaker and
Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Nelson from the United States
Environmental Protection Agency. This case was investigated by multiple
state and federal agencies including the United States Forest Service,
the Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division, the
Army Corps of Engineers, and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.
Other agencies that assisted the investigation included Montana Fish,
Wildlife and Parks and the Jefferson Valley Conservation District.