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Court Finds Individual and Company Liable for Violating the Clean Water Act when Filling Sensitive Tidal Channels and Marsh

Gerald Scroop

September 6, 2020

In an order issued Tuesday, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California agreed with the Justice Department that John Sweeney and his company, Point Buckler Club LLC, committed “very serious” violations of the Clean Water Act associated with the construction of a nearly mile-long levee in sensitive tidal channels and marsh without a permit.

The violations occurred on Point Buckler Island, an island in the greater San Francisco Bay that Sweeney had purchased in 2011.  More particularly, Point Buckler Island is part of the Suisun Marsh, the largest contiguous brackish water marsh remaining on the west coast of North America.  The Island is located in a heavily utilized fish corridor and is critical habitat for several species of federally protected fish.

When Sweeney acquired the Island, nearly 40 acres of it supported and functioned as a tidal channel and tidal marsh wetlands system.  As the court found, at that time Sweeney knew that Solano County, California, had zoned it as “Marsh Land.”  Sweeney had also, by that time, sought and obtained a Clean Water Act permit for activities in other areas of the Suisun Marsh.

Beginning in 2014, without a permit, Sweeney excavated and dumped thousands of cubic yards of soil directly into the Island’s tidal channels and marsh.  This unlawful conduct, the court found, eliminated tidal exchange, harmed aquatic habitat, and adversely impacted water quality.  The court noted that the Island’s waters are “extremely acidic and saline.”

As the court’s order provides, further proceedings will be conducted to determine the appropriate remedy.   

“We are pleased the court agreed that defendants committed serious Clean Water Act violations,” said Jonathan D. Brightbill, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.  “Point Buckler Island is part of a vital tidal marsh ecosystem, and the court’s decision serves to protect that.  We look forward to the next phase of this important case.”   

“We applaud the trial court’s decision to hold the defendants liable for their violations of the Clean Water Act, which resulted in serious damage and destruction to nearly 30 acres of tidal marsh located in the greater San Francisco Bay,” said Susan Bodine, Assistant Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

The case is styled United States of America v. John Donnelly Sweeney and Point Buckler Club, LLC, No. 2:17-cv-00112-KJM-KJN (E.D. Cal.).  The court’s decision is available through the court’s website, www.caed.uscourts.gov

The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice.  Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.

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